Lucretius Today Podcast Episode 61 – The Perils of Romantic Love

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Welcome to Episode Sixty-One 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. 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 this episode 61 we will begin discussion of the well-known ending of Book 4, addressing the perils of romantic love. Out text today is Latin Lines 1037-1140 of Book Four.

Browne 1743

And then, what mighty deeds are men hurrying themselves about in their dreams? Then they show their valor, and do wonderful exploits; they engage with kings, and are taken captive, are in the confusion of battle; they cry out as if they were expiring on the spot. Some are the hottest in the fight, and groan with the anguish of their wounds, and fill the air with complaints, as if they were torn by the teeth of a panther or fierce lion. Some in their sleep talk of the mysteries of State, and frequently discover the treason of their own contriving. Some think they are dying away, and others, falling from the dreadful precipices with all their weight upon the earth, are terrified, and awake almost out of their senses, and can scarce recover themselves from the hurry and distraction of their spirits. Another, parched up with thirst, sits on the river’s bank, or by the side of a pleasant fountain, and almost drinks down his throat the whole stream. And children in their sleep often fancy that they are near some sink or public pissing place; they think they are taking up their clothes that they may make water freely, and so the Babylonian coverlid with its purple dye and the rich bedding are wet through. And further, those who are in the heat of youth, whose ripening age has well digested the semen through all the limbs, on such the images of every beauteous object strike deeply, and show the lovely face and blushing cheek which so provoke and stimulate the parts, swelling with seed in abundance, that they discharge, as if the deed were done, large floods of moisture and pollute the robe.

For (as I said before) the seed begins to boil as soon as mature age has well-braced the limbs. Other thing are moved and provoked by other impressions, but nothing but the power of beauty can put the human semen into motion, which, as soon as it is ejected from its little cells, flows through the limbs and through every part of the body, and being received into the receptacle of the nerves proper for it, in an instant stimulates the genitals. These parts grow turgid with the semen, and thence proceeds the will to project it where the heat of lust strives to reach; for the mind drives furiously toward the lovely body from when it received the wound of love. Men generally fall upon their wound, and the blood gushes with violence toward the part from which we received the blow. If the murderer be near, the red liquor will spout all over him. So he that is struck with the darts of Venus (whether some beauteous boy, with female charms, the arrow casts, or some more beauteous maid, that shoots out love from every pore) tends to the part that gave the stroke; he is in raptures to enjoy, to inject and to consummate, for the hot desire to the act foreshows the mighty pleasure that attends it.

This is properly Venus to us, this is the Deity of Love. Hence the drops of sweet delight first strike upon the heart, and the burning fever of succeeding care follows it close, for if the object of your love be absent, her charming image is always before you, and her sweet name is ever thrilling in your ears. But take care that you fly those images, and avoid those incentives to love, and divert your mind some other way; choose to bestow your favors in common, don’t reserve your whole stock for one only, lest by that means you entail anxiety and certain sorrow upon yourself, for the ulcer spreads and grows stubborn by feeding it, the madness increases every day, and trouble becomes the heavier unless you cure old wounds by new, or like a Rover, remove your first smart by wandering over all the sex, or turn the passion of your mind into some other channel.

Nor is he without the pleasures of Venus who disdains the fetters of love, but rather takes the sweet without the pain that follows it; for such a sober lover takes more certain and more unmixed delight, than those wretches, those furious votaries, whose mind in the very instant of enjoyment is tossed with a thousand doubts and fears. These know not what sweets they shall first rifle with their hands and eyes, what they fasten upon, they strain hard and give pain to the body; they often fix their teeth in the fair-one’s lips, and pin her down with kisses. And for this reason, because the joy is imperfect, and some stings remain which provoke them to hurt the thing, whatever it is, that first put them into a rage. But Venus in the encounter of love gently soothes the pain, and the sweet pleasure intermixed restrains the lover’s teeth from biting too hard. The lover hopes, perhaps, that his flame may be extinguished by the same object that first blew the fire, but experience shows the contrary of this, for this is the only thing which, the more we enjoy of it, our soul still burns with the eager desire of more. Meat and drink are taken down into the body, and because they fill up certain empty spaces, therefore the appetite of eating and drinking is easily satisfied; but from a lovely face and a fine complexion, the body can enjoy nothing but empty images, and a fleeting hope scattered by every wind.

As a thirsty man desires to drink in his sleep, and has no moisture to allay the heat within, but vainly catches at the images of rivers, and labors to no purpose, and is parched up while he fancies himself quaffing a full stream, so in the business of love Venus deludes the lover with empty images, nor can he quench his desire by gazing upon the charming object, nor bring away anything from the tender limbs with his hands, as he wanders with wild excess over all the body of his mistress. Besides, when they sport in the flower of their age with their limbs mingled in the embrace, when their bodies feel the coming joy, and Venus is fully employed to sow the female soil, though they eagerly twine with amorous folds, and dart their humid tongues, and bite, and ardently receive each other’s breath, ’tis all to no purpose, for they can carry nothing away from the parts they strain, nor can bodies pierce or be in bodies lost. For this they sometimes wish, for this they contend when they engage, so eagerly are they entangled in the nets of love, that their very limbs are dissolved in the excess of pleasure. Then, when the collected lust has burst from the nerves, a cessation of the violent ardor ensues for a while, but the same rage soon returns, the same fury is renewed, and again they strive to touch the point, the end of their desires: They can find no device to subdue the pain they feel, and so they pine and languish by a secret wound.

And then, they waste their strength, and perish by the labor they go through. And more, they lie under the power of another’s will, while their fortune decays and their debts increase, their duty is neglected and their tottering reputation sickens. Rich pearls and fine shoes of Sicyon shine upon the feet of their mistress; the large emeralds, with their green luster, are set in gold; and the blue vest is daily stained, and continually in use drinks up the sweat of lust. The family estate, acquired with honor, is changed into coronets of ribbons, and headdresses sparkling with jewels, and is sometimes turned into costly gowns, or garments of Melita, or Cean robes. Besides, they add to these the luxury of feasts and stately couches, plays, frequent carousals, crowns and garlands. But in vain! For some bitter bubbles up from the very fountain of his delight, and poisons all his sweets; either his own guilty mind stings him for leading such a life of sloth, and murdering so large a part of his time, or his mistress has dropped some doubtful word, which kindles in his fond heart like fire; or he thinks she has thrown her eyes too freely abroad, and glanced upon another, and he discovers the remains of a smiling pleasure upon her face.