Translated by Ian Johnston
Vancouver Island University
Nanaimo, British Columbia

Minor Revisions 2017

For Table of Contents and information about this translation, including copyright, please use this link: Contents.



[Tribute to Epicurus; fear of the afterworld upsets human life; concern about death leads to unjust actions; mind is part of the body; doctrine of the mind as harmony is false; mind has feelings; heat and vital air in the mind; mind and soul; soul responds to feelings in the mind; mind and soul are physical; material composing mind is minute, round, and small; soul occupies very little space and has hardly any weight; soul contains air; a fourth element in the soul is the “soul of the soul”; unity of the four element of the soul; heat, cold wind, and passive air in the mind; different combinations of these elements; body and soul not separate from body; mind and soul essential for life; actions of soul, mind, and body in sensation; disagreement with Democritus; placement of particles of soul; proofs of mortality of body and soul; death not something to be concerned about; the mythical stories of punishments in Hades are foolish; all great men from the past have died; importance of understanding the source of one’s fears; all human life has a limit]


O you who were the first man capable                                INVOCATION TO EPICURUS
of raising such illuminating light
out of such deep darkness and making clear
the truest things in life, I follow you,
great glory of the race of Greeks, and now,
in those deep tracks you made I firmly place
my footsteps, not from any strong desire
to be your rival, but because with love
I yearn to emulate you.(1) For why should
the swallow struggle against the swan?                                10
Or in a race what could young goats achieve,
on their tottering limbs, which might compare
with mighty powers of a horse? You are
our father, discoverer of truth. For us,
you supply in full a father’s teaching,
and from your writings, you illustrious man,                                         [10]
as bees in flowery woodland pastures sip
from every plant, in the same way we feed
on all your golden words—yes, all of gold,
always most worthy of eternal life.                                      20
For once that philosophy which arose
in your godlike mind has begun to speak
about the nature of things, then terrors
in the mind disperse, world’s walls fall open,
I see what is going on in all the void,
the majesty and calm habitations
of the gods reveal themselves in places
where no winds disturb, no clouds bring showers,
no white snow falls, congealed with bitter frost,                                   [20]
to harm them, the always cloudless aether                           30
vaults above, and they smile, as far and wide
the light spreads out. Then, too, nature provides
plentiful supplies of all things—their peace
is not disturbed by anything at any time.
The regions of Acheron, by contrast,
are nowhere to be seen, and earth presents
no barrier to a full view of events
going on throughout the void lying underfoot.(2)
Godlike pleasure and awe take hold of me
up there with these things, to think that nature,                     40
through your genius, is laid out so clearly,                                           [30]
so openly exposed on every side.

Now, since I have shown for every substance
what its primordial particles are like,
how they differ in their various shapes,
as they fly spontaneously, driven
by eternal motion, and how all things
can be produced from them, following this,
it seems that in my verses I must now
clarify the nature of mind and soul                                       50
and drive away that fear of Acheron
headfirst—it utterly disturbs the life
of human beings at its foundation,
filling all action with death’s black darkness,
leaving no pleasure clean and free of stains.(3)                                   [40]
For though men often claim that sicknesses                         FEAR OF DEATH AND HADES
and a shameful life are more to be feared
than death and Tartarus and that they know
the nature of the soul is blood or wind,
if, by chance, their inclination tells them                               60
that is the case, and say they have no need
of any part of our philosophy,
from this you may be sure all their remarks
are tossed out more to earn them praises,
and not because they take them for the truth.(4)
For these same men, driven from their country
and exiled far away from human sight,
polluted by some filthy crime, afflicted
with every kind of hardship, still live on,                                              [50]
and no matter where they may end up                                 70
in their wretched state, they nevertheless
make sacrifices to the dead—they kill
black cattle and send offerings to gods
who rule the dead and, in their distress, turn
their minds much more keenly to religion.
And that is why it is more revealing
to see a man in doubt and peril, to learn
who he may be in hostile situations,
for only then are truthful words squeezed out
from the bottom of his heart—his facade                             80
is torn away, what he truly is remains.
Furthermore, avarice and blind desire
for honours, which drive miserable men                                              [60]
to go beyond the limit of what’s right,
and, as servants or accomplices, sometimes
to work day and night as hard as possible
to reach the height of power—these feelings,
these living wounds, are fed not least of all
by their fear of death. For shameful contempt
and biting poverty generally seem                                        90
far removed from a sweet and stable life—
they are, as it were, simply a delay
before the gates of death. And when people,
driven by false terrors, desire to flee
far away and set them at a distance,
they heap up treasure with civil bloodshed                                          [70]
and, in their greed, double their own riches,
piling slaughter upon slaughter, cruelly
rejoicing in a brother’s mournful death,
hating and fearing the banquet tables                                   100
of their relatives.(5) For the same reasons,
and often moved by the same fear, these men
are eaten up with envy that someone
powerful, someone looked on with respect,
passes by, right before their very eyes,
with fame and honour. Then they complain
they are wallowing in dirt and darkness.
Some squander their lives, ruining themselves
for the sake of statues and a famous name.
And through their fear of death, hatred of life                       110            [80]
and of seeing the sunlight often seizes
men so forcibly that, with anguished hearts,
they kill themselves, forgetting that this fear
is the origin of their trouble, this fear
[encourages men to all kinds of crime],(6)
corrupts their honour, breaks bonds of friendship,
and, in brief, urges them to cast aside
their sense of duty. For men have often
betrayed their country, their loving parents,
by seeking to avoid realms of Acheron.
And just as children shake and are afraid                            120
of all things in blinding darkness, so men
sometimes fear things in the daylight—but these
should no more terrify us than those things
which make young children tremble in the dark,
imagining what might happen. Therefore,                                            [90]
we must dispel this terror in the mind,
this darkness, not with rays of sunlight
or with glittering arrows of the day,
but with reason and the face of nature.

First, I say that mind, which we often call                            130
the understanding and in which is placed                             THE MIND AS PART OF THE BODY
the guiding and directing power of life,
is no less part of man than hand, foot, and eyes
are parts of one whole living animal.
[And yet many philosophers have thought]
mental sensation is not located
in a specific place, but is instead
a certain vital habit of the body,
what Greeks call harmony, which causes us                                       [100]
to live with a capacity for sense,                                          140
although the mind has no determined place.(7)                     DOCTRINE OF THE SOUL AS HARMONY
Just as people often say a body
possesses excellent health but this health
is not a part inside the healthy man,
so these people locate a sense of mind
in no specific spot. In saying this,
they seem to me to be wandering off,
straying a long way from the road. For often
our body is ill—we see that clearly—
yet we feel pleasure in some other part                               150
hidden within. Often the reverse takes place,
as well, when, by contrast, a man whose mind
is sad feel pleasure in his whole body.
In the same way, if a man’s foot pains him,                                         [110]
perhaps at the same time his head may feel
no pain at all. Moreover, when our limbs
surrender to soft sleep and our body,
relaxed and heavy, lies there without sense,
at that very time there is something else
inside us still, which is, in various ways,                               160
stirred up and which receives within itself
all motions of joy and vain cares of heart.
And now, so you also can understand
that soul is in the limbs and that body
is not in the habit of sensing things
by harmony, firstly, it so happens
that, when a large portion of our body
has been removed, frequently in our limbs                                           [120]
life still remains. But, on the other hand,
when a few particles of heat have left                                   170
and some air has been forced out from the mouth,
that same life instantly abandons veins
and leaves the bones. From this you can infer
that particles do not all have equal roles,
they do not equally maintain our health,
and that these seeds of wind and warming heat
have more to do with life staying in our limbs.
Thus, in the body itself there is heat
and vital wind, which depart our bodies
as we die. And therefore, since we have found                    180            [130]
the nature of the mind and of the soul
is like a part of man, you must give up
that term harmony, which was handed down
to musicians from lofty Helicon,
or they themselves dragged it from somewhere else
and then reassigned it to this object
which at that time lacked its own proper name.(8)
Whatever the case, let them keep the term,
and listen to the rest of what I say.

