Welcome to Episode Sixteen 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 16, we will discuss how The Atoms Are Never Destroyed, that the Atoms Provide Continuity To All Nature, and that there is a strict limit on Divisibility of All Things.
Daniel Brown Edition, Approximately Line 550:
But still, if nature had prefixed no bounds in breaking things to pieces, the parts of matter, broken by every passing age, had been reduced so small that nothing could of them be formed that would in any time become mature; for things we see much sooner are dissolved than are again restored; and therefore what an infinite tract of ages past has broken, and separated and dissolved, in future time can never be repaired; so that certain bounds of breaking and dividing must be set, because we see each being is repaired, and stated times are fixed to every thing in which it feels the flower of its age.
And yet, though the first seeds of things are solid, all beings that are compounded, such as air and water, earth and fire, may be soft, (however made, or by what power formed) and from them be produced, because there is a void still mixed with things; and, on the contrary, if these first seeds were soft, what reason can there be assigned whence hardened flints and iron could be formed, for nature would want the proper principles to work upon; and therefore these first seeds must simple solids be, by whose union close and compact all things are bound up firm, and so display their strength and hardy force.
Again, because each being in its kind has certain bounds prefixed to its increase, and to the preservation of its life, and since by nature’s laws it is ordained to each how far their powers to act or not extend; since nothing changes, and every thing goes on as it began, each kind of birds, most steady in their course, shew the same colors painted on their wings, the principles of matter whence they spring must be fixed and unchangeable; if the seeds of things could change by any means, it would be unknown what could be formed, what not; by what means every being is limited, and stops short within the bounds it cannot break; nor could the course of time in every age, the nature, motion, diet, and the manners of the old sire impress upon the young.
Besides, because the utmost point or the extreme of every body something is the eye cannot discern, it is not made of parts, but is in nature what we call the least; which never exists of itself, divided from body, nor ever can, because it is the very first and last of something else. For ’tis by heaping up such parts as these, one by another, that complete the being of every body. Since then they can’t subsist apart, and separate, they must needs stick close, nor be divided by the utmost force. These seeds therefore are in their nature solid, and simple, formed of smallest parts bound close; not tied together by united seeds of various kinds, but in themselves entire, eternally unmixed and pure, from which nature will suffer nothing to be forced or lessened, reserving them as first seeds, to form and to repair those things that die.
Again, suppose there was no least, the smallest bodies must be composed of parts boundless and infinite; the half of every being must then contain another half, so there would be no end of still dividing; and where would be the difference between the smallest and the largest bodies? None in the least; for though the whole be entirely infinite, yet bodies that are smallest would contain infinite parts alike, which, since true reason exclaims against, nor will allow the mind to give assent, you must, convinced, profess that there are bodies which are void of parts, and are by nature least; since such there are, you must admit them solid and eternal.