These extracts illustrate two of the ways in which, according to Lucretius and his fellow Epicureans, we can free ourselves from fears that torment humanity and destroy peace of mind. In the first he explains that the Gods are too remote from the human plane to be either pleased or angry with us. In the second, he points out the error made by people who mourn extravagantly for the dead, as the soul as well as the body is mortal, so that after death we are absolutely and permanently beyond disturbance and pain. In a way the message is “carpe diem”, but do so through moderation and objective knowledge, rather than through garlands and wine-cups.
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Book 1, lines 44 - 48
omnis enim per se divum natura necessest
immortali aevo summa cum pace fruatur
semota ab nostris rebus seiunctaque longe;
nam privata dolore omni, privata periclis,
ipsa suis pollens opibus, nihil indiga nostri,
nec bene promeritis capitur nec tangitur ira.
‘Iam iam non domus accipiet te laeta neque uxor
optima, nec dulces occurrent oscula nati
praeripere et tacita pectus dulcedine tangent.
non poteris factis florentibus esse tuisque
praesidium. misero misere’ aiunt ‘omnia ademit
una dies infesta tibi tot praemia vitae.’
illud in his rebus non addunt ‘nec tibi earum
iam desiderium rerum super insidet una.’
quod bene si videant animo dictisque sequantur,
dissoluant animi magno se angore metuque.
‘tu quidem ut es leto sopitus, sic eris aevi
quod super est cunctis privatu’ doloribus aegris;
at nos horrifico cinefactum te prope busto
insatiabiliter deflevimus, aeternumque
nulla dies nobis maerorem e pectore demet.’
illud ab hoc igitur quaerendum est, quid sit amari
tanto opere, ad somnum si res redit atque quietem,
cur quisquam aeterno possit tabescere luctu.
For self-evidently the existence led by the Gods
must be enjoyed in the greatest peace over deathless
ages, remote and far separated from human affairs;
for immune from all pain and all dangers,
mighty by its own resources, needing nothing from us,
it is not readily influenced by merit or touched by anger.
“Ah, now your happy home will know you no more, nor
your lovely wife, nor will your sweet children run for
a kiss and touch your heart with their gentle charm.
You will no more be able to live in prosperity, a defence to
your loved ones. Alas,” they say, “one fatal day has taken
each and every prize of life from you!”
They do not add, “nor will desire for a single one of these things oppress you”. If they took proper account
of this and spoke accordingly,they would free themselves from much mental fear and anguish.
“Since you sleep in death, you will for ever
in future be free of all bitterness and pain; but
we, by your ashes on the dreaded pyre, will weep for
you inconsolably, and no day will ever
take the sadness from our hearts.” So that
one has to ask, what is so bitter in this,
if it returns us to peace and rest,
that one should pine away in endless grieving.