Episode 38 of the Lucretius Today Podcast is now available. With today’s episode we begin Book Three, with a discussion of how Epicurus is our guide who dispels the darkness of error and the fear of hell. As with the beginning of each book, this is general discussion of Epicurus and the implications of his philosophy, so this episode is a particularly good one to listen to if you’ve missed some of the past shows and want to hear one of our more general and animated discussions. As always let us know if you have any comments, and feel free to subscribe to the podcast on ITunes and other podcast services.
Welcome to Episode Thirty-Eight 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.
Now let’s join the discussion with today’s text: Latin Text Location 1 – 93
Browne / 1743:
O Epicurus, who could first strike so clear a light from so great darkness, and direct us in the proper advantages of life! Thee, the glory of the Grecian name, I follow. Thy steps I closely trace with mine, not so much from a desire to rival thee, as from the love I bear, and the ardent passion I profess to imitate thee. For how can the swallow contend in singing with the swan? Or what can kids, with feeble limbs, perform in running with the noble horse’s speed? Thou great Father, founder of philosophy! Thou with paternal precepts dost inspire thy sons, and from thy writings, most illustrious chief, as bees suck honey from the flowery fields, we feed upon thy golden sentences – golden, and fit eternally to live.
For when thy reason first began to prove that Nature was not formed by powers divine, the terrors of the mind all fled, the walls of this great world lie open, and I see how things are managed through the mighty void. The deity of the gods, their calm abodes appear, which neither winds disturb, nor clouds overflow with showers, nor the white-falling snow, congealed by sharpest frost, does spoil; but the unclouded air surrounds them always, and smiles on them fully with diffused light. Nature in every thing supplies their wants; nothing at any time destroys their peace. But the wide tracts of Hell are nowhere seen, nor does the interposing Earth prevent our sight, but we discover what beneath our feet is doing in the space below. In these pursuits a certain divine pleasure spreads round me, and I stand amazed, that by thy strength of mind, all nature every way lies naked to our view.
Since then I have taught what are the first seeds and principles of things, how they differ in their figures, and of themselves fly about, beaten by mutual strokes, and from them all beings are produced, the nature of the Mind and of the Soul comes next to be explained in these my lines, and all the terrors of infernal pains banished, and headlong driven quite away, that from the bottom so disturb the life of man, and cover all things with the gloom of death, and leave no place for pure and unmixed pleasure to possess. For what men vainly talk, that disease and an infamous life are more to be feared than the terrors of death, and they know that the soul consists wholly in the blood, and therefore they want no assistance from our philosophy. I would have you observe that those boasts are thrown out more for the sake of praise and popular breath (if their vanity by chance leads that way) than that they believe any such thing; for let these very men be banished from their country, and driven into a desert far from human sight, stained with the guilt of the foulest crimes, yet they live on, afflicted as they are, with all sorts of misery, and wherever the wretches come, they fall a-sacrificing, and slay black cattle, and offer victims to the infernal gods, and in this deplorable state they, with more than common zeal, apply themselves to the offices of religion.
And therefore it is proper to view men rather under a doubtful fortune, and observe how they behave in circumstances of distress, for then they speak truth from the bottom of their hearts, the mask is pulled off, and the real man shows undisguised. Besides, covetousness and the blind desire of honors, which compel unhappy men to exceed the bounds of right, and urge on the partners and assistants of their crimes to strive day and night with the utmost pains to arrive at the height of wealth: these plagues of life are chiefly nourished by fear of death; for infamy, and contempt, and sharp want seem far removed from a sweet and pure state of life, and, as it were, hover about the gates of death. And wherefore will men, possessed by a false fear, labour to avoid, and stand at the remotest distance from them, they add to their heaps by civil war, and, insatiable as they are, double their riches, heaping one murder upon another. They laugh with cruel delight at the sad funeral of a brother, and hate and fear the entertainments of their nearest relations.
From the same cause and from the same fear, envy often becomes the tormentor of mankind; they complain that one is raised to power before their eyes, another to respect, a third distinguished by shining honors, whilst they lie buried in obscurity, and are trod upon like dirt, and so they pine themselves to death for the sake of statues and a name. And some men, from a fear of death, conceive so great a hatred for life, and the preservation of their being, that in a gloomy fit they become their own executioners; not considering that this fear of death is the source of all their cares. This breaks through all shame, dissolves the bonds of friendship, and in short overturns the foundations of all goodness; for some we see betray their country and their dear parents, striving by that means to deliver themselves from death, and the pains of Hell. For as boys tremble, and fear every thing in the dark night, so we, in open day, fear things as vain and little to be feared, as those that children quake at in the dark, and fancy advancing towards them. This terror of the mind, this darkness then, not the sun’s beams, nor the bright rays of day can scatter, but the light of Nature and the rules of reason.