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; comparison with deeds of Hercules; intention to account for the formation of the world and life on earth; future destruction of earth and sky; mind’s place is in body; no divine places of the gods in the world; tenuous nature of gods; futility of thinking humans can benefit gods; doubts about divine creation of things; defects in the creation of the world; world created from mortal substances; world is relatively young; war between different parts of the world; first materials separate out, creating different regions; reasons why stars move; earth merges with air underneath; size of sun and moon; causes of sun’s heat; annual and daily motion of sun and moon; changes in light from sun and moon; causes of solar and lunar eclipses; first plant growth on earth; creation of animal life from earth; earth produced monsters; animals which cannot cope die out; no composite animals produced; first humans lived off wild nature; acquisition of huts, fire, customs; development of language; growth of towns, division of land; murder of kings, creation of laws through mutual agreements; origin of religion; uselessness of worship; discovery of metals; use of animals in battle; development of clothing and agriculture; origin of music; changes in diet; development of sailing, poetry, writing, other arts.]


Who has the power in his mighty heart                                TRIBUTE TO EPICURUS
to frame a poem worthy of these things
we have found out and of the majesty
of what we are discussing? Who has words
strong enough, so he can fashion praises
which could match the quality of the man
who bequeathed such things to us, these prizes
imagined and searched out in his own heart?
In my view, no one born with mortal flesh
will have that power. For if we must speak                         10
as the known majesty of things demands,
that man was divine, noble Memmius,
a god, who first set down that rule for life
we now call wisdom, who, thanks to his skill,                                      [10]
took life from such great turmoil and darkness
and set it in such peace, in such clear light.(1)
For compare the divine discoveries
of others from long ages past with his.
Now, Ceres, so they say, taught mortal men
about grain crops, and Bacchus liquid juice                         20
grown on the vine.(2) But life without these things
could still go on, as certain races live
even today, according to reports.
But men could not have lived successfully
without pure hearts, and that is why we claim
this man is more justly thought a god—from him
life’s tender consolations now extend                                                  [20]
even to mighty races and assuage
the minds of men. But if you think the deeds
of Hercules are more remarkable,                                       30
you will be carried even further off
from proper reasoning. For what damage
would that mighty gaping Nemean lion
and that terrifying Arcadian boar
do to us now?(3) What of the Cretan bull
or that Lyrnaean pestilence, the hydra,
guarded by her wall of venomous snakes?
What could they do to us? And the power
of those three chests on the triple body
of Geryon? [How could those birds] who live                     40
in [foul] Stymphalian [swamps] have injured us
so much, or steeds of Thracian Diomedes,                                          [30]
with nostrils snorting flames beside the coasts
of Bistonia and Ismara?(4) And the snake
protecting the glistening golden apples
of the Hesperides—that fierce creature
with a lethal gaze, who coils his vast shape
around the tree trunk? In the end, what harm
could he have done by the Atlantic shore
and its harsh seas, which none of us comes near                 50
and no barbarian will dare approach?
And all the other monsters of this kind—
who, if they were not overcome, were killed—
what damage could they finally inflict,
if they were still alive? In my opinion,
none at all. As it is, the earth is full,                                                     [40]
even nowadays, of savage creatures,
crammed with alarming terror in the woods,
immense mountains, and deep forests, but we,
for the most part, have the power to shun                           60
such places. However, unless our hearts
are purified, what battles and dangers
must then insinuate themselves in us,
against our will! What bitter cares then rend
men torn apart by passion! What other fears
do just the same! What of arrogance, filth,
depravity? What ruin they produce!
What of luxuriousness and indolence?
And so the man who has overpowered
all these and driven them out of his mind—                         70
not by weapons but by words—should this man                                 [50]
not be rightly found worthy of inclusion
among the gods, especially because
it was his custom to say many things,
in an elegant and inspired manner,
concerning the immortal gods themselves,
and in his teachings to elucidate
the entire nature of things?

                                 While treading
in his steps, I pursue his reasoning,
and in the things I say I teach the law                                  80
by which all things are produced and by which
they must continue—they have no power
to break mighty statutes of the ages.
In this group, first of all, it has been shown
that the mind’s nature, from the very start,                                          [60]
is a substance which was born—it cannot
stay intact for long periods of time—
but images, in sleep, habitually
deceive the mind, when we appear to see
a man whose life has left him. And so now,                         90
in what remains, my train of argument
has now brought me to this point, where I must
set down an explanation how the world
is a mortal substance and was born,
how a collection of materials
established earth, heaven, sea, stars, sun,
and the moon’s globe, then what living creatures
sprang from earth, as well as those never born                                    [70]
at any time, how the human race began
to employ among themselves various words                        100
by giving names to things, and ways in which
that fear of gods slid into human hearts,
which preserves sacred places on earth’s sphere—
shrines, lakes, groves, altars, images of gods.
Moreover, I will explain the power
by which pilot nature steers the sun’s course
and the wandering of the moon, just in case
we may perhaps believe they circle round
their eternal pathway between heaven
and earth of their own free will, graciously                           110
increasing growth of crops and living things,                                        [80]
or think they orbit there thanks to some plan
devised by gods. If those who rightly teach
that gods pursue a carefree life still wonder,
from time to time, about how all these things
can work the way they do, especially those
we see in heavenly regions overhead,
they are carried back to old religions
once again and adopt stern overlords,
who, they believe, in their unhappy state,                            120
are omnipotent—they are still ignorant
of what can and cannot be and, in short,
of why each thing has limited power                                                   [90]
and deep-set boundary stones.