Now, I claim mind and soul are held united                         190
and together form a single nature,                                       MIND OR JUDGMENT IS IN THE CHEST
but the main one, which, as it were, has power
in the entire body, is our judgment,
which we call the mind or understanding,
fixed in place in the mid-part of the chest.                                           [140]
For here throb fear and terror. Soothing joys
move round this region, too. And therefore here
are mind and understanding. Of the soul,
all other parts, dispersed through the whole body,
obey and are moved in accordance with                             200
the will and inclination of the mind.
Only the mind by itself has knowledge
for itself and rejoices in itself,
when no single thing is agitating
either soul or body: just as those times
attacks of pain make our head or eye hurt,
yet we do not ache in our whole body,
so mind sometimes is troubled on its own
or feels strong pleasure, when soul’s other parts                                 [150]
throughout the limbs or body are not stirred                        210
by any new sensation. But when mind
is shaken by some more violent fear,
we see the whole soul act in sympathy
throughout the limbs—we lose colour and sweat
in all our body, our tongue is broken,
our voice vanishes, our eyes grow darker,
our ears ring out, and limbs give way beneath.
Then, too, we often see how men collapse
from terror in their minds, so that from this
anyone can easily see that soul                                            220
is closely joined to mind: when force from mind
affects the soul, soul then strikes the body                                           [160]
and makes it move.

                    This same reasoning shows                            SOUL AND MIND ARE PHYSICAL
the nature of the soul and of the mind
is physical. When we see this nature
moving limbs, rousing bodies out of sleep,
changing expressions, turning and guiding
the entire person, and we understand
that not one of these effects can happen
without touch and, furthermore, that touch                           230
cannot occur without material stuff,
surely we must concede that soul and mind
have a nature which is made of matter?
Moreover, you observe our mind suffering
with our body, having common feelings
with the body. If a spear’s brutal force                                               [170]
drives it in deep, exposing bones and sinews,
and does not take one’s life, still what follows
is a fainting spell, a sluggish tendency
to sink down to the ground, and on the ground                    240
a giddiness of mind occurs, and sometimes,
as it were, an uncertain wish to rise.
Therefore, the nature of the mind must be
material, since it is afflicted
by a blow and by material weapons.

And now, I will move on in this discourse                            NATURE OF MIND
to offer you an argument about
what kind of matter the mind consists of
and how it is made up. And first, I say
that the mind is extremely fine, composed                            250            [180]
of very tiny particles. If you wish
to pay attention to what follows here,
you should be able to appreciate
that this is so. We see nothing happens
faster than those things which mind imagines
taking place and which it itself begins.
Thus, mind rouses itself more rapidly
than any other substance whose nature
we perceive in front of us. But since it works
so quickly, it must be composed of seeds                            260
which are extremely round and very small,
so that, when a slight impulse acts on them,
they can be set in motion. For water
under very slight contact is moved
and ripples back and forth, since it is made                                         [190]
of small, round particles. But, by contrast,
honey has a firmer nature—its fluid
is more sluggish, its movements more delayed,
its whole supply of particles adheres
together more, because, quite obviously,                             270
it consists of elements which are not
as smooth, as fine and round. And, as you know,
a tiny breath of air can force tall piles
of poppy seeds to scatter from the top,
but, by contrast, even the south-east wind
cannot do the same to a pile of rocks.
And so particles will move more freely                                                [200]
the more they are extremely small and smooth.
But on the other hand, all elements
which prove to be heavier and more rough                         280
will be that much more difficult to move.
Thus, since we have found the nature of mind
more mobile than the rest, it must consist
of very small, smooth, rounded elements.

And, my good friend, once you understand this,
you will find it helpful with many things
and think it good to know. The following fact
points out as well the nature of the soul,
how thin its texture is, how small a space
it might be kept in, if it could be compressed:                       290            [210]
as soon as the serene repose of death
has seized a man and what makes up his soul
and mind has left him, from the way he looks
or from what he weighs, you cannot perceive
that any portion has been taken away
from his whole body. Death preserves it all,
except for vital sense and warming heat.
Thus, the entire soul must consist of seeds                          SOUL EXISTS THROUGHOUT THE BODY
which are very small, interconnected
through veins, flesh, and sinew, since, by the time                300
it has completely left the entire body,
the external outline of the limbs remains
intact, and there is not the slightest loss                                               [220]
of weight—like those times when the smell of wine
has vanished, or the sweet scent of ointment
disappears in air, or the flavour leaves
from any matter. The substance itself
still does not appear smaller to our eyes,
nothing seems to be taken from its weight,
clearly because in the whole body of things                         310
taste and scent are made by many tiny seeds.
Therefore, to state the issue once again,
you may know that naturally mind and soul
are made up of extremely minute seeds,
because when they depart they take no weight                                   [230]
away with them
                        Still, we must not believe
this nature is an uncompounded mix,
for a certain delicate wind leaves men
when they are dying—it’s combined with heat,
and heat draws air with it: there is no heat                           320
without some air mixed in combination.
Since the nature of heat is rarefied,
then many primary particles of air
must move around in it.

                                     Thus, to this point
we have found that the nature of the soul
has three parts, but these three things together
are not enough to create sensation,
since facts do not accept that any of these
could produce those motions that generate
our senses [and thoughts moving through our minds.](9)       330           [240]
Thus, to these three substances we must add
a certain fourth nature, as well, something
that has no name at all. But there is nothing
more agile or more tenuous than it,
or made of smaller, smoother elements.
This matter first sends out through the body
those motions which activate sensations.
For since it is composed of tiny shapes,
it is the first substance stirred, and from it
heat as well as the hidden force of wind                              340
acquire motion, and from that air, as well.
After that everything is mobilized—
blood is roused, and then all flesh feels it, too,
and bones and marrow get it last of all,                                               [250]
whether pleasure or a burning torment
of the opposite kind. And pain cannot
easily penetrate as far as this,
nor any bitter evil move within,
without all matter being shaken up,
so much so that there is no room for life,                             350
and through all the openings of the body
the parts of soul disperse. But generally,
a limit is set to motions, as it were,
on the surface of the body—that is why
we stay strong enough to maintain our lives.

Now, though I am keen to give an argument
showing how these parts are mixed together
how, once arranged, they act effectively,
the poverty in my native language                                                        [260]
hinders me against my will. However,                                  360
I will touch upon the subject briefly,
as best I can. These primary substances,
through motion of primordial elements,
move among themselves, so no single one
can be cut out, nor can its power become
set off from the rest by any space. They are,
as it were, many forces of one body.
Just as in the flesh of any creature
anywhere at all there is an odour,
a certain heat, and taste, yet from all these                           370
a single corporeal mass is formed,
so heat, air, and hidden power of wind
create in combination one nature,                                                        [270]
together with that active force which sends
out from itself to those three parts the start
of movements from which arise those motions
which first bring sensation to the tissues.
This fourth nature lies completely hidden,
far inside—in our whole body nothing
is deeper down than this. And furthermore,                         380
it is the very soul of all the soul.
Just as in our limbs and our whole body
the mind’s force and the soul’s power exist
in a hidden mixture, since they are made
from a few small particles, so, you see,
this force without a name, which is composed
of minute elements, lies there hidden.
Beyond that, it is itself, so to speak,                                                    [280]
the very soul of all the soul—it rules
throughout the body. In a similar way,                                390
wind, air, and heat all combined together
throughout the limbs must act effectively—
one being more subservient to the others
or more prominent, but in such a way
that all of them seem to create one thing,
so heat and wind, without the other parts,
or the power of air all by itself,
could not separate from other portions
and abolish and dissolve sensation.
Another thing—there is in mind that heat                             400
which it takes on when it boils up in rage
and fire flashes more fiercely in the eyes.
There is much cold wind, too, fear’s companion,                                [290]
which starts a trembling in the limbs and stirs
the body. There is in mind also a state
where that air is passive—it comes about
when heart is undisturbed and face serene.
But there is more heat in those living things
whose fiery hearts and passionate minds are quick
to boil in fury. The prime example                                       410
in this group is the fierce power of lions,
who frequently, when they give out a cry,
break their hearts with roaring and cannot hold
inside the chest the torrent of their rage.
But the cold mind of deer contains more wind
and is more quick to rouse throughout its flesh                                    [300]
the chilling breeze which in the limbs creates
the start of quivering motion. In oxen,
their nature subsists more on peaceful air—
anger’s smoking torch is never applied                                420
to rouse it to excess, suffusing it
with shades of blinding cloud, nor is it dull,
impaled on freezing spikes of fear. It sits
midway between deer and savage lions.
The race of men is just like that, as well.
Though education does make some of them
equally refined, it still leaves in place
nature’s first vestiges in each man’s mind.
And we should not think that evil habits                                              [310]
can be plucked out by the roots, for one man                      430
will rush more readily to bitter rage,
a second one will be somewhat faster
to succumb to fear, a third take some things
more calmly than is right. And differences
among various natures of human beings
and in the habits which arise from them
must exist in many other matters.

