Lucretius Today Podcast Episode Nineteen: All Things Are Not Tiny Pieces of Themselves
Listen to “Episode 019 – All Things Are Not Made of Pieces of the Same Thing, Or Pieces of All Things”
Welcome to Episode Nineteen 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 with today’s episode let me remind you of our three ground rules.
First: Our aim is to go back to the original text to bring you an accurate presentation of classical Epicurean philosophy as the ancient Epicureans understood it, not simply repeat for you what passes for conventional wisdom about Epicurus today.
Second: We won’t be talking about Epicurus from the point of view of modern political perspectives. 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: We will be approaching Lucretius exactly as he intended, with the goal of understanding the fundamental nature of the universe as the essential base of Epicurean philosophy. From this perspective you will see that Epicurus taught neither the pursuit of luxury nor the pursuit of simple living, but the pursuit of pleasure, using feeling as the guide to life, and not supernatural gods, idealism, or virtue ethics. 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.
Remember that our podcast home page is LucretiusToday.com, where you can download a free copy of the versions of the poem we are reading, and our home for discussion of Lucretius and all other aspects of Epicurean philosophy is Epicureanfriends.com
Now for today in this Episode 19, we will discuss how all things are not formed from tiny pieces of all things, which was the theory called “homoeomery” put forth by Anaxagorus.
Here is the text that will be covered in Episode Nineteen.
Daniel Brown 1743 Edition: Now, let us inquire into the homoeomery of Anaxagorus, the Greeks so call it, but the poverty of the Latin tongue will not allow us to express it; but yet, by a short periphrasis, we can explain that thing which he calls homoeomery, and makes the principle of bodies. For instance, bones proceed from small and little bones; and flesh is made of small and little bits of flesh; and blood is formed of many drops of blood flowing together; and gold, he thinks, consists of little grains of gold; and Earth grows firm by particles of earth; fire is made of fire; water from water springs; and all things else, he thinks, from causes such as these arise.  And yet this man in no case will allow in things a void, nor that there is an end to bodies being divided: he equally mistakes in both, and so do those sages spoken of before.  Besides, the seeds he chose are much too weak, if of the same frail nature they consist, as do the things themselves, they equally fall to decay, and perish, nothing hinders them from death: for which of these can long hold out against the fierce jaws of death, and so escape destruction, crushed between his very teeth? Can fire? Can air? Can water? Which of these? Can blood? Can bone? In my opinion – none. All things in nature then would be equally liable to death, as are such things we see before our eyes by any force destroyed. But this, I think, is fully proved before, that nothing can fall to nothing, or from nothing rise.  Besides, since food increases and supports the body, then we know the veins, the blood, the bones, consist of heterogeneous and parts dissimilar, as does our food. But if they say all food consists of parts various and mixed, and in itself contains the little strings of nerves and bones, and all the veins and parts of blood, then all dry meat and drink must needs consist of parts dissimilar, of bones, of nerves, of veins, and mingled blood.  Further, if all things which grow from the Earth are in the Earth contained, the earth must consist of parts dissimilar, as do those things from which the earth arise. Now change the theme, but keep the terms the same; in wood if flame and smoke, and ashes lay concealed, then wood must needs consist of parts of different frame.  But here a thin evasion seems to shake this argument a little; and Anaxagorus himself makes use of it: he thinks all things are mixed with all things and lie hid, but that one thing only appears, of which it most abounds, and on the surface lies; but this reply is vain, and wide from truth, for then the little grains of corn, when ground, would show some signs of blood, or of some other parts which form our bodies; and when we wear the stones, the blood would flow. By the like reason herbs would sweat sweet drops of liquor, so delightful to the taste as flow from dugs of woolly sheep, and clods of crumbled earth would show the various kinds of fruits and herbs, and leaves distinct and hid in smallest particles within the earth. And then, in wood divided, might be seen concealed ashes and smoke, and smallest parts of fire. But since experience shows nothing of this appears, we must conclude there’s no such mixture as this in things; but say, that common seeds of many things in various order joined, are mixed in every thing, and lie concealed.  But oft, you say, upon the mountain tops, the heads of lofty trees that grow together are by the violent blasts of forcing winds so rubbed by close collision that they soon are all on fire, and flames shine out. ‘Tis true, and yet there’s no actual fire within the wood, but many seeds of fire, which by hard rubbing ignite, and so the wood is all in flames. For if so much of fire had lain concealed within the wood, this fire would have appeared immediately, and so consumed the wood entirely, and burnt its root branches to the ground.  You see therefore of what concern it is, as we observed before, with what first principles those seeds are joined, and in what order placed, and what the motions are they give and take among themselves, and how the seeds remaining ever the same, but yet their order changed, produce a fire from wood; just as we write ignis and lignum, though quite different words, they are yet composed of letters much the same.  Lastly, if things most obvious to the sense, you think, cannot be formed unless you make their seeds consist of principles the same in nature, those principles would be destroyed; you’d see some seeds would shake their little sides with laughing, and some bedew their face with tears.  Now, what remains observe, attend me close. I know my theme is dark, but the great love of praise pricks on my heart with sharpest spurs, and strikes my soul at once with sweet desire of the most tuneful line; but this urged on, my mind in rapture, I haunt the Muses’ seats, of difficult access, and yet untrod. I love to approach the purest springs, and thence to draw large draughts. I love to crop fresh flowers, and make a noble garland for my head; from thence, where yet the Muses never bound another’s temples with a crown like mine. And first, I write of lofty things, and strive to free the mind from the severest bonds of what men call religion; then my verse I frame so clear, although my theme be dark, seasoning my lines with the poetic sweets of fancy, and reason justifies the method. For as the physicians, when they would prevail on children to take down a bitter draught of wormwood, first tinge the edges of the cup, that so the childrens’ unsuspecting age may be deceived, at least their lips, and take the bitter juice, thus harmlessly betrayed, but not abused, they have their health restored. So I, because this system seems severe and harsh, to such who have not yet discerned its truth, and the common herd are utterly averse to this philosophy, I thought it fit to show the rigid principles in verse smooth and alluring, and tinge them, as it were, with sweet poetic honey, thus to charm thy mind with my soft numbers, till you view the nature of all things clearly, and perceive the figure and order they display.