Luretius Today Podcast Episode 60 – Dreams, and the Mind’s Use of Images

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Welcome to Episode Sixty of Lucretius Today.

I am your host Cassius, and together with my panelists from the forum, we’ll walk you through the six books of Lucretius’ poem, and discuss how Epicurean philosophy can apply to you today. 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.

For anyone who is not familiar with our podcast, please check back to Episode One for a discussion of our goals and our ground rules. If you have any question about that, please be sure to contact us at for more information.

In this episode 60 – we will discuss dreams, and the mind’s use of images.

Our text comes from Latin Lines 907-1036 of Book Four.

Now let’s join the discussion with Charles reading today’s text.

Browne 1743

Next, how soft sleep dissolves the limbs in rest, and frees the mind from anxious care, I choose in few but sweetest numbers to explain; as the swan’s short song is more melodious than the harsh noise of cranes scattered by winds through all the air. Hear me, my Memmius, with attentive ears and a discerning mind, lest what I shall prove, you think impossible to be; and so your mind refusing to admit the truth I shall relate, you make no progress in philosophy, when the fault is in yourself, that you will not see. And first, sleep comes on when the power of the soul, diffused through the limbs, part of it is thrown out and fled abroad, and part being squeezed more close retires further within; then are the limbs dissolved and grow weak. For without doubt the business of the soul is to stir up sense in us, which since sleep removes, we must conclude that the soul then is disturbed and driven abroad: Not the whole soul, for then the body would lie in the cold arms of eternal death; then no part of the soul would lie retired within the limbs, as a fire remains covered under a heap of ashes; from whence the senses might be kindled again through the body, as a flame is soon raised from hidden fire. But by what means this wonderful change is brought about, how the soul is thus disordered and the body languishes, I shall now explain. Do you see that I do not scatter my words unto the wind.

And first, the outward surface of bodies which are always touched by the adjacent air, must of necessity be struck by it and beaten with frequent blows; and for this reason all things almost are covered either with skin, or bristles, or shells, or buff, or bark. This air then, as it is drawn in and breathed out by respiration, strikes upon the inward parts of the body. Since therefore the body is beat upon from within and without, and since the strokes pierce through the little pores into the seeds and first principles of it, this cause a kind of ruin and destruction through all the limbs; the situation of the seeds, both of the body and mind, are disordered, so that part of the soul is forced out, and part retires and lurks close within, and the part that is diffused through the limbs is so broken and divided, that the seeds cannot unite to perform their mutual operations, for nature stops up all the passages of communication between them, and therefore the regular motions being exceedingly changed, the sense is entirely gone. Since therefore there is not power sufficient to support the limbs, the body becomes weak; all the members languish; the arms, the eyelids fall, and the knees sink under the weight of the body. Thus sleep follows when the belly is full, because food, when it is distributed through all the veins, has the same effect upon the soul as the air had; and that sleep is by much the soundest which you take when you are weary or full, because then more of the seeds being agitated and put into motion by the hard labour, mutually disturb and disorder one another. And for this reason the soul retires further within, and a greater part of it is thrown out, and the parts that remain within are the more separated and the further disjoined.

And then the business we more particularly follow, the affairs we are chiefly employed in, and what our mind is principally delighted with when we are awake, the same we are commonly conversant about when we are asleep. The lawyer is pleading of causes and making of statutes, the soldier is fighting and engaging in battles, the sailor is warring against the winds; for myself, I am always searching into the nature of things, and writing my discoveries in Latin verse; and so, many other arts and employments are commonly the empty entertainments of the minds of men when they are asleep. And they who spend their time in seeing plays for many days together, when those representations are no longer present to the waking senses, there still remain some open traces left in the mind, through which the images of those things find a passage, so that for many days after the whole performance is acting over again before their eyes; and even while they are awake they fancy they see the dancers leaping, and moving their active limbs, and hear the speaking strings; they see the same audience, the same variety of the scenes and decorations of the stage. So strong impressions do use and custom make upon us; such effects do the common business of life produce in the minds of men, and beasts likewise.

For you shall see the gallant Courser, when his limbs are at rest, to sweat in his sleep, to breath short, and, the barriers down, to lay himself out as it were on the full stretch for the prize. And hounds frequently in their soft sleep throw out their legs, and of a sudden yelp and snuff the air quick with their nose, as if they were full cry upon the foot of the deer; and when awake they still pursue the empty image of the game, as if they saw it run swiftly before them, till undeceived they quit the chase, and the fancied image vanishes away. And the fawning breed of house-dogs, that live at home, often rouse and shake the drowsy fit from their eyes, and start up of a sudden with their bodies, as if they saw a stranger or a face they had not been used to. The sharper the seeds are of which the images are formed, they strike in the sleep with the greater violence; so, many birds will fly about, and hide themselves in the inmost recesses of sacred groves by night, if in their soft sleep they see the hawk pursuing them upon the wing, or pouncing or engaging with his prey.

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