                                    As for the rest—                           FUTURE DESTRUCTION OF THE EARTH
so we avoid delaying you any more
with promises—you must first consider
seas and lands and sky, their threefold nature,
three bodies, Memmius, three such different forms,
three such excellently created things—
these in one day will be given over                                      130
to destruction, the huge mass and fabric
of the world, standing for so many years,
will fall in ruins. My mind is quite aware
of the new and astonishing effect
this point has upon the understanding—
the future destruction of earth and sky!—
and how difficult it is for me to prove
by what I say. But that is what occurs
when you convey something to people’s ears                                     [100]
they did not know before, yet you cannot                           140
set it in open view before their eyes
or place it in their hands, those ways in which
the paved road of belief leads most directly
to the heart and open places in the mind.
But still I will speak out. It may well be
that facts themselves will validate my words,
and you will observe earthquakes breaking out,
all things, in one brief moment, badly crushed.
But may helmsman Fortune steer these troubles
far away from us, and may reasoning,                                 150
rather than brute fact, lead us to believe
that all things can be overcome and fall
with a horrifying, resounding crash.

But in these matters, before I begin
to pour forth about fate with more sanctity                                          [110]
and with far more coherent reasoning
than the Pythian priestess, who prophesies
from Phoebus’ tripod and his laurel tree,
I will, in my learned discourse, explain
many consolations to you, in case,                                      160
curbed by religion, you perhaps suppose
that lands and sun and sky, sea, stars, and moon
must last eternally, for their substance
is divine, and thus you believe it right
that, like the Giants, all those should suffer
some punishment for their abhorrent crime
who with their own reasoning undermine
the ramparts of the world and wish to quench                                     [120]
the splendid sun in heaven by branding
immortal things with mortal words.(5) But these,                  170
in fact, are quite separate things, far distant
from godlike majesty, so unworthy
of being reckoned among the gods,
that they could, by contrast, be looked upon
as providing evidence of objects
without vital motion and sensation.
For obviously we cannot just assume                                  MIND AND SOUL CANNOT EXIST EVERYWHERE
that the nature and judgment of the mind
could exist in any body at all,
just as a tree cannot live in aether,                                       180
clouds in salty seas, fish cannot survive
in farmland, blood cannot exist in wood,
and sap in stones. Each thing has a set place,                                      [130]
a predetermined spot, where it belongs
and grows. And therefore, the nature of mind
cannot be born by itself without body,
cannot exist far from blood and sinews.
For if the very powers of the mind—
and this is far more likely—could exist
in head, or shoulders, or below the heels,                            190
born in any part you wish—in the end,
it might grow accustomed to remaining
in the same man or vessel. However,
since it is determined where soul and mind
can grow even in our bodies—and we see
that this is fixed—then we must all the more                                        [140]
deny that mind could totally survive
outside the body and the form of things
which are alive, in rotting lumps of earth
or in the fire of the sun, or water,                                        200
or in soaring regions of the aether.
Thus, these things do not exist possessing
divine sense, since they are incapable
of being brought to life with vital feelings.(6)

In the same way, it is impossible                                         MATERIAL MAKING UP THE GODS
you could believe this point—that there exist
sacred dwelling places for deities
in any regions of the world. For in gods
nature is tenuous and far removed
from our sensations—hardly perceptible                             210
to the understanding of human minds.
It eludes what our hands can feel or strike,                                         [150]
and so it must not contact anything
which we can handle. For nothing can touch
which may not be touched itself. And therefore,
their homes must also be unlike our homes—
tenuous, just as their bodies are. All this
I will set out in a long discussion
for you later on.(7) Moreover, to state                                GODS DID NOT MAKE THIS WORLD
gods wished, for the sake of human beings,                        220
to make the glorious nature of the world,
and for that reason we should praise their work
as something worthy of our commendation,
thinking it immortal and eternal,
and that it is at any time profane                                                         [160]
to use any force to shake from its seat
what the ancient reasoning of the gods
has set for races of human beings
for all eternity, or to attack,
using arguments, and overthrow it                                       230
from top to bottom—to invent and add up
all sorts of other things like this, Memmius,
is ridiculous. For what benefits
could our gratitude give blessed beings
who live forever, so that they would try
to accomplish anything on our behalf?
Or when they were previously resting,
what novelty could have attracted them
to desire so long afterwards to change
their earlier life? It seems clear that someone                       240            [170]
whom old things irritate should find delight
in new things, but in the case of someone
to whom nothing sorrowful has happened
in times past, when he led a pleasant life,
what could have set alight in such a one
a passion for new things? Am I to think
gods’ lives lay immersed in grief and darkness
until the origin of created things
first dawned? And if we never had been made,
what evil would that be for us? It’s true                              250
that someone born must wish to stay alive
as long as enticing pleasure holds him,
but for someone who has never tasted
the love of life, who has not been counted
among the living, what harm would there be                                        [180]
if he was not created? Furthermore,
how was there first implanted in the gods
some example of giving birth to things
and that conception of human creatures,
so that they knew what they desired to do                           260
and saw it in their minds? How did the gods
ever learn the force of primary elements
and what they could make with alterations
in their mutual arrangements, unless
nature herself presented the idea
of creating things?(8) There are so many
primary particles of things forced by blows
in many ways for endless lengths of time
pushed and driven along by their own weight—
these have grown accustomed to being carried,                   270
to combining in every sort of way,                                                      [190]
and to trying out all possibilities
for producing things in mutual unions.
Thus, there is nothing strange about the fact,
if they have also fallen in those patterns
and have arrived at the type of movements
by which this grand totality of things
is now sustained and constantly renewed.
Even if I did not already know
what primary particles are, nonetheless,                              280
from the very workings of the heavens
I would venture to point out and to insist
from many other facts there is no way
the nature of things has been made for us
by the work of gods, for it possesses                                 FLAWS IN NATURE
such enormous flaws. First, of all the space
which the huge expanse of heaven covers                                           [200]
part is taken up by greedy mountains
and forests of wild beasts, deserted pools
and rocks have taken over, as has the sea,                         290
which keeps the coasts of different areas
so far apart. Besides, almost two thirds
is stolen from mortal men by scorching heat
and falling frost which never goes away.
As for what is left for farming, nature
with her own force would even cover that
with shrubs, if the strength of human beings,
to make life possible, did not fight back
against it, once men had grown accustomed
to groan over strong hoes and carve up earth                      300
by leaning on the plough. If we did not turn                                         [210]
productive lumps of earth with our ploughshares
and cultivate earth’s soil and make things grow,
they could not spring up in the flowing air,
not on their own. And even then, sometimes
when things now achieved with laborious work
come into leaf and all of them are blooming
through the land, either the sun in heaven
shrivels them with excessive heat, or else
sudden rains and chilling frosts destroy them,                      310
and with a violent storm the blasting winds
inflict great damage. Then, why does nature
nourish and foster horrible species
of wild beasts hostile to the human race
on land and sea? Why do annual seasons                                           [220]
bring sicknesses? Why does death stalk around
before his time? And there’s the child, as well—
like a sailor tossed up from cruel waves,
he lies there naked on the ground, speechless,
needing every help to go on living,                                      320
once nature brings him through his mother’s pain
out of her womb to regions of the light,
and he fills the space with tearful wailing,
as is fitting for someone who is waiting
to live through so many distressful things.
But different flocks, herds, and wild animals
grow and have no use for baby rattles,
they do not require some fostering nurse
to utter gentle broken words to them,                                                  [230]
nor do they seek different clothing to suit                             330
the seasons of the sky, nor do they need
weapons or lofty walls to guard their own,
since earth herself brings forth abundantly
all things for all of them, and nature, too,
that skilful artisan.

