Welcome to Episode Thirteen of Lucretius Today. This is a podcast dedicated to the poet Lucretius, author of “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 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. Find out more about the nature and goals of our podcast at Lucretiustoday.com, where you can download a copy of the text that we read from each week.
In previous episodes we have discussed:
(1) Venus / Pleasure As Guide of Life: That Pleasure, using the allegory of Venus, is the driving force of all life; That the way to rid ourselves of pain is to replace pain with pleasure, using the allegory of Venus entertaining Mars, the god of war;
(2) The Achievement of Epicurus: That Epicurus was the great philosophic leader who stood up to supernatural religion, opened the gates to a proper understanding of nature, and thereby showed us how we too can emulate the life of gods;
(3-4) So Great Is The Power of Religion To Inspire Evil Deeds! That it is not Epicurean philosophy, but supernatural religion, which is truly unholy and prompts men to commit evil deeds;
(5) On Resisting The Threats of Priests And Poets: That false priests and philosophers will try to scare you away from Epicurean philosophy with threats of punishment after death, which is why you must understand that those threats cannot be true; That the key to freeing yourself from false religion and false philosophy is found in the study of nature;
(6-7) Step One: Nothing Comes From Nothing. The first major observation which underlies all the rest of Epicurean philosophy is that we observe that nothing is ever generated from nothing.
(8) Step Two: Nothing Goes To Nothing. The second major observation is that nothing is ever destroyed completely to nothing.
(9) The Evidence That Atoms Exist, Even Though They Are Unseen. The next observation is that we know elemental particles exist, even though we cannot see them just like we know that wind and other things exist by observing their effects.
(10-11) The Void And Its Nature. We also know that the void exists, because things must have space in which to move, as we see they do move.
(12) Everything We Experience Is Composed Of A Combination of Matter And Void. Everything around us that we experience is a natural combination of atoms and void.
In this Episode 13, we move to a discussion of Epicurus’ view on whether reality is objective or subjective, and we explore how Epicurus categorized the things we experience around us as being either (1) the properties (also called essential conjuncts, which are essential and unchanging) or (2) qualities (also called events, which are inessential and changing depending on context) of the bodies that make them up. Whether properties or qualities, all our experiences arise from the nature, movement, and combinations of the atoms, and cease to exist when the atoms which compose the bodies disperse. Today we will discuss Epicurus’ views on this issue, and apply it to the example that Lucretius gave us: the story of the Trojan war.
Our text today begins at at approximately line 439 of the Daniel Brown Edition. Again, whatever is must either act itself, or be by other agents acted on; or must be something in which other bodies must have a place and move; but nothing without body can act, or be acted on; and where can this be done, but in a vacuum or empty space? Therefore, beside what body is or space, no third degree in nature can be found, nothing that ever can affect our sense, or by the power of thought can be conceived. All other things you’ll find essential conjuncts, or else the events or accidents of these. I call essential conjunct what’s so joined to a thing that it cannot, without fatal violence, be forced or parted from it; is weight to stones, to fire heat, moisture to the Sea, touch to all bodies, and not to be touched essential is to void. But, on the contrary, Bondage, Liberty, Riches, Poverty, War, Concord, or the like, which not affect the nature of the thing, but when they come or go, the thing remains entire; these, as it is fit we should, we call Events.  Time likewise of itself is nothing; our sense collects from things themselves what has been done long since, the thing that present is, and what’s to come. For no one, we must own, ever thought of Time distinct from things in motion or at rest.  For when the poets sing of Helen’s rape, or of the Trojan State subdued by war, we must not say that these things do exist now in themselves, since Time, irrevocably past, has long since swept away that race of men that were the cause of those events; for every act is either properly the event of things, or of the places where those things are done.  Further, if things were not of matter formed, were there no place or space where things might act, the fire that burned in Paris’ heart, blown up by love of Helen’s beauty, had never raised the famous contests of a cruel war; nor had the wooden horse set Troy on fire, discharging from his belly in the night the armed Greeks: from whence you plainly see that actions do not of themselves subsist, as bodies do, nor are in nature such as is a void, but rather are more justly called the events of body, and of space, where things are carried on.