Lucretius Today Podcast Episode Seventen: All Things Are Not Made Of A Single Element, Such as Fire

Listen to “Episode 017 – All Things Are Not Made Of A Single Thing, Such as Fire” on Spreaker.

Welcome to Episode Seventeen of Lucretius Today. This is a podcast dedicated to the poet Lucretius, who lived in the age of Julius Caesar and wrote “On The Nature of Things,” the only complete presentation of Epicurean philosophy left to us from the ancient world.

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 modern commentators teach about it today.

Second: We won’t be talking about modern political issues in this podcast. Epicurean philosophy is very different from Stoicism, Humanism, Buddhism, Taoism, Atheism, and Marxism – it must be understood on its own, not in terms of any conventional modern morality.

Third: The physics presented by Lucretius is the essential base of Epicurean philosophy. When you study this, you will see that Epicurus taught neither luxury nor minimalism, but that feeling – pleasure and pain – are the guides that Nature gave us to live by rather than supernatural gods, idealism, or virtue ethics. More than anything else, Epicurus taught that there is nothing supernatural whatsoever, and that means there’s no life after death, and 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 home page is LucretiusToday.com, and there you can find a free copy of the versions of the poem we are reading.

In this Episode 17, we will discuss how All things are not made of a single element, such as fire, contrary to what some philosophers asserted – such as Heraclitus, who held all things are made of fire.

Daniel Brown 1743 Edition:

[621] Lastly, if nature, parent of things, had not compelled all things that perish then to be resolved into least parts, she could from them repair nothing that dies; for bodies that are formed of various parts can never be endued with properties, which the first seeds of things ought to possess, as union, weight, and force, agreement, motion, by which all things act.

[627] And yet, suppose that nature had allowed no end to bodies being divided, yet some bodies from eternity must have been, which by no force could ever be subdued. But bodies that are formed of brittle seeds, and to be broken, could not have remained for ages infinite, vexed as they have been with endless blows, but must have been dissolved.

[635] Wherefore, those sages who have thought that fire is the first principle of things, and from that alone the whole is formed, do greatly err from the true rule of reason. The champion of these, Heraclitus, enters first the lists, more famed for dark expression among empty Greeks than with the wise, who search for truth; for none but fools admire, and love what they see couched in words abstruse; and that they take for truth which quaintly moves the ear, and painted over effects by witty jingling of the sound.

[646] For how such various beings could arise, I ask, if formed from pure and real fire? To say, that the hot fire is now condensed, and sometimes rarified, would nought avail; the several parts must still retain the nature of fire, the same which the fire had when whole; the heat would be more fierce, the parts condensed, more languid when divided and made rare. There’s nothing more than this you can derive from causes such as these; much less so great variety of things can be produced from fire or flame, condensed or made rare.

[656] Indeed, would they admit in things a void, fire then might be condensed or rarified; but this, because it contradicts their other schemes, they murmur at, and will allow in things no empty space: So, while they fear to grant this difficult truth, they lose the way that’s right, nor do they see, by not allowing there is in things a void, all bodies would be dense, and out of all one only would be made, which could by force emit nothing without itself, as the hot fire emits both light and heat, which shews it is not composed of crowded parts, without a void.

[666] But if they think that a fire in all its parts may be extinguished, and so its body change; if they insist that this may once be done, then the whole fire must be resolved to nothing, and things new-form from nothing must arise; for whatsoever is changed, and breaks the bounds of its first nature, dies, and is no more what must still remain whole and unhurt, lest things to nothing should perfectly return; and then revive, and should again from nothing be restored.

[676] But now, since there remain some certain seeds that keep their nature still the same, whose absence or their presence, and their change of order change the nature of compound bodies, you must not think that these first seeds are fiery; if they were, what would it signify what seeds are absent, or what retire, what others take their place, how others may their rank and order change, since all would still be in their nature fire, and beings formed from them must wholly be of fire? But, as I think, the case is thus: some certain seeds there are by whose concussion, motion, order, site, and figure, fire is formed; and when their order is changed, they change the nature of this fire; but these first seeds have nothing fiery in themselves, nor of such a nature are they as to send forth bodies to be perceived by sense, or be the object of our touch.

[691] And now to say that every thing is fire, and no true thing in nature does exist but fire, as this man does, is madness all; he contradicts his senses by his sense, and overthrows those tests of truth by which all things are known: for ’tis by them we know what thing which he calls fire, and this sense concludes, it truly knows the nature of this fire; but then all other things it will deny, which equally are true. This is to me a vain and foolish way to judge; for to what shall we apply? And what can be more sure than our senses to us, by which we fully know falsehood and truth?

[702] Besides, why any one should all things else disclaim, and only fire allow, or say there’s no such thing as fire, and all things else allow, either of this is in vain, and equal madness to believe.