Introductionby Titus Lucretius Carus
Epicurus discovered our philosophy.
He is a god.
Who can avail by might of mind to build a poem worthy to match the majesty of truth and these discoveries?
Or who has such skill in speech, that he can fashion praises to match his deserts, who has left us such prizes, conceived and sought out by his own mind? There will be no one, I trow, born of mortal body. For if we must speak as befits the majesty of the truth now known to us, then he was a god, yea a god, noble Memmius, who first found out that principle of life, which now is called wisdom, and who by his skill saved our life from high seas and thick darkness, and enclosed it in calm waters and bright light.His services to men are far greater than those of the gods and heroes of old: For set against this the heaven-sent discoveries of others in the days of old. Ceres is fabled to have taught to men the growing of corn, and Liber the liquid of the vine-born juice; and yet life could have gone on without these things, as tales tell us that some races live even now. But a good life could not be without a clean heart; wherefore more rightly is he counted a god by us, thanks to whom now sweet solaces for life soothe the mind, spread even far and wide among great peoples.even of Hercules. But if you think that the deeds of Hercules n excel this, you will be carried still further adrift from true reasoning. For what harm to us now were the great gaping jaws of the old Nemean lion and the bristling boar of Arcadia? Or what could the bull of Crete do, or the curse of Lerna, the hydra with its pallisade of poisonous snakes? what the triple-breasted might of threefold Geryon? have done us such great hurt, who dwelt in the Stymphalian , 1 or the horses of Diomede the Thracian, breathing fire from their nostrils near the coasts of the Bistones and Ismara? Or the guardian of the glowing golden apples of Hesperus’s daughters, the dragon, fierce, with fiery glance, with his vast body twined around the tree-trunk, yea, what harm could he have done beside the Atlantic shore and the grim tracts of ocean, where none of us draws near nor barbarian dares to venture? And all other monsters of this sort which were destroyed, had they not been vanquished, what hurt, pray, could they have done alive? Not a jot, I trow: the earth even now teems in such abundance with wild beasts, and is filled with trembling terrors throughout forests and mighty mountains and deep woods; but for the most part we have power to shun those spots. But unless the heart is cleansed,For he gave us a clean heart, what battles and perils must we then enter into despite our will? What sharp pangs of passion then rend the troubled man, yea and what fears besides? what of pride, filthiness and wantonness? what havoc they work? what of luxury and sloth? He then who has subdued all these and driven them from the mind by speech, not arms, shall this man not rightly be found worthy to rank among the gods? Above all,and taught us about the gods and nature. since ’twas his wont to speak many sayings in good and godlike words about the immortal gods themselves, and in his discourse to reveal the whole nature of things.
Now that I have shown the laws of nature, and the mortality of the soul,In his footsteps I tread, and while I follow his reasonings and set out in my discourse, by what law all things are created, and how they must needs abide by it, nor can they break through the firm ordinances of their being, even as first of all the nature of the mind has been found to be formed and created above other things with a body that has birth, and to be unable to endure unharmed through the long ages, but it is images that are wont in sleep to deceive the mind, when we seem to behold one whom life has left;I must prove that the world is mortal, and how it came to be made. for what remains, the train of my reasoning has now brought me to this point, that I must give account how the world is made of mortal body and also came to birth; and in what ways that gathering of matter established earth, sky, sea, stars, sun, and the ball of the moon; then what living creatures sprang from the earth, and which have never been born at any time;I must treat of the creation of animals, of the growth of speech, of the origin of the fear of the gods, and of the courses of the heavenly bodies. and in what manner the race of men began to use evervarying speech one to another by naming things; and in what ways that fear of the gods found its way into their breasts, which throughout the circle of the world keeps revered shrines, lakes, groves, altars, and images of the gods. Moreover, I will unfold by what power nature, the helmsman, steers the courses of the sun and the wanderings of the moon; lest by chance we should think that they of their own will ’twixt earth and sky fulfil their courses from year to year, with kindly favour to the increase of earth’s fruits and living creatures, or should suppose that they roll on by any forethought of the gods.All these things come to pass without the interference of the gods. For those who have learnt aright that the gods lead a life free from care, yet if from time to time they wonder by what means all things can be carried on, above all among those things which are descried above our heads in the coasts of heaven, are borne back again into the old beliefs of religion, and adopt stern overlords, whom in their misery they believe have all power, knowing not what can be and what cannot, yea and in what way each thing has its power limited, and its deep-set boundary-stone.