                                     Now, to resume.                          DEPLETION AND RENEWAL OF MATTER
Since the body of the earth and water
and pleasant breaths of air and searing heat,
from which we see this sum of things is made,
all are made up of matter which was born
and which will die, we must accept the fact                         340
that the whole nature of the world consists
of similar substances.(9) For obviously
with things whose parts and members we perceive                             [240]
are produced from a body which was born
and from mortal natures, these very things
without exception we see as mortal
and, at the same time, as being born, as well.
Thus, since I see the chief parts and portions
of the world are consumed and then reborn,
I may be certain that, in the same way,                                350
there has also been for heaven and earth
a certain moment when they first began
and there will be a moment when they die.
And in case you think that in this matter
I stole that point for my own purposes,
because I have assumed that earth and fire
are mortal and have not shown any doubt
that air and water die and have stated
that these same things are born and grow again,                                  [250]
first of all, some parts of the earth, when baked                  360
by constant sunshine and trampled over
by the force of many feet, give off haze
and flying clouds of dust, which gusting winds
disperse all through the air. And furthermore,
rain removes part of the soil in flooding,
and rivers graze upon and chew away
their banks. Then, too, whatever nourishes
something else is, in its turn, replenished,
since we do understand, without a doubt,
that earth, universal mother of things,                                  370
is at the same time their common graveyard.
Thus, you see that earth is eaten away,
then once more increases and grows in size.                                       [260]
And furthermore, it needs no words to show
that seas, streams, and springs are always filling
with new moisture and that waters well up
all the time. Great downward flows of water
from every region make that clear enough.
But surface liquid is taken away
continually—and so it comes about                                     380
that, in the end, there is no excess water,
in part because strong breezes, as they blow
across the seas, diminish them and rays
of the aetherial sun draw moisture off,
in part because it is distributed
below the ground in every land. The salt
is filtered out, the liquid stuff runs back,
gathers at the head of every river,                                                       [270]
and then, in a fresh current, flows again
over the land, along the river beds                                      390
which, once hollowed out, have carried waters
on their liquid march downstream.

                                    Now I will speak
of air, which every single hour changes
in its entire body in countless ways.
Whatever flows from things is all carried
all the time into the huge sea of air,
and if it did not, in its turn, give back
material to things and restore them
as they flow off, all things would already
have been eroded and turned into air.                                 400
Thus, it never stops being made from things
and going back to things, since, as we know,
all substances flow off incessantly.                                                      [280]
In a similar way, that plentiful source
of pure light, the aetherial sun, constantly
inundates the sky with fresh-born brilliance
and instantly supplies the place of light
with new light, for every flash of brightness
which comes before, no matter where it falls,
is lost. You may learn this from what follows.                      410
As soon as clouds first start to move across
below the sun and, as it were, to break
the rays of sunlight, all their lower part
immediately perishes, and earth
is cast in shadows everywhere those clouds
are carried. Therefore, you can understand                                         [290]
how things continually need fresh brightness
and all the previously projected light
disappears. There is no way we can see
things in sunlight, unless the fountain head                            420
of light itself constantly supplies it.
Besides, you also see night lights on earth,
like hanging lamps and resinous torches
bright with fluttering fires, similarly strive,
in great darkness, assisted by their flames,
to supply new light, keen to keep their blaze
still flickering, so eager that the light
is not broken and absent anywhere—
that’s how fast its destruction is concealed                                          [300]
by rapid birth of flames from every fire.                               430
Thus, we must accept that sun, moon, and stars
in the same way give off light from sources
which rise up and are steadily renewed
and always lose all their earlier flames,
just in case you should happen to believe
that these keep on going without being damaged.(10)

And then do you not see that even rocks
are overpowered by time, high towers
fall in ruins, stones crumble, images
and shrines of gods decay and fall apart,                             440
and that the power of gods cannot extend
limits set by fate or struggle against                                                     [310]
laws of nature? Besides, do we not see
ruined monuments of men [still asking,
on their behalf, if you believe these men
ever could grow old] and granite rocks torn
from soaring mountain slopes come crashing down,
unable to stand up against and bear
the overwhelming force of finite time?(11)
For surely they would not be torn away                              450
and fall so suddenly, if they withstood
from time immemorial all blows of age
and never cracked.