I cannot now explain hidden causes
of these differences nor come up with names
for so many shapes of primary elements                              440
which create this diversity in things.
But in these matters I do see one thing
I can affirm—the remaining traces                                                       [320]
of those natures which reasoning cannot
remove from us are so slight, that nothing
stops us living a life worthy of the gods.
This nature, then, is held in our whole body
and is itself the body’s guardian
and its source of health. For body and soul
mutually cling to one another                                               450
and have roots in common, and, we notice,
cannot be torn apart without destruction.
Just as it is difficult to cut out
the odour from pieces of frankincense
without also wiping out its nature,
so it is not easy to pull the substance
of mind and soul from the entire body                                                 [330]
without dissolving all things. They arise,
at their first origin, from elements
so closely intertwined among themselves,                            460
possessing a life they share together,
and it does not seem that body or soul
can have power to sense things on their own,
without the other’s force, but that sensations,
after being kindled by common motions
of the two of them acting on each other,
catch fire throughout the tissue.(10) Moreover,
body is never formed nor does it grow
on its own, and we do not observe it
lasting after death. It is not like water,                                  470
whose moisture often radiates the heat
which has been given to it and is not,                                                  [340]
for that reason, shaken apart itself,
but stays intact. No, our bodily frames,
I say, once left abandoned by the soul,
cannot tolerate the separation,
and, after the soul has been wrenched away,
they perish utterly and rot. From the start,
when life begins, mutual interactions
of body and soul acquire those movements                         480
which give vital force, even when lying
in the mother’s womb inside her body,
so their separation cannot take place
without disease and death. Since, as you see,
what keeps them living is their combination,
their matter must also be united.
As for the rest, if anyone denies                                                          [350]
that body has capacity for sense
and thinks that soul, mixed in all the body
sustains this movement we call sensation,                            490
he is resisting true and obvious facts.
Who will ever explain what body feels,
unless it is something which facts themselves
have obviously revealed and taught us?
You may say that once soul has been scattered,
all body lacks sensation. That is true,
for it loses what, during its lifetime,
did not belong to it, and what is more,
before soul has been driven out from life
a body loses many things.(11)

                                         Moreover,                              500
to assert that eyes cannot see a thing,
but that mind looks through them, like open doors,                             [360]
is difficult, since our sense in the eyes
contradicts this claim, for that sensation
draws us forcibly to a sense of sight
in pupils of our eyes themselves. In fact,
often we cannot look at brilliant things
because their brightness impedes our eyesight.
This does not occur with doors. When we look
through open doors, they suffer no distress.                         510
Moreover, if our eyes were just like doors,
mind, it appears, should perceive things better
with the eyes, our very doorposts, ripped out
and removed.

               In considering these things,                                                  [370]
you cannot accept at all the theory                                      DEMOCRITUS
in the revered views of great Democritus
that individual primary particles
of body and of soul are put in place,
alternating one after the other,
and shape our limbs, holding them together.(12)                   520
For since the basic particles of soul
are much tinier than those making up
our tissues and our body, their number
is also smaller and thinly scattered
throughout our frame. What you can claim is this:                LOCATION OF SOUL
the primary particles of soul are spaced
in intervals at least as far apart
as the size of the smallest substances
which, when thrown against a body, can first
start motions of sensation in that body.(13)                          530            [380]
For sometimes we do not feel any dust
clinging to the body or sense that chalk
has been shaken on our limbs and settled.
Nor do we feel a mist at night, or sense
a spider’s slender web get in our way
when we get tangled in it as we move,
or notice its wrinkled web has fallen
on our head, or feathers from birds, or seeds
flying from plants, which have so little weight,
they usually have trouble falling down.                                 540
We do not feel the tracks of all creatures
that creep along our body, or notice
each and every footstep along our skin
taken by gnats and other bugs. In fact,                                                [390]
so many things in us must be dislodged
before the basic elements of soul,
mixed throughout the framework of our bodies,
sense that primary particles have been hit,
move across the gaps they have between them,
then, in sequence, collide, come together,                           550
and bounce back once more.(14)

                             And mind does more                            MIND IS MORE VITAL THAN SOUL
to maintain bands of life and govern life
than does the power of soul.(15) For without
mind and understanding, no part of soul
can stay, even for the briefest moment,
inside the body—it quickly follows them,                                            [400]
as their comrade, and scatters in the air,
leaving cold limbs to icy death. And yet
anyone whose mind and understanding
remain behind continues on with life,                                   560
although his body has been maimed, with limbs
cut off all round. If on every side his soul
has been removed and has left his limbs,
the trunk still lives and breathes celestial air
which gives him life. A large part of his soul
is gone, but not the whole of it—he still
holds on and clings to life. It’s like the eye—
if there are wounds around it but the pupil
stays intact, the living power of sight
remains, but only if you do not hurt                                     570            [410]
the entire eyeball, leaving the pupil
alone and cutting round it. But slicing it
cannot be done without also destroying
the eye as well.(16) And if that tiny part
in the middle of the eye is punctured
light leaves instantly, and darkness follows,
though the bright orb is otherwise unhurt.
That shows how closely soul and mind are linked,
bound together in a lasting union.

Come, so you can learn that delicate souls                          580
and minds in living things are born and die,                         SOUL IS MORTAL
I will now proceed to set down verses
worthy of your life, ones I have long sought
and then produced in work which brought me joy.                              [420]
You see to it that you link soul and mind
under one name, and when, for example,
I go on to speak of soul, establishing
that it is mortal, understand I speak
about the mind, as well, since their substance
is made up of one mutual combination.(17)                          590

Now, first of all, I have revealed that soul
is thin and consists of minute particles
created from primordial elements
much tinier than clear liquid water
or mist or smoke—it far surpasses these
in its mobility, and it is moved
more easily when struck by slighter blows,
since it is set in motion by images                                                        [430]
of smoke and mist, those times when, for instance,
we are lulled to sleep and look at altars                              600
exhaling steam and sending smoke on high,
for there is no doubt that these things send out
images to us.(18) Now, since, when jars crack,
you see water flow in all directions
and liquid seeping out, since mist and smoke
disperse in air, therefore you must believe
that soul, too, is diffused and perishes
at a much faster rate and is dissolved
into primary elements more quickly,
once it has been removed from someone’s limbs                 610
and has departed. Indeed, since body,
which is, as it were, the soul’s container,                                             [440]
cannot keep the soul intact, once something
weakens and thins it out by having blood
removed from veins, how then can you believe
that any air can keep the soul inside,
because air is thinner than our bodies
and [thus less able to contain it]?(19)
Then, too, we sense mind comes into being
together with body, matures with it,                                    620
and, like body, ages. Just as children
totter on with weak and tender bodies,
so judgment in the mind accompanying them
is frail. After that, when they grow older,
into a strong, robust maturity,
their understanding is enlarged, as well,                                              [450]
their strength of mind is more comprehensive.
Later, when their bodies have been shattered
by the potent force of time and their frame,
its powers exhausted, has broken down,                             630
then natural abilities are crippled—
tongue prattles, mind totters, and every part
fades away at the same time and fails.
Thus, it is appropriate that all matter
of the soul should also be dissolved,
like smoke, in upper breezes of the air,
since we see it is produced with body,
grows with it, and, as I have shown, with age
they both fail and fall apart together.
Then add to this the fact that we observe                            640
that, just as the body itself is prone
to frightful illnesses and severe pain,                                                   [460]
so mind has bitter worries, grief, and fear.
Thus, it makes sense that mind experiences
death, too. Besides, when our body is ill,
the mind often roams around aimlessly,
for it raves on and utters senseless things,
and sometimes, in a heavy lethargy,
is carried to a deep eternal sleep,
its eyes and head nodding, as it sinks down                         650
to where it hears no voices and has lost
power to recognize the look of those
who stand around, recalling it to life,
wetting their faces and their cheeks with tears.
Thus, since morbid sicknesses reach the soul,
you must concede that it, too, is dissolved,                                         [470]
for both disease and pain are harbingers
of death, as we have learned from countless men
who perished in the past.(20) And why is it,
when the shrewd force of wine gets in a man                       660
and its spreading heat moves throughout his veins,
there follows a heaviness in the limbs—
as he reels to and fro, his feet trip up,
his tongue becomes thick, his mind grows tipsy,
his eyes swim, and shouts, sighs, and fights arise,                                [480]
and all the other actions which result
from this behaviour—why does this happen,
unless the overpowering force of wine
has the habit of disordering the mind
inside the body itself? But those things                                 670
which can be overthrown and blocked reveal
that, if a somewhat stronger cause pushed in,
they would then perish, robbed of future life.
Moreover, when the force of a disease
overcomes someone, often he falls down
unexpectedly right there in front of us,
as if hit by lightning—he foams at the mouth,
moans, trembles in his limbs, acts foolishly,
jerks his muscles, twists, has trouble breathing,                                   [490]
exhausts his body twitching back and forth,                         680
clearly because the force of the disease
spreading throughout his frame affects his soul
and shakes it, so that it foams—just as waves,
beneath the winds’ strong fury, boil over
on the briny sea. He is forced to groan,
for his limbs are wracked with pain, above all
because vocal particles, grouped together,
are expelled, carried from his mouth, and move,
as it were, on their customary road.
Madness sets in, for force of mind and soul                         690
is broken, and, as I have shown, ripped up,                                        [500]
torn apart, and split by that same poison.
Later, when what brought on the sickness leaves
and bitter fluid in the ailing body
has retreated to its hiding places,
then, as if staggering, he first gets up,
gradually returns to all his senses,
and regains his soul. Thus, when mind and soul
are, even inside the body, distrubed
by such serious illnesses and suffer,                                     700
pulled apart in such miserable ways,
why do you believe that without body,
in open air among the blustering winds,
they could continue living?