The world will be destroyed.For the rest, that I may delay you no more with promises, first of all look upon seas, and lands, and sky; their threefold nature, their three bodies, Memmius, their three forms so diverse, their three textures so vast, one single day shall hurl to ruin; and the massive form and fabric of the world, held up for many years, shall fall headlong. Nor does it escape me in my mind,This sounds strange, and is hard to prove. how strangely and wonderfully this strikes upon the understanding, the destruction of heaven and earth that is to be, and how hard it is for me to prove it surely in my discourse; even as it always happens, when you bring to men’s ears something unknown before, and yet you cannot place it before the sight of their eyes, nor lay hands upon it; for by this way the paved path of belief leads straightest into the heart of man and the quarters of his mind.Perhaps events will give sensible proof: Yet still I will speak out. Maybe that the very fact will give credence to my words, that earthquakes will arise and within a little while you will behold all things shaken in mighty shock.but reasoning must be tried. But may fortune at the helm steer this far away from us, and may reasoning rather than the very fact make us believe that all things can fall in with a hideous rending crash.
It is no sacrilege to deny that the world and the heavenly bodies are divine.Yet before I essay on this point to declare destiny in more holy wise, and with reasoning far more sure than the Pythian priestess, who speaks out from the tripod and laurel of Phoebus, I will unfold many a solace for you in my learned discourse; lest by chance restrained by religion you should think that earth and sun, and sky, sea, stars, and moon must needs abide for everlasting, because of their divine body, and therefore should suppose it right that after the manner of the giants all should pay penalty for their monstrous crime, who by their reasoning shake the walls of the world, and would fain quench the glorious sun in heaven, branding things immortal with mortal names; yet these are things so far sundered from divine power, and are so unworthy to be reckoned among gods,They are not even sentient. that they are thought rather to be able to afford us the concept of what is far removed from vital motion and sense. For verily it cannot be that we should suppose that the nature of mind and understanding can be linked with every body:Soul and mind, like all other things, have their appointed place, apart from which they cannot exist. even as a tree cannot exist in the sky, nor clouds in the salt waters, nor can fishes live in the fields, nor blood be present in wood nor sap in stones. It is determined and ordained where each thing can grow and have its place. So the nature of mind cannot come to birth alone without body, nor exist far apart from sinews and blood. But if this could be, far sooner might the force of mind itself exist in head or shoulders, or right down in the heels, and be wont to be born in any part you will, but at least remain in the same man or the same vessel. But since even within our body it is determined and seen to be ordained where soul and mind can dwell apart and grow, all the more must we deny that outside the whole body and the living creature’s form,They cannot be in earth or the heavenly bodies. it could last on in the crumbling sods of earth or in the fire of the sun or in water or in the high coasts of heaven. They are not then created endowed with divine feeling, inasmuch as they cannot be quickened with the sense of life.