                           And then look at the sky,
which overhead and all around contains
all earth in its embrace. If it gives birth,
as some maintain, to all things from itself                                             [320]
and takes them back once they have been destroyed,
then, in its totality, it was born
and possesses a body which will die,
for whatever increases and sustains                                     460
other substances out of itself must
be diminished and, when it takes things back,
must be replenished.

                           Then, too, if there were                          EARTH IS NOT VERY OLD
no moment of birth for earth and heaven
and they had always been here forever,
why, apart from the tearing down of Troy
and the Theban War, have other poets
not sung of other happenings as well?
Why have so many of men’s achievements
so often disappeared? And why are they                            470
not celebrated anywhere, embossed
on monuments of everlasting fame?
Well, in my opinion, the truth is this—
the entire universe is not that old,                                                        [330]
the nature of the world is new, as well;
it did not begin all that long ago.
And that is why certain arts, even now,
are being refined, even now still growing.
In recent years many innovations
have been made in ships, just a few years past                    480
musicians gave birth to tuneful harmonies,
and only lately has this reasoning,
this nature of matter been discovered,
and I, the very first able to turn it
into my native tongue, have only now
been found. But if you happen to believe
that all things that existed earlier
were the same as these, but generations
of human beings died in scorching heat,
or that, by some great world-shattering act,                         490           [340]
cities have collapsed, or that constant rains
made rapacious rivers move across earth,
overwhelming towns, then so much the more
you must yield, conceding that earth and sky
will collapse as well. For when such great ills
and such major dangers were battering things,
at that time they would have gone to ruin,
with massive devastation far and wide,
if a more disastrous cause had fallen
on them. And we can see that nothing else                          500
shows that we are mortals more than this point—
we all get sick from the same diseases
as those whom nature has removed from life.                                      [350]
Then, too, all objects which last forever
must either possess a solid body,
repel blows, and not let any substance
penetrate inside them that could loosen
the close-packed parts within—like those bodies
of things whose nature we discussed before—
or they must be able to carry on                                         510
for all time because they are not exposed
to blows, like empty space, which stays untouched
and does not suffer the slightest impact,
or because there is insufficient room
around them into which material could,
so to speak, move out and then be dissolved—                                  [360]
just as the grand totality of all things
is eternal, for there exists no place
outside it where substances may split off,
and there are no objects which could hit them                     520
and pulverize them with a mighty blow.
But I have shown the nature of the world
is not solid matter, since empty space
is intermixed in things, and it is not
like vacant space. In fact, there is no lack
of bodies which could perhaps assemble
out of infinite space and overwhelm
this sum of things with a violent whirlwind
or bring in some other dangerous hazard.
And there is no lack of natural places                                  530            [370]
or room in the abyss of space in which
the bulwarks of the world could be dispersed.
Or else things could be attacked and perish
from whatever other violence you wish.
And thus death’s door is not kept shut against
heaven, or sun, or earth, or deep waters
of the sea, but stands ajar, facing them
with massive gaping jaws. And that is why
you must grant these same things were also born.
For objects which have a mortal body                                540
could not have defied the powerful force
of boundless age for such an infinite time
up to the present day.

                                                  And furthermore,             BATTLE BETWEEN WATER AND FIRE
since the most important portions of the world                                    [380]
fight so much among themselves, incited
to unsanctioned internecine warfare,
surely you see some limit could be set
to their lasting enmity—for instance,
when the sun and all its heat have drunk up
all water and prevailed?(12) They are striving                      550
to achieve this, but have not yet won out
in their attempt—rivers supply so much
and threaten to do more, to flood all things
from the deep gulf of the sea. All in vain.
For winds, as they blow across the waters,
reduce them, as does the aetherial sun,
whose rays unweave their fabric—sun and wind
are confident they can dry everything                                                  [390]
before the waters can achieve the goal
of their endeavours. Both sides manifest                             560
such great hostility in their equal fight,
as they battle each other to decide
this mighty issue. Still, once fire prevailed,
and once, so they say, water ruled the fields.
For fire triumphed, consuming and burning
many things, when the rapacious power
of the horses of the sun charged off course,
carrying Phaeton through the entire sky
and past every land.(13) But roused to fierce rage,
the omnipotent Father quickly hurled                                  570
high-spirited Phaeton from his horses                                                  [400]
down to the ground with a bolt of thunder.
Sun met him as he fell and took from him
the world’s enduring light, then pacified
the scattered horses, and, as they trembled,
put them in harness. He led them from there
on their proper path and restored all things.
That, at least, is what old Greek poets sang,
although it is extremely far removed
from proper reasoning. Fire can prevail                               580
when it can gather more materials
out of infinite space, and then its force                                                [410]
grows smaller, overpowered in some way,
or its materials are consumed, burnt up
by scorching air.(14) In the same way, water,
so people say, once gathered and began
to win the battle when it overwhelmed
many human cities. Then, once the force
which had collected from limitless space
was somehow turned aside and ebbed away,                      590
the rains stopped, the rivers’ force diminished.