                                  And since we see                                             [510]
mind is cured, just like a suffering body,
and observe it can be changed with healing,
this also reveals that mind is mortal.
For anyone who comes along and starts
to transform the mind or seeks to alter
some other substance, whatever it may be,                         710
must either add parts or change their order
or take away at least some small portion
of the whole. But anything immortal
does not allow its parts to be transferred
or the least part to be added or removed.
For whenever something changes and moves
beyond its limits, that is instant death                                                   [520]
for what it was before. Therefore, the mind,
whether it is sick or changed by healing,
gives evidence of its mortality,                                             720
as I have shown. That shows how much real facts
are seen to contradict false reasoning,
to cut off an escape for anyone
hostile to truth, and with a two-edged proof
overthrow his falsehood.

                                  And furthermore,
frequently we see that someone dying
gradually loses vital sensation
limb by limb: first, on his feet toes and nails
turn black, then feet and legs expire, and then,
through the rest of him, we see, step by step,                       730            [530]
the tracks of icy death. Since this substance
of the soul is divided up in parts
and does not emerge all at once intact,
we must think of it as something mortal.
But if you perhaps believe that the soul,
all on its own, could throughout the body
pull itself back inside, contract its parts
into one place, and in this way withdraw
sensation from every limb, then that place
where such a large amount of soul collects                          740
should seem to have more feeling. Such a place
does not exist. Thus, it is obvious,
as we said before, that soul is torn apart,
dispersed outside, and therefore perishes.
What’s more, even if we agreed to grant                                            [540]
a falsehood and conceded that the soul
could be collected inside the bodies
of people who, when they die, leave the light
one part at a time, you must still admit
that soul is mortal—it makes no difference                          750
if it dies dispersed in air or is pulled
into one place from all its parts and then
becomes inert, once sensation has left
all parts of the whole man and everywhere
less and less life remains.

                                         And since mind                         SOUL CANNOT FUNCTION WITHOUT BODY
is one part of a man and remains fixed
in a specific place, like ears and eyes
and all other senses which guide our lives,                                           [550]
and, just as hand and eye or nose cannot,
once detached from us, sense things or exist,                       760
but are soon melted by decay, so mind
cannot live on its own without body
and without the man himself, who appears,
so to speak, the container of the soul,
or whatever else you might imagine
more closely linked with it, since it adheres
to body in such a close connection.
And vital power of body and mind,
when combined, are strong and delight in life,
for the nature of mind, without body,                                  770
cannot alone and by itself produce                                                      [560]
vital movements, and yet, deprived of soul,
body cannot last and use its senses.
We know that, just as eyes torn from their roots,
cut off from the whole body, cannot see
a single thing, so soul and mind are seen
to have no power on their own, because,
quite clearly, when mixed up with veins and flesh,
through bone and sinew, they are both contained
by all the body—their basic elements                                  780
are not free to leap around, spacing themselves
at large intervals. Hence, confined like this,
they are stirred in motions for sensation,                                             [570]
movements which after death they cannot make,
once they have been thrown outside the body
into the air, because they are not held
in the same way. If the soul is able
to keep itself together in the air
and to contain in itself those motions
which it carried out before in sinews                                    790
and in the body itself, then the air
will be a living entity. That is why,
to repeat myself, when the whole covering
of body has collapsed and vital breath
has been expelled outside, you must agree
sensations in the mind and soul dissolve,
since for body and soul, the cause of death
is linked inseparably.

when body cannot bear a separation                                                  [580]
from the soul without smelling disgusting                              800
and turning rotten, why do you then doubt
that soul’s power, rising from deep within,
has moved away and been dispersed, like smoke,
and thus the body, changed enormously
by putrefaction, falls in ruins, because
its foundations have completely shifted
from their location and soul has flown out
through limbs, through all the winding passages
inside the body, and departed through the pores?
So you can ascertain in many ways                                     810
that soul’s substance, divided into parts,
has withdrawn and left the body and that
it has been torn up into parts itself
inside the body, before it slipped away,                                              [590]
gliding out into the airy breeze.
And furthermore, while soul is still turning
within limits set by life, for some reason,
when it is disturbed, frequently it seems
to move and to be seeking deliverance
from the entire body—the face appears                              820
to grow listless, as at the time of death,
and on the bloodless body all the limbs
fall limp. That’s what happens when people say,
“The mind is damaged” or “His heart has gone”—
when there is great concern and everyone
strives to keep grasping the last thread of life.
For then the mind and all force in the soul                                           [600]
are broken apart, and they both collapse,
together with the body, too, so that
a slightly stronger cause can then dissolve them.                  830
Why, may I ask, do you doubt the frail soul,
driven outside body, robbed of shelter,
in the open air, not only could not last
forever, but could not sustain itself
for any length of time, however short?
For no one who is dying seems to feel
soul leaving his whole body all at once—
first rising to his neck, then to his throat—
no, he feels it fail in a certain place,                                                      [610]
a fixed location, just as he discerns                                      840
other senses being dissolved, each one
in its own spot. But if mind were immortal,
it would not, in dying, complain so much
that it was being dissolved, but rather
that it was going outside, abandoning
its covering, like a snake.

                                         Then, too, why
are mental judgment and understanding
never produced in head or feet or hands,
but cling to a single place, a position
fixed for all men, unless for everything                                 850
a certain location has been assigned
where it is born and where, once created,
each thing can then survive and stay alive?
[Thus, our body must follow the same law],
with such a varied structure in its limbs
that their arrangement could never be upset.(21)                                  [620]
That shows how much one thing always follows
something else. And it is not customary
for fire to be born in streams of water
or cold to be conceived in flames.

                                              Besides,                              860
if soul’s nature is immortal and able
to feel sensations outside our body,
I think we must assume it is endowed
with all the senses. We cannot envisage
for ourselves in any other way those souls
roaming the lower world of Acheron.
That is why writers from past generations
and painters, too, have represented souls                                            [630]
possessing senses in this way. But eyes,
nostrils, even hands, are not capable,                                  870
without body, of existing for the soul,
nor are tongues or ears, not all on their own.
Therefore, souls cannot sense things or exist
all by themselves.


