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.
Now let’s join the discussion with today’s text:
But to return, we see the wooly sheep, the warlike breed of horses, and horned bulls, living under the same covert of the sky, grazing together in the same field, and quenching their thirst in the same stream of water; yet they are each of a different species, and retain the nature of their sires, and every kind imitates the dispositions of the race from which they came, so different is the nature of the seeds in every herb, so various are the principles of the water in every stream. Now though blood, bones, veins, heat, moisture, bowels, nerves, go to the formation of every animal, yet of what variety of figures, widely different in themselves, do their seeds consist?
And then all bodies that are combustible, and burnt by fire, if they agree on nothing else, yet discharge from themselves such parts, by which they spread about their flame and light; from whence they raise sparkles, and scatter their embers all abroad. So if you examine other things by the same rule, you will find seeds of different kind lie concealed in all bodies within, and show themselves of a different figure.
Lastly, you observe many things that emit both smell and taste, especially those victims you offer when your mind is religiously moved for something you have unjustly acquired. These sensations, therefore, must be raised by seeds of different figure; for smell pierces through pores where taste can find no passage. The juice likewise, and the taste of things, affect the sense by proper organs, to convince that their seeds vary in their figure. Principles therefore of various shape make up every particular mass, and things in general are composed of mingled seeds; for, in these verses of mine, you may all along observe that many letters are common to many words, and yet you must confess, that some verses and some words consist of very different letters, not because the number of letters are few, or no two words are formed of the same letters, but because every verse and every word is composed of letters altogether different. So, though the same principles are common to many things, yet the things may remain very different among themselves; and it may properly enough be said that men, and fruits, and pleasant trees are made up of different seeds.
Yet we are not to suppose that all seeds of whatever figure do mutually unite to the production of beings, for then you would observe monsters springing up every day, creatures half man, half horse, the lofty boughs of trees growing out of a living body, and the limbs of land animals joined to the bodies of fish, and nature forming every where out of the earth (the mother of all things) Chimaeras from their dreadful mouths breathing out flames; but ‘tis plain, nothing of this happens, since we see all things are formed from certain seeds, and regular principles, and preserve their kind as they grow up and increase.
Nor indeed can it, by the fixed rules of reason, be otherwise; for, out of the several sorts of food, the particles of that which is proper to every animal descend into the limbs, and there united, produce the motions suitable to that animal; but, on the contrary, those particles of food that are destructive, some of them, we find, nature throws off through open passages, others are, insensibly to us, forced out of the body through the pores, such as would admit of no Union with others, nor agree to promote the vital motions and purposes of life.
But lest you should think that living creatures only are bound by these laws, the same reason holds with regard to all other beings; for as all bodies are in their nature different in themselves, so it is necessary that each should consist of principles of a different figure, not but that many seeds are the same in shape, but they do not all agree in form perfectly alike. Since then the seeds differ, it is necessary that their intervals, their courses, connections, weights, strokes, concussions, and motions, should differ likewise; Properties, that not only make a distinction between animals, but divide the Earth and the Sea, and preserve the heavens separate from the earth, and secure all things from being confusedly mingled together.