Welcome to Episode Twenty-Nine of Lucretius Today.
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 ground 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 agree with what you here about Epicurus at other places 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: The essential base of Epicurean philosophy is a fundamental view of the nature of the universe. When you read the words of Lucretius you will find that Epicurus did not teach the pursuit of virtue or of luxury or of simple living. or science, as ends in themselves, but rather the pursuit of pleasure. From this perspective it is feeling which is the guide to life, and not supernatural gods, idealism, or virtue ethics. And as important as anything else, Epicurus taught 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.
‘Tis proper likewise that in this place you fix it as an established truth, and impress it deeply upon your mind, that there is no being to be found in nature that consists altogether of principles of one kind, nor is there any thing that is not made up of mingled seeds; and the more powers and faculties any being is endued with, the more it appears to be formed of various sorts of seeds that differ in figure among themselves.
And first, the Earth contains within herself first principles, from whence the fountains, flowing with their streams, do constantly supply the mighty Sea. She holds likewise within her womb the seeds of fire. We see in many places how she burns, how Aetna rages with distinguished flames. She likewise has the seeds from whence she forms sweet fruits, and pleasant trees for men; from whence she does afford the tender shrubs and verdant grass to savage beasts that wander on the hills.
Therefore this Earth alone is called great Mother of the Gods, parent of beasts, and of the human race. Of her the learned Grecian bards of old have feigned that in her chariot she rides aloft, she drives a pair of lions harnessed; to teach that in the spacious air hangs the vast mass of Earth, without a lower Earth to prop it up. These beasts they yoked, to show that youth, although by nature wild, yet, softened by the parents tender care, grows tame. Her head they compass with a mural crown, because, in places strongly fortified, she bears up cities, and in this pomp adored, the image of this sacred mother is born with dread solemnity throughout the world. Her, after the ancient use of holy rites, the different nations call Mother of Mount Ida, and give her for attendants a train of Phyrgian dames, because in Phrygia corn was first raised, and thence was scattered over all the Earth. They serve her by eunuch priests, to show that those who violate the sacred character of their mother, or are found undutiful to their parents from whence they sprung, should be thought unworthy to raise a living offspring to succeed them. With their hands they beat loudly upon drums well-braced; the hollow symbols all about, and horns with their hoarse noise threaten dreadfully around her; the pipe, with Phrygian airs, mads their very souls; and they carry arms, the signs of their distracted rage, to terrify the stubborn minds and impious hearts of the vulgar, with a fear and reverence of this great deity.
When therefore she is carried in procession, through the great towns, and, dumb as she is, silently bestows health upon her votaries, they scatter brass and silver in all the way she passes, enriching her with profuse oblations; they shower down the flowers of roses, and so cover the great mother, and the whole train of her attendants. Her an armed Troop (the Greeks call them the Phrygian Curates) leap about, with a chain through their hands, and wanton in the blood they have drawn, dance to exact time, and, full of the Goddess, shake their dreadful crests upon their heads. They represent the Dictean Curetes, who are said formerly to have drowned the infant cries of Jupiter in Crete; when the young priests, all armed, struck their Brazen Bucklers together, as they danced nimbly round the boy, lest Saturn should seize upon him, and devour him, and, by that means, wound his mother to the heart, with a grief never to be Forgotten. For this reason, an armed train accompany the great mother; or else the goddess signifies that they should preserve their native country by their arms and Valor, and be a protection and honor to their parents. Such fancies, though well and wittily contrived, yet are far removed from truth and right reason. For the whole nature of the Gods must spend an immortality in softest peace, removed from our affairs, and separated by distance infinite; from sorrow free, secure from danger, in its own happiness sufficient, and naught of ours can want; is neither pleased with good, nor vexed with ill.
The Earth is indeed at all times void of real sense, but it contains within itself the first seeds of many things, it produces them into being after various manners. So, if anyone here resolves to call the Sea by the name of Neptune, and corn by the title of Ceres, and chooses rather to abuse the name of Bacchus, than to speak the proper appellation of wine, such a one, we allow, may style this globe of Earth the mother of the gods, when really she is no such thing.