                       And since we do perceive
vital sense in our whole body and see
it all as a living thing, if some force
with a rapid blow across the middle
suddenly sliced through, so as to cut it
into two separate parts, undoubtedly
the soul’s force will be cut in half, as well,                           880
divided at the same time as the body.
But what is split up and then separates                                                [640]
into any parts clearly demonstrates
that its nature cannot be eternal.
People talk about chariots armed with scythes
growing hot in a promiscuous slaughter
and often slicing limbs so suddenly
that what is severed from the frame falls down
and is seen to quiver on the ground, although,
given the swiftness of the wound, in the man                        890
his mind and spirit cannot feel the pain.(22)
Since, at the time, his mind is focused on
the fury of the fight, it keeps on going
with the remnants of the body, seeking
battle and slaughter, often unaware
that the left arm with the shield is missing,
sliced away by wheels and ravenous scythes                                       [650]
among the horses, while another man,
as he climbs up and keeps charging forward,
does not know his right arm has fallen off,                           900
and yet another man, with his leg gone,
attempts to rise, while nearby on the ground
his dying foot wiggles its toes, and a head,
severed from the warm and living torso,
maintains down on the ground a living look
with its eyes open, until it gives out
all the soul that still remains. Moreover,
if, when faced by a snake with flicking tongue,
menacing tail, and extended body,
you decide to take an axe and chop up                               910
its tail and body into numerous pieces,
you will see all the separate sliced-off bits                                           [660]
writhing from the recent wound and sprinkling
earth with blood and the front part, mouth open,
seeking its own tail, so that, struck with pain
from the agonizing wound, it can soothe it
with its teeth.(23) Shall we say that complete souls
exists in all those smaller parts? If so,
by this reasoning, it will then follow
that in its body one living creature                                       920
had many souls. [But since this is absurd,]
the soul which lived as a combined unit
with its body has been divided up.
Thus, you must think of them both as mortal,
for each of them has been broken apart
in the same way into many pieces.(24)

Moreover, if the nature of the soul                                                      [670]
is immortal and is placed in bodies
when we are born, why are we unable
to remember those periods of our lives                               930
from earlier times? Why do we not retain
any traces of past events? For if
the power of mind has been changed so much
that all remembering of things gone by
has passed away, then, in my view, this change
is not far removed from death. And therefore,
you must admit that what it was before
has been destroyed and that what now exists
has been created now.

                           And furthermore,                                    SOULS ARE NOT INSERTED FROM OUTSIDE
if, as a rule, living power of soul                                          940            [680]
is set in place at the moment of birth,
when we move across the threshold into life
once all our body is already formed,
it would not be appropriate that it
seems to grow together with the body
and the limbs, in the very blood—instead,
it would be natural for it to live
by itself, as if in some enclosure.(25)
But obvious facts reveal the opposite.
For soul is so mixed in with veins and flesh,                         950
with bones and sinews, that even our teeth
share in sensation, too, as is revealed                                                  [690]
by toothache, cold-water shock, or hard stones
hidden in food when we bite down on them.(26)
Thus, to repeat myself, we must not think
souls have no beginning and do not face
the law of death. For we cannot believe
our souls could be so closely interlinked
with our bodies, if they were inserted
from outside. Since souls are so closely joined,                   960
it does not seem they could come out intact
and without damage extricate themselves
from every sinew, bone, and joint. But if,
perhaps, you think that soul, once inserted
from outside into us, has the habit
of seeping through limbs, and then uniting
with the body, there is a greater chance
that it will die, since what spreads out dissolves,                                 [700]
and therefore perishes, for it is passed
through all the passages in the body.                                   970
Just as food dies off, when distributed
in all the limbs and portions of the body,
producing from itself another substance,
so soul and mind, no matter how intact
they are when entering a new-made body,
are still dissolved as they are moved around,
while, as it were, through every opening are sent
into our limbs particles which produce
this nature of mind now ruling in our body,
which was born out of what was then destroyed,                980
while being distributed throughout the limbs.                                       [710]
And thus, we see the nature of the soul
does not lack a moment when it is born,
nor is it exempt from death.

                                      Moreover,                                   SOULS DO NOT SELECT BODIES TO ENTER
are particles of soul left in a body
which is dead, or not? If they do remain
and are still inside, we cannot justly call
the soul immortal, since when it went away
it lost particles and was diminished.
But if, when carried off, the soul escaped                            990
while limbs were still complete, so that it left
no parts of itself inside the body,
then, once the innards rot, how do corpses
bring forth worms? How do such large quantities                                [720]
of living creatures lacking bones and blood
swarm through bloated limbs? If, by any chance,
you think souls are inserted in these worms
from outside, each one able to go in
its own body and do not consider
why souls should gather in many thousands                         1000
where one soul has departed, it still seems
we should investigate and determine
whether all those souls really do chase down,
all on their own, the seeds of tiny worms
and build themselves a place in which to live,
or whether they are, as it were, inserted
into bodies already fully made.
But one cannot give a reason why souls
would work so hard making themselves bodies,                                  [730]
for when they lack bodies, they flit about                             1010
without being disturbed by cold, illness,
and hunger, because body is more prone
to suffer from these pains, and mind acquires
many ills through contact with the body.
But still, suppose it is really useful
for these souls to manufacture bodies
which they may enter, there still seems to be
no way that they could do it. And thus souls
do not make limbs and bodies for themselves.(27)
However, they cannot be inserted                                       1020
into bodies which are made already,
for they will not be able to exist
in those delicate connections or make,
by mutual contact, shared sensations.                                                 [740]

Then, too, why does raging fury appear
in grim broods of lions? Why are foxes sly?
Why is running away passed down to deer
from fathers, so their father’s timidity
makes their limbs move quickly? As for the rest,
other things like this, why are all produced                           1030
at the earliest moments of existence
in limbs and temperament, if not because
a force of mind set by its own seed and race
also grows along with the whole body?
But if soul is immortal and, as a rule,
changes bodies, then living animals
would have changeable dispositions—dogs
made from Hyrcanian seed would often flee                                        [750]
a charging stag with horns, up in the air
a hawk would tremble and fly off in fear                             1040
when doves came near, people would lose their minds,
and savage tribes of beasts grow rational.(28)
For it is faulty reasoning to claim,
as some men do, that an immortal soul,
when it switches bodies is transformed,
since what is changed dissolves, and therefore dies,
for its parts are moved, their arrangement shifts.
Therefore, they must also be capable
of being dissolved through every limb, so that
in the end they all die with the body.                                   1050

If some men claim that souls of human beings                                     [760]
always enter into human bodies,
I will still ask why, after being wise,
a soul can then become so idiotic,
why no child is clever, why no mare’s foal
is as well trained as bold strength in a horse.(29)
They will, no doubt, seek refuge by saying
that in fragile bodies minds are fragile.
But if that is the case, you must admit
soul is mortal, since it has been altered                                1060                      
so greatly in the body and has lost
its earlier vitality and sense.
In what way will the power of the mind
be able to grow strong along with body
and reach the longed-for prime of life, unless                                      [770]
it is body’s partner from the very start?
Or why would soul desire to go away
once the limbs grow old? Is the soul afraid
to stay enclosed in a decaying body
in case its domicile, now undermined                                  1070
by the long interval of years, might fall
and bury it? But there are no dangers
for a thing which is immortal.

for souls to be standing there when wild beasts
are born or have sex appears ridiculous—
immortal souls in countless numbers waiting
for mortal limbs and in hot contention
among themselves which one will be the first                                       [780]
to be inserted well before the rest,
unless perhaps a treaty has been forged                              1080
among the souls—whichever one flies up
and gets there first will be the first one in—
so that there is no fight of any kind,
no mutual test of strength.

a tree cannot live in aether, or clouds
deep underwater, or fish in farmlands,
or blood exist in wood, liquid in stones.
There is a fixed arrangement where each thing
belongs and grows. Thus, the nature of mind
cannot arise without body, or live                                        1090
on its own, apart from blood and sinew.
If—and this is far more likely to occur—
the power of mind itself were able                                                      [790]
to live in the head, or heel, or shoulder,
or could be born in any part you wish,
it would still be accustomed to remain
in the same man, in the same container.
However, since we see in our bodies
where the mind and soul can exist and grow
in their own place, so we must all the more                         1100
deny they can be born and continue
totally outside the body. Therefore,
when body dies, you must admit that soul,
pulled apart inside the entire body,
also perishes. In fact, as you can see,                                                 [800]
to join the mortal with the immortal,
to think that they can work in harmony
and be acted on by one another
is foolish. For what can one imagine
more paradoxical, more inconsistent,                                   1110
a greater inherent contradiction,
than that something mortal should be combined
with something immortal and eternal
and, united with it, should then endure
raging storms? Besides, what lasts forever
must either, being made of solid stuff,
fend off attacks and not let anything
penetrate inside it which could loosen
close-packed inner parts, like material stuff
whose nature I have previously shown,                               1120           [810]
or it must be able to continue
through all ages, because it is exempt
from blows, just like the void, which stays intact
and does not suffer the slightest damage
from collisions, or else because there is
insufficient room around it in which,
so to speak, its material could disperse
and be dissolved, in the same way the sum
of all things is eternal—there is no space
beyond it where its matter could escape,                             1130
nor are there any substances able
to strike and fracture it with a strong blow.(30)

But if perhaps soul is thought immortal
more because it is kept well fortified
from things fatal to life or else because                                                [820]
objects which threaten its security
do not appear at all, or those which come
for some reason move away, driven back
before we can perceive what harm they do,
[facts clearly show that this cannot be true,                         1140
for many harmful things affect the soul.](31)
Besides falling sick when body is ill,
something often happens to vex the soul
about what will happen in the future,
to keep it anxious and disturbed, worn out
with worries, and, when past evil actions
are long over, the guilt brings on remorse.
Then, too, mind has its own form of madness
and can become oblivious to things,
besides those times when it keeps sinking down                  1150
beneath black waves of lethargy.