However, I will now set down in order                               FIRST DEVELOPMENTS IN THE FORMATION
the ways in which assembled materials                                OF THE EARTH
laid foundations for the earth and heaven,
the ocean depths, and paths of sun and moon.
For clearly primary elements of things
did not organize themselves, with each one
in position according to some plan                                                     [420]
or some perceptive mind. And obviously
they did not enter into an agreement                                    600
about the motions each of them should have.
But the numerous first particles of things
have been driven by blows of many kinds
from time immemorial, moved forward
by their own weight, and have grown accustomed
to being carried, to form combinations
in every sort of way, and to attempt
everything they could possibly create
by mutually uniting, and therefore
it comes about that, by being spread around                       610
for such a long time and by trying out
every sort of movement and arrangement,
at last those particles come together
which, suddenly combined, often become                                           [430]
the beginnings of great things—earth and sea,
heaven, and the race of living beings.
At this point, then, the sun’s high soaring disk
with its abundant light could not be seen,
nor could the stars of this enormous world,
or sea, or sky, or even earth and air.                                  620
There was nothing to observe similar
to what we have now, but only some sort
of new storm and shapeless mass arising
from primary elements of every kind,
whose disorder was a battle being waged,
which disturbed their internal passageways,
connections, weights, impacts, collisions,
and motions, since, given their different forms                                     [440]
and various shapes, they could not all remain
joined they way they were or meet together                        630
and set mutually harmonious movements.
Then parts began to separate, and things
joined up with similar things like themselves,
dividing up the world, partitioning
its component parts and sectioning off
the major portions. That is, they set earth
apart from lofty heaven and the sea
off by itself, so its waters could spread
in their own separate place. In the same way,
they placed the aether’s fires in their own spot,                    640
uncontaminated all by themselves.
For at first all the substances of earth,
being heavy and closely linked, gathered                                            [450]
in the middle, and all of them took up
positions lower down. The more they mixed
and interlocked, the more they forced away
material stuff which would produce the sea,
stars, sun, moon, and the walls of the huge world.
All these are made from smooth, round elements,
much smaller than the particles of earth.                              650
So in parts of earth the fiery aether
first burst out through porous openings, rose up,
and, being light, carried away with it
many fires, in a way not so different
from what we often see when golden sunlight                                      [460]
first blushes on turf glittering with dew
in early morning and pools of water
and always-flowing rivers exude mist—
just as we sometimes perceive earth itself
give off steam. When all these materials                               660
gather overhead, bodies of clouds form
high up, weaving their web beneath the heavens.
Thus, in this way the light, diffuse aether
its body now cohering, was then stretched
all around and curved in all directions,
spreading far and wide in every region
on all sides, and in this process embraced
all other things in its voracious grip.                                                     [470]

Then there followed the first developments                         FORMATION OF SUN AND MOON
of sun and moon, whose spheres move through the air        670
between earth and aether. They were not drawn in
by earth or lofty aether—for they lacked
sufficient weight to sink down and settle
and were not light enough to float along
through the highest regions. Still, they are set
between the two in such a way they turn
their lively bodies and exist as parts
of the whole world, just as in our bodies
certain limbs may remain in place at rest,
while there are other ones which move about.                     680

With these substances removed, earth at once                                    [480]
sank down to where the sea’s vast blue surface                  DEVELOPMENTS IN EARTH AND SEA
now stretches, and a flood of brine immersed
the trenches. And then every day, the more
encircling aether’s currents and sun’s rays,
with their repeated blows on every side
along earth’s outer edges, compressed it
into a dense mass, so with this pounding
earth became closely packed and collected
around its centre, the more salty sweat                                690
squeezed from its body, as it trickled out,
enlarged the ocean and fields of water,
all the more those many particles of heat
and air escaped by flying away, making
the high glittering spaces of the heavens,                                             [490]
far away from earth, more dense. Fields sank down,
the height of soaring mountains grew, for rocks
could not subside, nor could all parts move down
to the same level equally.

                                           And thus,                                THE AETHER
the heavy, solid body of the earth                                        700
was produced, and all the world’s heavy sludge,
as it were, slid down to the lowest point
and settled on the bottom, just like dregs.
Then sea, then air, then fiery aether itself
were all left pure and unmixed substances,
some lighter than the others. The aether,
purest and lightest of all, floats above                                                 [500]
the airy breezes, and its clear matter
does not join with gusting currents of air.
It lets all matter underneath be stirred                                 710
by tempestuous whirlwinds, allowing them
to be upset by shifting storms. It bears
its own fires itself as it glides ahead
in its unvarying forward motion.
That aether can keep flowing evenly
with one steady effort, the Black Sea proves,
for it moves with an unchanging current,
and, as it flows on, constantly maintains
an uninterrupted single motion.(15)

Let us sing now the causes of motion                                  720
of the stars.(16) First of all, if the great sphere                                     [510]
of heaven rotates, then we must conclude                           MOTION OF THE STARS
an air presses its axis at both poles
and confines it from outside, closing it
at either end, and then another air
flows above, moving in the same direction
in which the stars of the enduring world
turn as they go through their twinkling motion,
or another current of air below
flowing in the opposite direction                                         730
makes the sphere rotate, just as we perceive
streams turning waterwheels and scoops.(17) Then, too,
all heaven could also remain in place,
while bright constellations are borne ahead,
either because swift currents of aether
are enclosed and, as they seek an exit,                                               [520]
move around and thus make their fires revolve
everywhere in open spaces of the night
throughout the sky, or a current of air
from somewhere else, from some external place,                 740
makes the fires turn, or they can creep along
on their own, to whatever place their food
summons each of them, as they move around,
inviting them to feed their fiery mass
in every region of the heavenly sky.(18)
As for which of these causes is at work
in this world, it is hard to say for sure,
but what could happen and what does happen
throughout the universe in various worlds
formed in various ways—that is what I teach,                     750
and I proceed to set down several causes,
which could account for motions of the stars                                       [530]
throughout the universe. Of these, however,
there must also be one which in this world
is the cause which generates the motion
of the constellations. But to declare
which one of them does this is not the task
of any man proceeding step by step.(19)

