Welcome to Episode Forty-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.
For anyone who is not familiar with our podcast, please check back to Episode One for a discussion of our goals and our ground rules. If you have any question about that, please be sure to contact us at Epicureanfriends.com for more information.
In today’s episode, we will cover roughly lines 634-740 from Book 3 of the Latin Text. The topic will be further arguments for the mortality of the soul.
Charles reads today’s text:
And since the vital sense, we perceive, is diffused through the body, and we see the whole body animated throughout, if any weapon cuts it in two in the middle of a sudden stroke, and divides the parts asunder, the powers of the soul, without doubt, being separated and disunited, will follow the fate of the body; but whatever is cut asunder and falls into parts can have nothing immortal in its nature. Chariots, we read, armed with Scythes, and reeking with confused slaughter, would cut off a limb with so quick a force that the divided part that fell off from the body might be seen trembling upon the ground when the mind and heart of the man feel nothing of the pain, so sudden was the wound. His whole soul is so taken up with the heat of action that he pursues the fight and the intended slaughter with the remainder of his body, nor does he imagine that the wheels and mangling hooks have torn off among the horses his left hand, or that he has lost his shield. Another knows nothing that his right hand is lopped off, as he scales the wall, and presses eagerly forward. Another attempts to rise with one leg, while the dying foot moves the toes as it lies by him upon the ground; and the head cut off, the trunk yet warm and heaving preserves the same fierce look in the face, and keeps the eyes open, til it has lost all remains of the soul within it. And so divide with a sword, if you please, into many parts, the tail of a long snake, threatening, and brandishing his tongue, and you’ll see every divided part wiggling with the fresh wound, and staining the ground with blood. You’ll perceive the serpent turning his head about to find his divided body and bite it with his teeth, from the anguish of the pain he suffers. Shall we say that a proper soul belongs severally to all these parts? By this rule it will follow that the same creature is animated by many souls at the same time. ‘Tis plain therefore that the soul before was one, and diffused through the whole body, is divided, and consequently they are both mortal, because they are both equally divided into many parts.
Further, if the nature of the soul be immortal, and is infused into the body when a child is born, why do we remember nothing of the life we led before? Nor retain any traces of things done long ago? For if the power of the soul be so utterly changed that all recollection of past actions is entirely gone, this kind of oblivion is (I think) not far removed from death itself. We must needs allow therefore that the soul that was before utterly perished, and that which now is was newly created.
But when the body is completely formed, when we are born, and enter within the door of life, if then the vital power of the soul were infused, it would have nothing to do to grow up together with the body and the limbs, and be united with the very blood, but, as it were in a cage, it would live entire of itself, and so diffuse the faculties of sense all through the body. Again then and again it must be said that the soul is neither without beginning, nor exempt from the laws of death; for we cannot conceive that the soul, were it infused from without into the body, could be so nicely and closely united to the several parts of it, as the thing itself evidently proves she is. She is indeed so diffused through the veins, the bowels, the nerves, and bones, that even the teeth are not without sense, This appears from the acute pain we feel from the chillness of cold water, or the grinding of a rough stone when we eat. The soul therefore being so closely connected with the several parts cannot be supposed to depart whole, or deliver herself entire from the bones and nerves and joints of the body. But if you think the soul is infused from without, and so spread over all the limbs, she is for this reason still more liable to perish with the body; for a thing that flows through so many passages is dissolved, and therefore dies, for she must be thus divided through all the pores. And as the food, when it is distributed through the members and the limbs, loses its first form, and take up another quite different, so the soul, though it enters whole and fresh into the body, yet, in passing through, its parts are dissolved, because the particles of soul which now rules and governs the body is produced from that which perished, and was dissolved in passing through into the limbs. The nature of the soul therefore is neither without beginning nor free from death and dissolution.
Besides, in a dead body some particles of the soul remain, or they do not. If they do remain and abide in it, you can by no means properly say she is immortal, because she withdrew with her seeds divided, and with some of them left behind. But if she retired from the body with all her parts whole, how comes the carcass to breed so many worms in the corrupted bowels? And whence do such abundance of creatures without bones and blood swarm over the bloated limbs? But if you fancy that souls formed without creep into these worms, and every single worm has a particular soul, nor think it strange that so many thousand should flow together from without to the place from whence one departed, yet it is proper to inquire into and to examine this, whether every particular soul searches into the several seeds of the worms, and chooses for itself what seeds are most proper to make itself a body, or whether she enters into a body already formed.
But there is no reason to be given why she should build a dwelling for herself, and go through such fatigue, especially since, disentangled from matter, she cannot be tormented with diseases, with cold and hunger, for body only can labor under these calamities, and the soul suffers many such distresses only by her conjunction with it. But allow it inconvenient for souls to fashion out bodies for themselves to dwell in, yet there is no way possible for them to do this. They do not therefore make up bodies and limbs for themselves, nor are they infused into bodies ready made, for they could not be so nicely united as to inform every part of the body, nor could the vital motions be mutually carried on between them.