                                        Death, therefore,                        DEATH IS OF NO CONCERN
is nothing to us, does not concern us                                                   [830]
in the least, since the nature of the mind
we consider mortal. Just as in the past
we felt no pain when Carthaginian troops,
massing for battle, advanced from every side,
when all things, disturbed by war’s fearful noise,
shook with dread under high heavenly skies,
in doubt on which of the two sides would fall
power to rule all men on sea and land,                                1160
so, when we cease to be, when soul and body,
whose union makes us one single being,
part company, it is clear nothing at all                                                 [840]
can happen to us or rouse our feelings,
not even if earth is mixed in with sea
and sea with sky—for then we won’t exist.(32)
And even if the nature of our mind
and power in the soul have sensations
after they are split off from our body,
that still means nothing to us, who consist                            1170
of a united combination, joined
by an arrangement and in a marriage
of body and soul. And if time gathered
our material stuff after we have died
and brought it back again as it is placed
right now and if light of life were given
back to us—even if these things were done—                                     [850]
it would not matter to us, when memory
of what we once were had been disrupted.
Even now we are not at all affected                                    1180
by who we were before, in earlier times—
worries about that do not alarm us.
For when you look back on all past ages,
on that immeasurable length of time,
and think how various the movements are
in material stuff, then it is easy
to accept the fact that those same particles
of which we now consist have before this
often been set in the same arrangement
as they are now. Yet we are unable                                     1190
to recover that in our mind’s memory,
since a pause in life has been interposed,                                            [860]
and all movements have wandered aimlessly
far from sensation. For if by chance a man
is to live in misery and sorrow,
then at the time he also must exist
in person, so trouble can afflict him.
Since dying prevents this and ends existence
for the man who could be swamped by troubles,
we can know that there is nothing to fear                             1200
in death and someone who does not exist
cannot be sad—it makes no difference at all
whether he was even born at any point,
once immortal death has taken away
his mortal life.

                                 Thus, if you see a man                                       [870]
concerned about himself, that after death                            FEAR OF WHAT HAPPENS AFTER DEATH
he will either rot away, once his body
is buried in the ground, or be destroyed
by flames or wild creatures’ jaws, you will know
his words do not ring true and in his heart                            1210
there is some hidden torment, even though
he himself may say he does not believe
he will have any feelings once he’s dead.
For, in my view, he is not following
what he claims is his belief or its reasons—
he does not withdraw from life, removing
himself completely, but, in ignorance,
assumes that something of himself lives on.
For any living person who proposes
to himself what will take place in future,                               1220
that wild beasts and birds will mutilate him
once he is dead, is pitying himself.                                                      [880]
He has not separated himself from death,
nor pulled away from the cast-off body
far enough. He imagines it is him,
and standing there, he mixes in the corpse
his own feeling. Thus, he resents the fact
he was created mortal and does not see
that when his death really comes there will be
no second self which, still alive, can mourn                          1230
to him of his own death, standing in grief
that he lies there being mangled or burned up.
For if, when one has died, it is painful
to be chewed up by wild beasts’ jaws and teeth,
I do not see how it is not painful
to be laid out in searing flames and burn,                                             [890]
or be immersed in honey and then choked,
or grow stiff with cold, as one is lying
on top of a flat, frozen rock, or crushed
and buried by the weight of earth above.(33)                       1240


“Now, your joyful home and excellent wife
will no more welcome you, your sweet children
will not come running up to snatch kisses
and touch your heart with secret joy. No more
will you be able to live prosperously
and protect your own. You unhappy man,
sadly one hostile day has taken from you
all the numerous privileges of life.”


So people state, but in saying these things,
they do not add this,


                               “And there now remains                  1250           [900]
left over in you no yearning for these things.”


If they perceived this clearly in their minds
and followed it in what they said, they would
relieve themselves in their own minds of fear
and great anxiety.


                              “Indeed, just as now
you are asleep in death, so will you be
for all time to come, free of all suffering
and pain, but close by we lamented you
inconsolably, as you burned to ashes
on the dreadful funeral pyre, and no day                         1260
will rid our hearts of everlasting grief.”


Therefore, we should ask the man who says this
what is so harsh: if death is a return                                                    [910]
to repose and sleep, how could anyone
pine away in constant lamentation?
And often men even behave like this
when they lie down to eat, hold up their cups,
put garlands on their faces, and cry out
from the heart,


                  “This pleasure is but fleeting
for us, we insignificant men—soon                                 1270
it will be over and then afterwards
will never be recalled.”(34)


                                          As if in death
this would be their principal misfortune,
that thirst would burn them in their misery
and parch them dry, or that they would be seized
by longing for something else. For no man
has the least thought about himself or life
when mind and body are both at rest in sleep.                                     [920]
For all we care, such sleep may last forever—
no desire about ourselves affects us,                                   1280
and yet at that time throughout our body
none of those primary elements wander
far from motions which create sensation,
since a man, when roused suddenly from sleep,
can gather himself together. Therefore,
we should think of death as much less to us,
if something can be less than what we see
is nothing. For when we die, there follows
a greater scattering of dispersed matter,
and no man is woken up and rises                                       1290
once overcome by that cold halt to life.                                               [930]

Furthermore, what if the nature of things
suddenly spoke and personally rebuked
any one of us in the following words:


“Why is your distress so great, you mortal,
that you indulge in sorrowful laments
to such excess? Why do you moan and weep
at death? For if the life you had before,
which is now over, was pleasing to you,
and all its good things have not leaked away,                  1300
as if stored in containers full of holes,
and disappeared without delighting you,
why do you not take your leave like a guest
well satisfied with life, you foolish man,
and with your mind at ease accept a rest
which will not be disturbed? But if all things
which you enjoyed have been frittered away                                  [940]
and come to nothing and life offends you,
why seek to add on more which, once again,
may all be squandered foolishly and leave                      1310
without providing pleasure? Instead of that,
why do you not end your life and troubles?
For if I can discover or invent
nothing more to please you, then everything
always is the same. And if your body
is not yet shrivelled up with years, your limbs
not yet worn out and torpid, still all things
will stay the same, even if you keep going
and outlast all living races, or even more,
if you should never die.”


                                      What do we reply,                        1320           [950]
except that nature makes a valid charge—
what she alleges in her speech is true?
But if an older man, more advanced in years,
in his misery should complain of it,
wailing about death beyond all reason,
would nature with more justice not call out
and in a sharp voice chastise him:


                                                        “You wretch,
end those tears right now, and stop complaining.
After going through all rewards of life,
you are ailing, but since you always want                        1330
what is not there and spurn what is at hand,
an incomplete and disagreeable life
has slipped from you, and, before you can leave
richly content and satisfied with things,                                           [960]
unbeknownst to you, death is standing there,
beside your head. But now you should give up
all those things inappropriate to your age—
come now, and, as you must, surrender them
with grace and a calm mind. You have no choice.”


She would be right, in my view, to say this—                      1340
right to rebuke and criticize the man.
For old things, driven out by what is new,
always yield, and one must renew one thing
with something else. So no one is sent down
into the abyss and black Tartarus.
Material is needed for the growth
of later generations—yet all of them,
once their life is over, will follow you.
Men have died before and will die again,
just like you. Thus, one thing will never cease                      1350          [970]
being born from something else. Life is given
to no man as a permanent possession—
instead all men receive it as a loan.