Now, in order for earth to stay at rest                                EARTH IS AT REST
in the world’s central part, it is fitting                                  760
that its weight should gradually get smaller
and decrease underneath, that it should have,
from the very start of its existence,
another nature down below, interlinked
and closely joined with those airy regions
of the world in which it is placed and lives.(20)
Thus, it is not a burden and does not
weigh down the air, just as in every man                                            [540]
his own limbs do not weigh him down, his head
is no burden to his neck, and, in fact,                                  770
we do not sense that all our body weight
rests on our feet. But any loads imposed
on us from outside are painful to us,
though often they are a great deal smaller.
That shows how crucial it is what each thing
is capable of doing. Hence, earth is not
a foreign object suddenly brought in
or thrown from somewhere else into strange air,
but was conceived together with that air
at the world’s original creation                                            780
and is a fixed part of it, just as we see
our limbs are part of us. Moreover, earth,
when suddenly shaken by loud thunder,                                              [550]
with its motion makes all things above it
shudder, and this it could not do at all,
if it were not linked to airy regions
of heaven and the world. For these places,
given their common roots, merge together,
combine, and form into one entity
from the very start of their existence.                                  790
Do you not also see that no matter
how much our body weighs, force in our soul,
which is very tenuous, supports it,
because soul is so closely joined to it
and with it forms a single unity?
Finally, what can lift the body up
with an agile leap except force of mind,                                              [560]
which controls the limbs? Do you now perceive
how much influence a delicate substance
can have, when joined to a heavy body,                              800
the way the air is interlinked with earth
and force of mind with us?

                       And sun’s disk and fire                               SIZE OF THE SUN AND MOON
cannot be much larger or smaller
than they seem to our senses. For with fires,
from whatever distance they are able
to throw off their light and breathe their warm heat
on our limbs, they lose nothing material
from their flames in the intervening space,
and the appearance of the fire does not
get any smaller.(21) Thus, since the sun’s heat                      810            [570]
and the light it pours out reach our senses
and caress the regions on which they fall,
the shape of the sun and its size, as well,
when we look at them from earth, must be seen
in their true dimensions, so you cannot
change it in any way to enlarge it
or make it smaller. Whether the moon, too,
as it is moved forward, shines on places
with light from some other spot or throws off
a specific light from its own body,                                       820
whatever the case, it is borne along
with a shape not one bit larger than the one
we recognize when we look up at it
with our own eyes. For everything we see
from far away through a great deal of air                                             [580]
seems blurred in appearance before its size
gets smaller. Therefore, since the moon presents
a bright face and a clearly outlined shape
from here on earth, we must see it high up
just as it is formed by its outer edge                                    830
and exactly the same size. Finally,
since with every fire we observe on earth,
as long as its bright light is clear to see
and we feel its heat, we see that its size
sometimes changes very little either way,                                            [590]
depending how far distant it may be,
we may know that all those aetherial fires
we can observe from here on earth could be
an extremely minute fraction smaller
or larger to a slight and small degree.                                  840
Also there is nothing astonishing
the way the sun, which is itself quite small,
can send out such great quantities of light
that it completely inundates all lands,
seas, and heaven, and washes everything
in its warm heat. For it may be the case
that from the sun a single fountainhead
opens up for the entire world and flows
in large quantities, shooting out its light,
because elements of heat gather here                                  850
from every side of the whole world—this mass                                   [600]
of particles streams forth in such a way
that in this place the heat comes flowing out
from just one single source.(22) Do you not see
how a small spring of water also spreads
far and wide over meadows and sometimes
floods the fields? Then, too, it may also be
that heat from the sun’s fires, although not great,
with their warm fiery blaze fills up the air,
if the air which happens to be present                                 860
is combustible and sufficient, so that,
when struck by tiny particles of heat,
it can catch fire, just as we sometimes see
all parts of a field of crops or stubble
caught in a huge fire from a single spark.
Perhaps also the sun shining on high
with his rosy torch has there around him                                             [610]
large amounts of invisible hot fire,
which does not display any light at all,
so that it brings only heat and strengthens                            870
the impact of the rays considerably.(23)

There is no plain, direct explanation                                    MOTION OF THE SUN AND MOON
which clarifies how the sun moves forward
from his position in the summertime
to Capricorn, his winter turning point,
and how, coming back from there, changes course
to the solstitial point in Cancer, or how
the moon is seen within a single month
to traverse that distance, which takes the sun
a period of one whole year to cross.                                   880
No plain reason, I say, has been given                                                [620]
for these phenomena.(24) For first of all,
it appears that what could happen is what
the revered thinking of great Democritus
proposed—the closer each constellation
is to earth, the less it can be carried
by heaven’s whirling winds, for lower down
their swift, keen force gets less and disappears,
and so the sun is gradually left behind
among the constellations at the back,                                  890
because it is at a much lower height
than those fiery signs.(25) The moon even more—
the lower her path, the further she is
from heaven, and the closer to the earth,                                            [630]
the more incapable she is of keeping
her course level with the constellations.
Also, since moon is lower than the sun
and the whirling wind which bears her onward
is less energetic, the more all signs
catch up all around and overtake her.                                 900
Thus, it happens that we observe the moon
coming back to every constellation
faster than the sun, since those signs move up
more swiftly to her. It could happen, too,
that from those regions of the world which cross
the pathway of the sun two air currents
may alternately stream, each one of them
at a specific time, so one of them
could push the sun away from constellations
of the summer down to the turning point                              910
of the winter solstice and freezing cold,                                              [640]
and one may thrust him back from cold darkness,
all the way to the heat-bearing regions
and the fiery constellations. Likewise,
we must assume that alternating airs
from opposite regions could shift the moon
and those stars which move in massive circles
for thousands of normal years.(26) Surely you see
how contrary winds also blow the clouds,
moving the upper and the lower ones                                  920
in different directions? Why should the stars
be less capable of being carried
through their huge orbits in the aether
by currents pushing them in different ways?
Further, night shrouds earth in murky darkness,                                  [650]
either when sun, after his long passage,
comes to the most distant parts of heaven
and, in his exhaustion, blows out his fires,
shaken in their journey and made weaker
by large amounts of air, or else because                              930
the same forces which carried the sun’s orb
above the earth compel it to change course
and move below the earth.

