I am your host Cassius, and together with my panelists from the EpicureanFriends.com forum, we’ll walk you through the six books of Lucretius’ poem, and discuss how Epicurean philosophy can apply to you today. Be aware that none of us are professional philosophers, and everyone here is a self-taught Epicurean. We encourage you to study Epicurus for yourself, and we suggest the best place to start is the book, “Epicurus and His Philosophy” by Canadian professor Norman DeWitt.
Before we start, here are three main rules.
First: Our aim is to bring you an accurate presentation of classical Epicurean philosophy as the ancient Epicureans understood it, which may or may not be the same as what you read about Epicurus at other places on the internet today.
Second: We aren’t talking about Lucretius with the goal of promoting any modern political perspective. Epicurus must be understood on his own, and not in terms of competitive schools which may seem similar to Epicurus, but are fundamentally different and incompatible, such as Stoicism, Humanism, Buddhism, Taoism, Atheism, and Marxism.
Third: Epicurean philosophy is based on a fundamental view of the universe as natural and not under the control of any supernatural gods or ideals of virtue. As you study Lucretius you will find that Epicurus did not teach virtue or simple living as ends in themselves, but only as instruments in the pursuit of pleasure. For Epicurus it is pleasurable feeling which provides the guide to life, within the context of the knowledge that there is no life after death, and that any happiness we will ever have must come in THIS life, which is why it is so important not to waste time in confusion.
Now let’s join the discussion with Elayne reading today’s text:
Further, those things which appear to us hard and thick, must necessarily be joined together by particles more hooked among themselves, and be held close by branched seeds. In the first rank of these, you are to place the rocks of Adamant, that defy the force of blows, and solid flints, and the strength of hard iron, and brazen hinges, that creak under the weight of their gates. But Liquids that consist of fluid bodies, must be formed of seeds more smooth and round; for their globular particles are not entangled among themselves, and their flowing motion rolls on forward with the greater Ease. But lastly, all such Things which you observe instantly to scatter, and fly away as smoke, clouds, and flame, if they do not consist altogether of particles that are smooth and round, yet neither are they formed of hooked Seeds, and therefore may pierce through bodies, and penetrate into stones; nor do their particles nevertheless stick mutually to one another, as we observe the particles of thorns do. From thence you may easily conclude that they are not composed of hooked or entangled, but of acute Principles.
But because you see the same things are bitter and fluid, as the Sea- water, are you to wonder in the least at this; For what is fluid is formed of Principles that are smooth and round, but with these smooth and round seeds are mixed others that are sharp, and give pain. Yet there is no necessity that these sharp seeds should be hooked and twined together; it is sufficient that they be globous as well as rough, that they may be qualified to flow along in their proper Course, as well as to hurt the sense. And that you may the sooner believe that these sharp seeds are mixed with those that are smooth, from whence the body of the sea becomes salt, the way is to separate them, and consider them distinct; for the Sea-water grows sweet by being often filtered through the Earth, and so fills the ditches, where it becomes soft; for it leaves behind the pungent seeds of the rough salt, which are more inclined to stick as they pass along, than those particles that are globular and smooth.
This being proved, I shall here join another observation, which justly derives its credit from what is explained before: That the seeds of things vary their figure not without End, but after a finite manner. If it were not so, some seeds, by an infinite increase of their parts, would be of an immense size; for in so small a body as an atom consists of, the figures have not room to change often among themselves. Suppose, if you will, these atoms or first seeds consist of smallest parts, three suppose, or a few more, if you please; now, by varying these several Parts of one Atom or Seed into all possible shapes, placing the Uppermost below, or turning the right to the left, you will find the several figures that every change will give this Seed in all its Parts. But if you would change its figure still further, you must add new parts to it and, by the same reason, you must still add more, if you still think of changing its figure into more shapes, so that the body must increase in proportion as every new figure appears; and therefore, you cannot conceive, that the seeds should be distinguished by an infinite variety of forms, unless you admit that they are likewise infinite in magnitude, which, as I said above, is impossible to be proved.
Besides, the embroidered vests of Asia, the bright Melibean Purple, dipped in the blood of the Thessalian Shellfish, and the golden Brood of Peacocks, glittering with their gaudy plumes, would lie undistinguished, being exceeded by other things of greater lustre, and the smell of myrrh, and the Taste of Honey, would be despised, and the singing of the swan, and the noblest Verse sung to sweet music would, by the same rule, be outdone, and cease to please; for some other things might arise more agreeable than these. And as some things, we observe, may advance into greater perfection, so others likewise may decline, and grow worse; for one thing may succeed another still more disagreeable to the Nose, the Ears, the Eyes, and Taste. But since this does not appear in the Nature of Things, since there is a certain boundary to what is best and worst, we are obliged to own, that matter is diversified by shapes that are finite, and within fixed Bounds.
Lastly, from Fire, to the piercing Cold of Winter, a Point is set, and so, from Cold to Heat, they are both intense: for heat and cold are the extremes, the middle warmth lies between both, and thus orderly fills up the whole. This warmth is distant equally from both extremes, and is confined by bounds on both sides, kept in on this by heat, and on that by smarting cold.