Welcome to Episode Thirty-Five 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.
Now let’s join the discussion with today’s text:
Latin text location: Approximately lines 944-1047
Besides, a blow falling upon any animal, heavier than its nature can endure, immediately torments it, and confounds all its senses both of body and mind; for the connection of the seeds is dissolved, and the vital motions are wholly obstructed, till the force of the blow being agitated violently through the limbs dissolves the vital ties of the soul from the body, and compels her, scattered and broken to pieces, to fly out through every pore. For what can we conceive to be the effect of such a stroke but to separate and dissolve the seeds that were united before? And then it happens, when the blow falls with less violence, that the remains of vital motion often get the better, they recover and calm the great disorders of the blow, and recall everything again into its proper channel. They rescue the body, as it were, from the jaws of death, and give new life to the senses that were almost destroyed; else why should creatures rather return to life from the very gates of death with new spirits, than when they were just entering in, proceed on, and utterly perish?
Further, since we feel pain when the seeds are shaken from their natural state and situation within, and are disordered through all the bowels and limbs by any outward force, and when they return again into their proper place, a quiet pleasure immediately succeeds, you may conclude that simple seeds cannot be tormented with pain, nor of themselves be affected with pleasure; because they do not consist of principles or other seeds by whose violent motions they may be disturbed, or be delighted with any pleasure they can give; and therefore they cannot possibly be endued with any sense at all.
Again, if in order to produce creatures with sense, sense must be imputed to the seeds from which they are formed, of what principles, I pray, is the human race properly composed? Of such, no doubt, as laugh, and shake their little sides, such as bedew their face and cheeks with flowing tears, such as can widely talk how things are mixed, and such as search of what first principles themselves are formed; For all things that enjoy the faculties of perfect animals must consist of other seeds like them, and these must arise from others, and thus the progression would be infinite. I urge further, whatever you observe to speak, to laugh, to be wise, must proceed from other seeds that can perform the same; but if this be ridiculous and downright madness, and things that can laugh can spring from seeds that never smile, and the wise, that learnedly dispute, are produced from foolish seeds and stupid, what hinders that sensible things may not as well be formed from seeds without any matter of sense at all?
Lastly, we all spring from ethereal seed; we have all one common parent, when the kind Earth, our mother, receives the quickening drops of moisture from above, she conceives us and brings forth shining fruits, and pleasant trees, the human race, and all the race of beasts, she yields them proper food on which they feed, and lead a pleasant life, and propagate their kind, and therefore has she justly gained the name of mother. The parts that first from Earth arose return to Earth again; what descended from the sky, those parts brought back again that heavens receive; nor does death so put an end to beings as to destroy the very seeds of them, but only disunites them, then makes new combinations, and is the cause that all things vary their forms, and change their colors, become sensible, and in a moment lose all their sense again. You may know from hence of what importance it is, with what the first seeds of things are united, and in what position they are contained, and what are the several motions they give and take among themselves. And from hence you may conclude that these first seed are not the less eternal, because you perceive them floating, as it were, upon the surface of bodies, and subject to be born, and die. It is of like concern with what the several letters are joined in these verses of mine, and in what order each of them is disposed; for the same letters make up the words to signify the heaven, the sea, the Earth, the rivers, the sun; the same express the fruits, the trees, the creatures; if they are not all, yet by much the greater part are alike, but they differ in their situation. So, likewise, in bodies, when the intervals of the seeds, their courses, connections, weights, strokes, union, motions, order, position, figure; when these things are changed, the things themselves must be changed likewise.
Now apply your mind closely to the documents of true reason, for a new scheme of philosophy presses earnestly for your attention, a new scene of things displays itself before you. Yet there is nothing so obvious but may at first view seem difficult to be believed, and there is nothing so prodigious and wonderful at first that men do not by degrees cease to admire. For see the bright and pure color of the sky, possessed on every side by wandering stars, and the Moon’s splendor, and the Sun’s glorious light; these, if they now first shown to mortal eyes, and suddenly presented to our view, what could more wonderful appear than these? And what before could men less presume to expect? Nothing surely, so surprising would be the sight have been. But now, quite tired and cloyed with the prospect, none of us vouchsafes so much as to cast our eyes up towards the bright temples of the sky. Therefore do not be frightened, and conceive an aversion to an opinion because of its novelty; but search it rather with a more piercing judgment. If it appears true to you, embrace it; if false, set yourself against it.