Lucretius Today Podcast Episode Twenty-One: The Universe Has No Center (Final Episode of Book One)
Listen to “Episode 021 – The Universe Has No Center” on Spreaker.
With this episode we complete our reading and discussion of Book One with Lucretius’ argument that the Universe as a whole has no center. Thanks to all who participated in these podcasts, and next week we will move forward into Book Two. As always please let us know any comments or suggestions in the thread below.
Welcome to Episode Twenty-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. 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 Lucretius will the goal of promoting 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 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, as ends in themselves, 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.
Now for today in this Episode 21, we close Book One with a discussion of how the Earth does not reside at the center of the Universe. For as the animal creation, deprived of food, must perish, and their bodies be quite destroyed, so things must be dissolved as soon as matter, turning from its course, fails to afford supply, and save the whole.  Nor, as some may object, can outward blows on all sides given, preserve this All of things we see compounded, from falling into pieces: They may indeed beat thick, and stay some part, till other atoms come, and so supply the universe. But often they are compelled to bound, and leap back, and so afford the seeds both time and place to fly away, and thus to get their former liberty again. Therefore, ’tis fit that many seeds should still arise, from time to time, for a supply; and that these blows might never cease to beat, the force of matter must be on all sides infinite.  In these inquiries see that you avoid, my Memmius, to believe with some that say, all bodies strive to reach the middle place of this great All, and so the nature of the world stands fixed, not struck at all by outward blows; nor can the upper or lower parts be scattered any way abroad, since all things by nature to the center tend (as if you could believe that any thing could stay and rest upon itself, that heavy bodies tend upwards, and fix their rest upon the surface of the earth opposite to us, just as we see the images of bodies show themselves in water.) By the same reason they contend that creatures walk underneath, as we above; nor can they fall into the regions of the air below, than can our bodies naturally fly upwards to Heaven; and when they see the sun, we view the stars of night, and so by turns they share with us the seasons of the heavens, and with us still divide night and days.  But vain mistake hath formed this scheme for fools, who judge perversely of the seeds of things. For there can be no Middle, where there is a void or space that’s infinite; or if there was, can bodies, for this reason, rather stop their course in this medium, than take up their abode in any part of space that’s further off. For place, or empty space, which we call void, must equally give way to heavy movements through a medium, or through none, which way soever their motions tend; nor is there any place where bodies, when they come, throw off their weight, and stand fixed in a void, and take their rest. Nor can a void support the weight of bodies, but must by its own nature still give way. It follows then that things are not preserved or held together by this means, as if they fondly strove to reach a middle space.  Besides, all bodies, they pretend, do not incline towards the center, but those of earth and water, the sea, the rivers rolling from the hills, and those that are composed of earthy parts. But the thin air, they say, and the hot fire are carried upwards from the middle; and hence it is the sky spangled every way with stars, and the sun’s flame in his celestial course is fed, because the fire flying from the center there binds up all its heat; (so from the earth all mortal things are fed, nor can the trees adorn their lofty heads with leaves unless the earth to every kind affords its due support.) They say a sort of heavenly canopy above covers the whole, and holds it in; lest the world’s walls, their parts being all dissolved, should instantly be scattered through the void, like swiftest flames, and all things be overwhelmed in this great ruin; lest the thundering vaults of heaven should tumble from above, and earth should fail our trembling feet, and the whole race of men, their bodies broken and dissolved, should wander through the boundless void, amidst these mingles ruins of the earth and heavens; and in a moment nothing would be left but desert empty space, and senseless seeds. For in whatever part you will suppose the seeds to separate, here will be the gate of death to bodies; for matter through the breach will rush abroad, and press with mighty force.  If this you thoroughly know, and little pains will serve (for one thing by another you’ll explain) no more shall darkness interrupt your way, but you shall view the utmost depths of nature, for things will show themselves by mutual light.