31   Survival primitive and modern

“Nor used the races of mortals to relinquish with lamentation the sweet light of life far more then than now.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 5.988-989


30   Living without rules

“Nor were they able to have regard for the common good, nor did they know the use of any customs or laws among themselves.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 5.958-959


29   Some things are impossible

“… and (the misguided theorist) may say that rivers of gold commonly flowed across the earth, that trees used to blossom with precious stones, or that a person was born with such power of limb that he (or she) could stride across deep seas and turn the whole heavens around him with his hands.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 5.911-915


28   Plants then animals

“Thus the then new earth first raised up herbs and shrubs, and afterwards produced the numerous races of mortal creatures, which came forth in many forms and in a variety of ways.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 5.790-792


27   Heat could overcome the world

“Again, while the world’s principal elements (i.e. fire, water, earth and air) fight so much among themselves, engaged in a war that is by no means just, surely you see the possibility that some stop may be put to their long struggle – perhaps when the sun and every form of heat have dried up all the moisture and prevailed?”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 5.380-384


26   Discovery and explanation

“Furthermore, this explanation of the nature of things has been discovered recently, and now I myself (Lucretius) have been discovered as the foremost among pioneers in being able to render it in our native speech.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 5.335-337


25   Nature is stronger

“Next, do you not see that even stones are conquered by time, that high towers fall to ruin and rocks decay, that temples and statues of gods wear out and fall apart, and that a revered deity cannot extend the bounds of fate or make way against the laws of nature?”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 5.306-310


24   Light and matter

“Accordingly, therefore, we must hold that the sun, moon and stars spread light by drawing on one upsurge (of light) after another (from within themselves), always losing whatever flame first appears – so that you may not believe that these (sources of light) flourish strongly without perishing.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 5.302-305


23   Flowing this way and that

“… as the fact is that all things are in constant flux.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 5.280


22   Earth gives and receives

“Moreover, whatever increases something else is for its own part given back; and since it is without doubt apparent that the mother of all is herself the common burial-place of things, accordingly (as you see) earth is diminished and (being augmented) grows again.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 5.257-260


21   This world has a limited life-span

“In the first place, since the body of the earth and moisture and the light breaths of breezes and vaporous heat, of which this sum of things is seen to consist, all have a body that is born and dies, the whole nature of the world must be thought to have the same (i.e. to be born and to die).”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 5.235-239


20   Natural habitats have everything needful

“Finally they (non-human animals) do not need weapons or high walls by which they may protect their possessions, since they all have everything supplied in abundance by the earth itself and nature, the skilful maker.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 5.232-234


19   Dealing with natural difficulties

“What cultivable land remains (i.e. apart from the large areas of the globe where geography and climate make agriculture impossible), nature itself by its own strength would cover with brambles, if human strength did not oppose it, accustomed for the sake of survival to groan over the strong hoe and to break up the earth by pressing down on the plough.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 5.206-209

18   The drama of the universe

“For from an infinity of past time many primal elements that make up things have been accustomed, moved by blows (from other atoms) and by their own weight, to be carried along in groups and to join together in all kinds of ways and to try every possible combination that they could produce among themselves in coming together.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 5.187-191


17   Unaware and unaffected

“… but for someone who has never tasted the love of life, never been numbered among the living, what harm is there in not having been created?”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 5.179-180


16   Completely happy

“… but one who has experienced no misfortune in the past, in a beautiful existence – what could kindle a passion for change in such a being?”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 5.171-173


15   An imagined reciprocity

“For what benefit could our gratitude bestow on immortal and blissful beings, that they should undertake to do anything for our sake?”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 5.165-167


14   There are fixed universal principles

“While following in his footsteps (i.e. of Epicurus) I (Lucretius) pursue reasoning and teach by my words by what law all created things exist, how they must necessarily continue in that law, and how impossible it is for them to cancel out the strong statutes of eternity.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 5.55-58


13   The best gift

“But it was not possible to live well without being pure of heart; and for that reason this man (Epicurus) seems to us more deservedly to be a god, from whom sweet comfort in life has spread out across great nations and is even now calming and soothing people’s minds.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 5.18-21


12   As different as night and day

“… who (i.e. Epicurus) by his skill has brought life from a place of such great waves and such great darkness to a place of such tranquillity and so bright a light.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 5.10-12


11   Little by little

“… for something that is struck by repeated blows, however lightly, is nevertheless overcome after a long period of time and yields. Do you not see even drops of water falling on rock piercing the rock after a long period of time?”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 4.1284-1287


10   Origin and purpose

“Whatever other explanations of this kind which people give are all turned about by back-to-front reasoning, since in fact nothing in our bodies is born in order that we may use it (for a customary purpose) but what is born generates a (particular) use.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 4.832-835


9   Straight and true

“… so too (as faulty measuring instruments would produce a crooked building) your reasoning about things must be crooked and misleading if it arises from senses which are misleading (i.e. if the senses are not a secure basis for sound reasoning).”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 4.520-521


8   The senses are indispensable

“… life itself would also go at once to ruin unless you dare to trust the senses and avoid precipices and other things of this type from which we should keep away, and seek things of the opposite kind.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 4.507-510


7   The need to respect evidence

“(It is better to accept contradictory evidence than) to do violence to basic belief and destroy the foundations on which life and well-being rest.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 4.505-506


6   Reason and the senses

“If they (the senses) are not true, reason is made entirely false as well.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 4.485


5   Truth and the senses

“You will find that the concept of what is true is produced from the senses in the first instance and that the senses cannot be refuted.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 4.478-479


4   Certainty in the midst of uncertainty

“… I would nevertheless ask this question (of someone who denies that anything can be known): since he (or she) has not previously seen any truth in things, on what basis he knows what it is to know and conversely not to know, what thing has produced his notions of what is true and what is false and what thing has shown him that what is doubtful differs from what is certain.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 4.473-477


3   Scepticism has its limits

“Next, if anyone thinks that nothing can be known, he (or she) does not even know whether that can be known, since he confesses to knowing nothing.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 4.469-470


2   Facts and interpretation

“For nothing is more difficult than to separate clear facts from dubious additions which the mind immediately makes of its own accord.”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 4.467-468


1   Communicating for a purpose

“… if by such means (presenting philosophy in an attractive way) I (Lucretius) may keep your mind on my verses, until you understand the whole nature of things and gain deep insight into the usefulness (of this knowledge).”

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 4.23-25


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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