                                In the same way,
the goddess of the morning, Matuta,
at a certain moment sends rosy Dawn
through aetherial regions and spreads her light,
either because that same sun, returning
back under the earth, keen to set the sky
blazing with his rays, seizes it too soon,
or because at a particular time                                            940            [660]
fires collect and many heat particles
by habit flow together, and these cause
new sunlight constantly to be produced.
And therefore, from Mount Ida’s lofty peaks,
so people say, one can see scattered fires,
as sun’s light rises, and then they gather,
as it were, in one ball and make a sphere.
Nor in these matters should it surprise us
that at a predetermined time these seeds
of fire can stream together and renew                                 950
the brilliance of the sun. For we observe
with all things many events occurring
at set times—trees blossom at a set time,                                           [670]
and at a set time they shed their flowers.
At a time no less firmly fixed, our age
instructs our teeth to fall and the young lad
to acquire the soft hair of puberty
and let a tender beard grow equally
down both his cheeks. Moreover, lightning, snow,
rain, clouds, winds—these occur at times of year                960
which we can surely more or less predict.
Since from the first origin of causes
that has been the case, and things have happened
this way from the beginning of the world.
They also come back now in a fixed order,
one following the other.

days may grow longer and nights get shorter,                                     [680]
and daylight diminish, while nights increase,
either because the same sun, as it runs
in different circuits above and below                                   970
the earth divides the aetherial regions
and splits the sphere into unequal parts,
and when he takes from one of the two parts
he adds to the other the same amount,
as he moves around, until he reaches
that constellation in the heavenly sky
where the yearly node makes the shades of night
equal the light of day.(27) For as sun moves
into the middle of the blasts of wind                                                   [690]
from north and south, heaven keeps his two goals—           980
[points where sun rises and then later sets]—
at equal distances, given the placement
of the whole orbit of the constellations,
which the sun, as he glides around, completes
in one full year, lighting the earth and sky
with his slanting rays, as is clearly shown
by the plans of those who have noted down
all those places in the sky which are marked
by the sequence of the constellations.(28)
Or then again, since the air is denser                                   990
in certain regions and below the earth
sun’s tremulous rays of fire are therefore
held back and cannot easily break through
and move toward the place where dawn appears,
in winter time long nights keep dragging on,
until the bright signal of day arrives,                                                    [700]
or because in alternating seasons
of the year, fires which make the sun arise
in a certain region of the heavens
have a habit of streaming together                                      1000
more quickly or more slowly, and therefore,
it happens that men seem to speak the truth
[when they claim a new sun is born each day.](29)
And the moon could shine because she is struck
by rays from the sun and day by day turns
that light more towards our sight, as she moves
further from sun’s sphere, until she is placed
across from him, has shone her bright, full light,
and, as she rises high, has seen him set.
Then, in the same way, she must, as it were,                       1010           [710]
move back and gradually hide her light,
the more she now glides close to blazing sun
from a different region through the circle
of the constellations, as those men claim
who imagine the moon is a like a ball
and stays on her path underneath the sun.
There is also a way moon could revolve
with her own light and show various phases
of illumination. For there may be
another body which is borne forward,                                 1020
glides with her, and in all sorts of ways blocks
and obscures her. This cannot be observed,
because it moves on without light. Or else
the moon might spin round, perhaps something like                             [720]
a spherical orb flooded with bright light
on half its surface, and, by revolving,
the sphere manifests its various phases,
until, turned to our watching, open eyes,
it reveals that part which is all burning,
and then gradually turns back, withdrawing                         1030
that portion of its sphere which gives us light,
as Babylonian doctrines of Chaldeans
attempt to prove, when they contest those claims
astronomers have made and deny them,
as if what both of them are fighting for
could not be equally right, or there were
some reason why you might desire to take                                          [730]
one explanation rather than the other.
And then again why could not a new moon
always be produced every single day,                                 1040
with a preset sequence in her phases
and fixed shapes, so that each created moon
disappears each day, and then in its place
another is formed? This is hard to prove
by reasoning or demonstrate in words,
but [you see] so many things created
in a certain sequence.(30) Spring and Venus
walk along, with Venus’ winged herald
marching on in front, and Mother Flora,
right beside the footsteps of Zephryus,                               1050
strews the whole road in front of them, spreading                                [740]
the finest colours and scents.(31) Next in line,
come scorching Summer and her companion,
dusty Ceres, with the yearly breezes
of the northern winds. Then Autumn follows,
and inspired Bacchus walks along there, too.(32)
Then come other storming winds and tempests—
loud roaring Volturnus as well as South Wind,
whose power is lightning.(33) And finally
the solstice brings on snow and fetches back                      1060
numbing cold. Winter follows with the frost
that makes teeth chatter. It is not so strange,
therefore, if moon is born at a fixed time
and at a fixed time is once more destroyed,
for many things occur at preset moments.                                           [750]