The gods have no dwellings in the world:This, too, it cannot be that you should believe, that there are holy abodes of the gods in any parts of the world. For the fine nature of the gods, far sundered from our senses, is scarcely seen by the understanding of the mind; and since it lies far beneath all touch or blow from our hands, it cannot indeed touch anything which can be touched by us. For nothing can touch which may not itself be touched. Therefore even their abodes too must needs be unlike our abodes, fine even as are their bodies; all which I will hereafter prove to you n with plenteous argument. Further,nor did they make the world for the sake of man. to say that for man’s sake they were willing to fashion the glorious nature of the world, and for that cause ’tis fitting to praise the work of the gods, which is worthy to be praised, and to believe that it will be everlasting and immortal, and that it is sin ever to stir from its seats by any force what was established for the races of men for all time by the ancient wisdom of the gods, or to assail it with argument, and to overthrow it from top to bottom; to imagine and to add all else of this sort, Memmius, is but foolishness.Our thanks could not benefit them, For what profit could our thanks bestow on the immortal and blessed ones, that they should essay to do anything for our sakes? Or what new thing could have enticed them so long after, when they were aforetime at rest,nor could they have had a desire for novelty: to desire to change their former life? For it is clear that he must take joy in new things, to whom the old are painful; but for him, whom no sorrow has befallen in the time gone by, when he led a life of happiness, for such an one what could have kindled a passion for new things?nor would it have hurt us if we had never been created. Or what ill had it been to us never to have been made? Did our life, forsooth, lie wallowing in darkness and grief, until the first creation of things dawned upon us? For whosoever has been born must needs wish to abide in life, so long as enticing pleasure shall hold him. But for him, who has never tasted the love of life, and was never in the ranks of the living, what harm is it never to have been made?How, again, could the gods have had a pattern or an idea to work on? Further, how was there first implanted in the gods a pattern for the begetting of things, yea, and the concept of man, n so that they might know and see in their mind what they wished to do, or in what way was the power of the first-beginnings ever learnt, or what they could do when they shifted their order one with the other, if nature did not herself give a model of creation?No; the world was made by the chance arrangement of atoms. For so many first-beginnings of things in many ways, driven on by blows from time everlasting until now, and moved by their own weight, have been wont to be borne on, and to unite in every way, and essay everything that they might create, meeting one with another, that it is no wonder if they have fallen also into such arrangements, and have passed into such movements, as those whereby this present sum of things is carried on, ever and again replenished.
That the world is not divinely made for man, may be proved by its imperfections.But even if I knew not n what are the first-beginnings of things, yet this I would dare to affirm from the very workings of heaven, and to prove from many other things as well, that by no means has the nature of things been fashioned for us by divine grace: so great are the flaws with which it stands beset. First, of all that the huge expanse of heaven covers, half thereof mountains and forests of wild beasts have greedily seized;1. Vast tracts of the earth are useless for man, and only his toil can turn them to profit. rocks possess it, and waste pools and the sea, which holds far apart the shores of the lands. Besides, two thirds almost burning heat and the ceaseless fall of frost steal from mortals. Of all the field-land that remains, yet nature would by her force cover it up with thorns, were it not that the force of man resisted her, ever wont for his livelihood to groan over the strong mattock and to furrow the earth with the deep-pressed plough. But that by turning the fertile clods with the share, and subduing the soil of the earth we summon them to birth, of their own accord the crops could not spring up into the liquid air; and even now sometimes, when won by great toil things grow leafy throughout the land, and are all in flower, either the sun in heaven burns them with too much heat, or sudden rains destroy them and chill frosts, and the blasts of the winds harry them with headstrong hurricane. Moreover,2. He is harassed by wild beasts, disease, and death. why does nature foster and increase the awesome tribe of wild beasts to do harm to the race of man by land and sea? Why do the seasons of the year bring maladies? Why does death stalk abroad before her time?3. The human baby is helpless and defenceless. Then again, the child, like a sailor tossed ashore by the cruel waves, lies naked on the ground, dumb, lacking all help for life, when first nature has cast him forth by travail from his mother’s womb into the coasts of light, and he fills the place with woful wailing, as is but right for one for whom it remains in life to pass through so much trouble. But the diverse flocks and herds grow up and the wild beasts, nor have they need of rattles, nor must there be spoken to any of them the fond and broken prattle of the fostering nurse, nor do they seek diverse garments to suit the season of heaven, nay, and they have no need of weapons or lofty walls, whereby to protect their own, since for all of them the earth itself brings forth all things bounteously, and nature, the quaint artificer of things.