Look back once more at how past centuries                       MYTHS OF THE AFTERLIFE ARE FICTIONS
of infinite time prior to our birth
have meant nothing to us. This, therefore,
nature offers to us as a mirror
of time to come, once we are dead and gone.
What appears so horrifying about it?
Does anything seem gloomy? Is it not                                  1360
more free of misery than any sleep?
There is no doubt that all those things they say
are deep in Acheron are in our lives.
And wretched Tantalus is not afraid                                                    [980]
of the huge rock suspended in the air
above him, rigid with futile terror,
as the story says.(35) It is more the case
that in life our vain terror of the gods
oppresses mortal men, who fear the blow
which chance may bring to each of them. And birds            1370
do not eat their way into Tityos,
as he lies there in Acheron—in fact,
they could not uncover things to scavenge
in his huge chest for an eternity.(36)
No matter how vast his sprawling body,
which, with its spread-eagled limbs, might cover
not just nine acres, but the whole extent
of our earth’s sphere—nevertheless, he still
will not be capable of suffering pain                                                    [990]
forever, always offering nourishment                                   1380
from his own flesh. But for us Tityos
is here, a man who lies down sick with love,
whom vultures rip and anxious cares consume
or worries slice up with some other passion.
And Sisyphus is in our life, as well,
right before our eyes, a man who chooses
to solicit people for the fasces
and savage axes and always comes back
defeated and depressed.(37) Seeking power,
which is unfulfilling and never granted,                                 1390
and always toiling in pursuit of it—
this is straining to push uphill a stone                                                   [1000]
which, with gathering speed, still comes rolling down
once more from the summit and keeps on going
to the level surface of the plain. And then
to give constant nourishment to a mind
which shows no gratitude, to cram it full
with fine things, yet never satisfy it—
an offering which the seasons of the year
provide for us when they come round again,                        1400
bringing their fruits and various delights,
while we still feel we never get enough
of life’s pleasures—this, in my opinion,
is the story they tell of those young girls,
in the flower of life, who pour water
into leaky jars, yet there is no way                                                      [1010]
they can fill them up.(38) But then Cerberus,
the Furies, lack of light, [are idle tales,
as are Ixion’s wheel and black] Tartarus
vomiting horrific fire from his jaws—                                   1410
these things are not to be found anywhere
and, in fact, cannot exist.(39) But in life
there is a fear of punishment for crimes
one has committed—major penalties
for major crimes—atonement for misdeeds:
prison, the dreadful toss down from the rock,
and floggings, executions, the rack, pitch,
red-hot metal, as well as brands of fire.(40)
And though these may be absent, yet the mind,
conscious of its deeds and apprehensive,                            1420
prods and torments itself with goads and whips,
and does not see meanwhile how its distress                                       [1020]
could end, what final limits there might be
to punishment, and is instead afraid
these same penalties may grow more serious
once one is dead. And here the life of fools
becomes an Acheron at last.

                                                   Then, too,
you could from time to time say to yourself,


“Even splendid Ancus with those eyes of his
went from the light of life, a finer man,                            1430
in many ways, than you, you worthless rogue.(41)
Since him, many other kings and rulers
have perished, men who ruled mighty nations.
Even that man who once built a roadway
over the great sea, providing a path
for legions to cross the deep, teaching them                                   [1030]
to go on foot above the salty gulf,
with prancing horses showing his contempt
for the ocean’s roar, that man lost the light
and from a dying body poured out his soul.(42)               1440
The son of Scipio, war’s thunderbolt,
who terrorized the Carthaginians,
gave his bones to earth, just as if he were
the lowest household slave. Then add to these
those who made discoveries in learning
and the graceful arts, then add companions
of sisters from Mount Helicon, with whom
Homer, holding unique authority,
rests in the same sleep as all the others.(43)
Then, too, after mature old age advised                         1450
Democritus that observant powers                                                [1040]
in his mind were failing, with his own hand
he personally offered death his head
and went to meet him.(44) Even Epicurus,
when he had travelled through his light of life,
also died, a man whose genius surpassed
the human race, eclipsing everyone,
just as the sun, when rising in the sky,
extinguishes the stars. So will you still
hesitate and resent going to your death?                         1460
You, whose life, while you still live and see,
is almost death, you, who squanders away
most of your years in sleeping and then snores
when you are wide awake, who does not stop
seeing idle dreams and has a mind distressed
by empty terrors—you cannot find out                                           [1050]
what it is that often makes you anxious,
when many troubles press from every side,
and, in your misery, you wander round,
like a drunkard, with an unsteady mind,                          1470
floundering in uncertainty.”


                                                        And thus,
with men who clearly feel there is something
weighing on their minds which is so oppressive
it wears them out, if they could also grasp
the causes which have brought this feeling on
and where it originates, that huge mass
of evil, as it were, living in the chest,
they would not carry on their lives the way
we generally see them now, each one
not knowing what he wants, always seeking                        1480
to change places, as if by doing that
he could set aside his burden. Often
a man bored with staying at home will leave                                        [1060]
his huge residence for some other place,
then suddenly return, since going away
does nothing to improve the way he feels.
He rushes to his villa, urging on
his galloping horses, as if desperate
to bring help to a house on fire, but then,
once he sets foot on the building’s threshold,                      1490
he quickly yawns and falls in a deep sleep,
seeking oblivion, or even rushes off
demanding to get back to the city.
In this way, each man flees himself—and yet,
as is commonly the case, we observe
he cannot flee the self, he clings to it
against his will, and he dislikes himself,
since he is sick and does not know the cause                                      [1070]
of his disease. If he saw that clearly,
he would leave aside all other matters                                 1500
and would seek, first of all, to comprehend
the nature of things, for what is at stake
is his condition, not for just one hour,
but for eternity, the state in which
every generation of mortal men
must continue, whatever is still left
after they have died.

                                         And finally,
what evil longing for life is so strong
that it forces us with such compulsion
to remain confused, in doubt and danger?                           1510
A certain limit has been fixed to life
for mortals. We cannot avoid our death,
but must move on to meet it. Moreover,
we keep spinning around, always staying                                            [1080]
with the same things, and, as we go on living,
we forge no new pleasure. But while we lack
what we desire, that seems to matter more
than all the rest, and, when we obtain that,
we crave something else. That same thirst for life
always keeps us with our mouths wide open.                      1520
We are in doubt about what fortune time
may bring to us in future, or what chance
has ready for us, or what our end will be.
By prolonging life, we do not shorten
the time we spend when dead, and we cannot
remove a thing which might enable us
to stay dead perhaps a shorter length of time.
Thus, you may live on and on and bury                                               [1090]
as many generations as you will,
that eternal death will still be waiting,                                   1530
nonetheless—nor will he who ended life
with this day’s light lack all existence
for a shorter period of time than he
who perished many months or years ago.





(1) The invocation is addressed to Epicurus. [Back to Text]

(2) Acheron is one of the rivers of the underworld, where, in Greek and Roman religious belief, souls go after death. The implication here is that Epicurus’ philosophy gives Lucretius a godlike freedom and tranquilly to survey the world without a glimpse of what religion claims is the traditional abode of the dead. [Back to Text]

(3) The terms mind (animus) and soul (anima), as we shall see in this section, were not always clearly distinguished in antiquity and were often used interchangeably. [Back to Text]

(4) Tartarus is the lowest point in the underworld. Some ancient philosophers held that the blood was the main location of consciousness (e.g., Empedocles); others that it was the breath (e.g., Anaximines). [Back to Text]

(5) Watson notes that this is a reference to their fear of being poisoned for their money. [Back to Text]

(6) I follow Munro in inserting a line into the Latin here. [Back to Text]

(7) At least one line is missing in the manuscript at the start of this sentence. The general sense of the missing text, however, seems clear. [Back to Text]

(8) Helicon is a mountain in Boeotia, near the Gulf of Corinth; its springs were considered, in the popular imagination of the ancient Greeks, the source of poetic inspiration. [Back to Text]

(9) Part of line 240 in the Latin is corrupt. The translation in square brackets provides the general sense of the missing words. The three elements introduced so far are wind, air, and warmth. [Back to Text]

