31   Fear of death and hell must be dealt with

“… and (by Lucretius’ poetry) that fear of Acheron must be driven out headlong, which disturbs human life so deeply and completely, staining everything with the blackness of death and allowing no pleasure to be unmixed and pure.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 3.37-40


30   Delighted by revelation

“In contemplating these things (i.e. various aspects of the universe as clarified by reason) I am at this point overwhelmed with a certain divine pleasure and a thrill, that by your power (i.e. by the insights and reasoning of Epicurus) nature is thus revealed in every direction, lying open and so clear to view.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 3.28-30


29   There is no underworld to be afraid of

“But (while nature makes possible a state of happiness) conversely nowhere appear the regions of Acheron (i.e., the mythical underworld), although the earth does not stand in the way of perceiving everything whatever that happens beneath our feet throughout space.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 3.25-27


28   A fresh outlook on the universe

“For as soon as your doctrine, sprung from your divine understanding, begins to proclaim the nature of things, the terrors of the soul disperse, the walls of the world fall away, and I see how things operate throughout the whole of space.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 3.14-17


27   Pure nectar

“… and from your writings, illustrious one, as bees sip everything in flower-bearing pastures, so we feed on all your golden sayings – golden with supreme and abiding value for the whole of life.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 3.10-13


26   A great philosopher’s interest and support

“You, father (Epicurus), are a discoverer of the truth about things, and you supply us with an abundance of fatherly precepts.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 3.9-10


25   Epicurus has shown the way

“You (Epicurus) were the first person capable of raising up so bright a light in such great darkness, illuminating what is useful and pleasant in life. I follow you, glory of the Greek people, and now firmly put my footsteps in the marks you have made.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 3.1-4


24   Things grow to a natural limit

“… until at length nature, who creates and brings to completion, leads everything to its furthest limit of growth.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 2.1116-1117


23   Always everywhere

“Or who can be present in all places at all times, so as to cause darkness with clouds and shake the serenity of the heavens with thunder?”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 2.1099-1101


22   Who can rule the universe?

“For … who is capable of ruling the whole of the immense universe, who is capable of handling the mighty reins of what is boundless, guiding and controlling?”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 2.1093, 1095-1096


21   Nature works alone

“Once you have a good understanding of this (that everything animate and inanimate is born and dies according to its kind), it is immediately apparent that nature, independent of domineering rulers, freely and spontaneously does everything herself on her own without the gods.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 2.1090-1092


20   Birth and death are universal

“For the fact is that the deeply set boundary stone of life waits for them (sky, earth, sun, moon and so on), and they have bodies that were born, just as with every species of thing that abounds here according to its kind.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 2.1087-1089


19   Nothing is singular and without parallel

“Furthermore, there is not a single thing in the universe which comes into being unique (of its kind) and develops unique and singular; in fact everything belongs to some generational group and there are very many things of the same kind.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 2.1077-1080


18   Nature is apt to produce worlds

“… especially (is it the case that there may be other worlds) in view of the fact that this (world) has been made by nature as seeds of things (atoms), after coming together by chance in various ways fruitlessly and without result, have finally in their spontaneous collisions produced sudden combinations which in each case become the beginnings of great things – earth, sea, heavens, and the category of living things.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 2.1058-1063


17   Many worlds are likely

“In no way, then, should it be thought likely, when infinite space lies open in all directions and seeds (i.e. atoms) countless in number and boundless in quantity fly about in multitudinous ways under the impulse of everlasting movement, that a single earth and heaven have been created, and that those numerous bodies of matter beyond are doing nothing.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 2.1052-1057


16   The permanent and the superficial

“… nor must you think that what we see floating on the surface of things (i.e. visible qualities), now born and now perishing, can belong permanently to everlasting primal bodies (i.e. atoms).”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 2.1010-1012


15   A constant process of assembly and re-assembly

“Death does not destroy things in such a way as to bring to nothing the bodies of matter (i.e. atoms of which things are composed), but so as to break up combinations of them; then it attaches them (the atoms) one to another (in new combinations).”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 2.1002-1003


14   We cannot do without her

“… she (the earth) supplies the nourishment whereby all feed their bodies and lead a pleasant life and produce offspring; and on this account she has deservedly received the name of mother.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 2.996-998


13   At what point do abilities emerge?

“… one can laugh without being composed of things that laugh, and one can be wise and express oneself in a rational and learned manner without having developed from seeds that are wise and expressive.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 2.986-988


12   Sensation occurs by arrangement of atoms

“Now you must acknowledge that whatever we observe to have sensation is nevertheless composed of elements which are without sensation.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 2.865-867


11   All or nothing

“All these (changeable qualities of things) must be distinguished from the elements (of which things are composed), if we wish to give things imperishable foundations on which the universe may safely rest; otherwise you would have everything going back entirely to nothing.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 2.861-864


10   Things change but atoms remain

“For (when things change in colour) it is necessary that something remains that is unchangeable, or everything would be reduced entirely to nothing; for whenever something changes and passes beyond its own limits, this is immediately the death of what existed before.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 2.751-754


9   Poetry can go too far

“In the event that anyone resolves to call the sea Neptune and crops Ceres, and prefers to misuse the name Bacchus rather than say the proper term for the liquid (i.e., wine), then let us allow them to designate the earth the Mother of the Gods so long as they in reality refrain from the inner defilement of base superstition.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 2.655-659, 680


8   The fascination of stories and rituals

“Although these traditions (about the Earth Mother) may be finely arranged and very impressive, they are nevertheless far removed from true reason.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 2.644-645


7   Conflicting tendencies but perpetual equilibrium

“And so destructive movements can neither be permanently dominant nor overwhelm vitality forever, nor in turn can movements that promote the birth and growth of things permanently preserve what has been created. Thus the war that has been going on within limits from infinite time continues evenly in this contest of elements.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 2.569-574


6   Atoms determine our sensations

“For everything whatever that delights the senses has been formed as a thing which you experience as being not without some smoothness in its primal elements; while on the contrary whatever is disagreeable and harsh is detected as being not without some roughness of matter.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 2.422-425


5   There is nothing outside the universe

“Neither can any force change the sum of things; for there is nothing outside to which any kind of matter can escape from the universe or from which a new force can originate and break into the universe and change the entire nature of things and alter their movements.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 2.303-307


4   Evidence of free will in everyone

“For it is beyond doubt that in this process (of pleasure, will and movement) a person’s own will initiates movements which from that beginning are guided through the parts of the body.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 2.261-262


3   Our ability to change direction

“Where, I say, does that will come from which is rescued from the fates and by which we proceed wherever pleasure leads us, likewise swerving in our movements, neither at a fixed time nor at a fixed location, but when and where the mind itself directs?”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 2.257-260


2   The origins of free will

“Again, if all things are linked in their movements, and a new movement arises from the old in a definite order, and primal elements initiate no new movement by swerving, thus breaking the laws of fate, so that cause does not follow cause from infinity, where does that free will come from that exists for living things throughout the earth?”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 2.251-256


1   A candid view of the evidence

“For even if I lacked knowledge of the primal elements of which things are made, I would nevertheless venture to assert and affirm that, given the characteristics of celestial phenomena and on the basis of many other things, the nature of the world has in no way been created for us by divine influence: it possesses such great defects.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 2.177-181


Headings are linked (or are to be linked) to related blog posts, where comments can be submitted. The translations are open to revision on textual or other grounds. At some points the interpretation is provisional.

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