(10) There’s a slight problem with Lucretius’ vocabulary here. Having set up the division between mind (animus) and soul (anima), with the former in the chest and the latter dispersed throughout the body, Lucretius now, in discussing the relationship of these two elements with the body, uses the word animus to refer to the combination of mind and soul. I have used the word soul for this meaning of animus, so that here (and elsewhere) soul refers to the combination mind and soul, two elements which, in his earlier discussion, were kept separate. [Back to Text]

(11) The sense of these four lines is awkward and disputed (some editors have rejected them). The point seems to be that the soul and body are both required for sensation. When death scatters the soul from the body, sensation ends in the body, but the body loses other things before the soul leaves (as Munro observes), like strength, vigour, health, and so on. [Back to Text]

(12) Democritus (c. 460 BC-c.370 BC), a Greek philosopher, is credited as the first to propose a detailed atomic theory. Democritus claimed that atoms of body and soul were equal in number and united in pairs throughout the human body. [Back to Text]

(13) Physical sensation, which always arises from material contact, starts, as Lucretius has explained earlier, in something which energizes a particle of soul, which is scattered through the body. But, as he goes on to argue, parts of our body can be touched without any sensation arising. Thus, not every part of the body contains soul, and the soul particles must have intervals between them no greater than the size of the smallest substances which, when they contact the body, create sensation. Substances smaller than that may contact the body without affecting soul, since they may not hit a soul particle or rouse the body’s other particles. [Back to Text]

(14) This passage is a summary statement of Lucretius’ notion of how physical sensation occurs. A sufficient number of the primary particles making up our bodies must be stirred to rouse the scarcer particles of soul, so that the latter can begin to move across the intervals separating them and collide, thus transporting the sensation through the body. If the number of primary particles roused by initial contact is insufficient, then the particles of soul will not be activated, and no sensation will register (e.g., with a spider’s web). [Back to Text]

(15) Lucretius returns here to the distinction between the mind (animus or mens), located in the chest, and the soul (anima), scattered throughout the body. [Back to Text]

(16) The exact meaning of this sentence is debated. Lucretius seems to be saying either that cutting around the entire eyeball destroys the sight or that cutting the pupil will destroy the sight. [Back to Text]

(17) As he states here, Lucretius is now going back to ignoring his earlier distinction between mind and soul. So from this point on the word soul in this section of the translated text refers to both mind (in the chest) and soul (distributed throughout the body). At this point, Lucretius moves on to what is (for him) obviously a central part of his entire book—the various proofs (seventeen in all) that the soul is mortal. The immortality of the soul is, clearly enough, one of the central claims of the many religious doctrines which Lucretius is determined to eradicate. [Back to Text]

(18) Images come from objects, contact the body, and affect the soul in such a way as to produce dreams. Lucretius deals with this issue of images later in Book 4. His point here is that the basic particles of soul are so slight and sensitive that they are moved, not merely by mist and smoke, but even by images of mist and smoke (which must be even more tenuous than those substances themselves). [Back to Text]

(19) The words within square brackets are prompted by a suggestion from Bailey. [Back to Text]

(20) Following other editors, I have omitted two lines here (474-475 in the Latin). One of them recurs at line 510 of the Latin below. [Back to Text]

(21) The addition in square brackets is a suggestion by Munro. [Back to Text]

(22) The scythes extended straight out from the hub of the chariot wheel and cut down soldiers when it drove through their ranks. Smith notes that neither the Greeks nor Romans used such chariots, but that they were a feature of eastern armies. [Back to Text]

(23) The text in the first part of this sentence is uncertain and disputed. Some words may be missing. [Back to Text]

(24) Following Munro, I have added the phrase in square bracket to clarify the logic of the sentence. [Back to Text]

(25) I have followed Munro in omitting line 585 of the Latin, which seems an unnecessary interruption in the idea. [Back to Text]

(26) Following some other editors, I have moved lines 690 to 694 in the Latin (“For soul . . . down on them”) up to this point (lines 686 to 690 in the Latin). [Back to Text]

(27) The point here seems to be (perhaps) that souls would not be able to shape matter into bodies since they would not have the physical equipment to do that (e.g., fingers and hands), just as they could not (according to an argument Lucretius has already made), enjoy sensation on their own, because they would lack organs of sense. [Back to Text]

(28) Hyrcania, a remote region south of the Caspian Sea (which the Greeks called the Hyrcanian Sea) was famous for its fierce wild animals. The doctrine that the immortal soul could after death live on in a different creature (palingenesis) is most commonly associated with the Pythagoreans. [Back to Text]

(29) Line 763 in the Latin has been omitted. It is the same as line 746 (line 1034 in the English text) above and is commonly removed.  [Back to Text]

(30) This final point, about the totality of the universe remaining eternally complete, Lucretius has argued earlier. Some editors (Munro included) omit the passage (lines 806 to 818 in the Latin). [Back to Text]

(31) At least one line is missing in the text at this point. The words in square brackets provide an English text which completes the sense of the sentence. [Back to Text]

(32) The Carthaginians, inhabitants of North Africa, fought three major wars with Rome (the First, Second, and Third Punic Wars, from 264 BC to 146 BC). The final defeat and demolition of Carthage was the most significant and celebrated military event in the history of the Roman Republic. The point of the reference is that if we are not alive, then nothing, no matter how serious, affects us. [Back to Text]

(33) Lucretius is here mentioning various treatments of the corpse in burial. Honey was sometimes used for embalming. [Back to Text]

(34) Kelsey points out that the sentiment here is like the slogan “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die,” associated with Epicureanism. Lucretius, who upholds a sterner and older tradition has little sympathy for this view. [Back to Text]

(35) Lucretius now surveys some of the major legendary sinners who were punished in Hades, especially those mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey (Book 11), both to debunk the legends and to remind his readers that hellish punishments comparable to these legends occur in life for those who do not have their desires and fears under control. Tantalus was eternally tormented with thirst and hunger and threatened by a rock whenever he reached for food. [Back to Text]

(36) Tityos was a huge monster punished in Hades by having vultures eat his liver. [Back to Text]

(37) Sisyphus is another character punished in Homer’s vision of Hades. He has to push a huge rock uphill, but every time he is almost at the top the rock rolls back down again. The “fasces and savage axes” are the symbols of political authority in Rome (the fasces is a bundle of round sticks bound together to symbolize the unity of the state; the axes symbolize the power of the state). The adjective “savage” indicates Lucretius’ sense of the harsh demands of seeking and holding political office in republican Rome. [Back to Text]

(38) This is a reference to the famous daughters of Danaus, who killed their husbands on their wedding night. Their task of filling leaky jars is a symbol of their useless, wasted lives and, beyond that, of the lives of those who are never satisfied with the good things of life. [Back to Text]

(39) The words in square brackets are Munro’s suggestion (more or less) for missing material. Ixion was the first human being to murder another and later was punished for trying to have sex with Hera, Zeus wife. Zeus had him bound to a spinning wheel of fire. [Back to Text]

(40) Cerberus, in Greek and Roman mythology, is the famous dog with many heads which guards the gates of the underworld. The Furies are the dreaded goddess of blood revenge, whose special task is to avenge family murders. The “toss down from the rock” is the Roman punishment for traitors, who were thrown from the Tarpeian Rock, a cliff in Rome. Some editors suggest there are a few lines missing after line 1010 in the Latin (line 1410 in the English text above). [Back to Text]

(41) Ancus (Ancus Marcius) was, according to tradition, the fourth king of Rome, (642 to 617 BC); he was called “Ancus the Good.” The line about his eyes leaving the light is taken from a poem by the celebrated Latin poet Ennius, to whom Lucretius pays tribute in Book I. [Back to Text]

(42) This is a reference to the Persian emperor Xerxes, who invaded Greece by land in 480 BC. His expedition involved building a bridge across the Hellespont so that his enormous army could cross out of Asia Minor. [Back to Text]

(43) Scipio (Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus, 236 to 183 BC) was the victorious Roman general in the second Punic War. He defeated the Carthaginian general Hannibal at the battle of Zama in 202 BC. The sisters from Helicon are the Muses, divine patronesses of the arts. [Back to Text]

(44) Democritus (c. 460 BC to c. 370 BC), Greek philosopher, founded the school of materialistic atomism. Whether he committed suicide or not is unclear. [Back to Text]



Link to On the Nature of Things, Book Four


Link to On the Nature of Things, Table of Contents