You must assume for similar reasons                                  ECLIPSES
that eclipses of sun and moon, as well,
can be brought about from several causes.
Why should the moon be able to close off
earth from the sun’s light, placing her high head                   1070
in front of him in line with earth, hurling
her dark sphere before his burning rays,
yet at the same time we should not believe
some other body which always moves on
without being lit up could not do the same?
Why could the sun, at a certain moment,
not grow sluggish and lose his fires and then,
as he moves through the air, renew his light,
after he has passed beyond those places                                            [760]
which act against his flames and cause his fire                     1080
to be put out and die? And why should earth,
in turn, be able to deprive the moon
of light and, in addition, block the sun
above her, while moon, in her monthly course,
glides through the hard-edged shadows of the cone,
and at the same time some other body
not be able to move beneath the moon
or slide above sun’s sphere, to intercept
sun’s rays and the light he sheds?(34) Moreover,
if the moon really shines with her own light,                         1090
why, as she is passing through those places
hostile to her light, could she not grow dim
in a particular region of the world?(35)                                                [770]

As for what remains, since I have explained
how all things can occur in the blue sky
of this great world, so we could understand
what forces and causes might bring about
different courses of the sun and journeys
of the moon, and how, with their light blocked out,
they could be eclipsed and drape in darkness                     1100
the unsuspecting earth, when, so to speak,
they wink and then open their eyes once more
and look on every place with clear, bright light,
I will now return to when the world was young,                   YOUTH OF THE EARTH
to the tender fields of earth, to those things                                         [780]
they chose, with their new creative power,
to raise first into regions of the light,
entrusting them to the uncertain winds.

First of all, earth gave out types of grasses
and splendid greenery around the hills                                 1110
and over all the plains—the flowering fields
shone a brilliant green. After that, in trees
of various kinds great longing was unleashed
to race up through the breezy air and grow
unbridled. Just as feathers, hair, and bristles
are first produced on limbs of quadrupeds
and bodies of strong-winged birds, so new earth
then began by raising shrubs and bushes                                             [790]
and after that created many tribes
of mortal animals, which were produced                             1120
in numerous forms in every sort of way.
For living beings cannot have fallen
from the sky, and terrestrial creatures
cannot have come out of salt-water pools.
It then follows that earth has rightly earned
the name Mother, since all created things
exist from earth.(36) And many animals,
even now, are born from earth, taking shape
thanks to rain and warming heat of sunshine.
So it is less surprising if back then                                      1130
more creatures were born and they were larger
and matured when the earth and air were young.                                [800]
Firstly, the race of animals with wings,
the different birds, would move out from their eggs,
which hatched in springtime, just as nowadays
in summer cicadas leave their smooth shells
on their own, seeking life and sustenance.
At that time, you should know, earth first produced
tribes of mortal beings.(37) For in meadows
heat and moisture were plentifully supplied,                         1140
and thus when any area appeared
which was appropriate, there wombs would grow
with roots attaching them to earth, and when,
in the fullness of time, the infants’ warmth,
fleeing moisture and searching out the air,                                           [810]
would open these, nature would turn the pores
within the earth to these spots, forcing them
to pour from their open veins a liquid
just like milk, the way every woman now,
when she has given birth, has much sweet milk,                   1150
since all the current of her nourishment
is directed to her breasts. For the young,
the earth provided food, heat a garment,
and grass a place to rest, richly supplied
with plentiful soft down. But in its youth
the earth produced neither cruel freezing,
nor too much heat, nor very violent winds.
For everything acquires power and grows                                          [820]
at the same time and to the same degree.(38)
Thus, I repeat, earth has justly received                              1160
and keeps the name of Mother: she herself
produced the animal and human races,
pouring forth, almost at a preset time,
all animals which run wild everywhere
among huge mountains and, along with them,
air-borne birds of various shapes.(39) But then,
since she must reach some end of giving birth,
she stopped, just like a woman exhausted
by the passing years. For time does transform                     CHANGES IN NATURE OVER TIME
the nature of the entire world—all things                             1170
must shift from one condition to another,
and nothing keeps on going the way it is.
All things move from where they are, and nature                                 [830]
alters everything, forcing it to change
to something else. For one thing rots away
and, feeble with age, grows limp, and later,
from a scorned condition another thing
bursts forth and grows. And therefore, in this way
age changes the nature of all the world,
one state on earth is followed by another—                        1180
so that what could bear life then now cannot,
and what could not bear life before now can.(40)

At that time earth also strove to bring forth                         EARTH PRODUCED MONSTERS
numerous monsters, produced with bizarre looks
and limbs—hermaphrodites, intermediate
types between the sexes, yet neither male
nor female, remote from each, some creatures
without feet or, then again, lacking hands.                                           [840]
Some even had no mouth and turned out dumb,
others, without eyes, were blind, still others                         1190
were hampered by the way their limbs adhered
to their whole body: they lacked the power
to do anything, move anywhere, shun trouble,
or obtain the things their needs demanded.
Other monsters like this and prodigies
kept being produced, but it was futile,
for nature put a stop to their increase.
They strove to bloom in full maturity
but were unable to—they could find no food
or unite in sexual reproduction.                                           1200
For we know many factors must combine
so things can breed and propagate their race:
first comes nourishment, and then sexual seed                                     [850]
throughout the body must have ways to flow,
once limbs relax, and then, for the female
and the male to be able to have sex,
both must have organs which enable them
to share their mutual joy between them.(41)
Back then many races of animals                                        SURVIVAL AND EXTINCTION OF ANIMALS
must have died off—they could not procreate                     1210
and sustain their breed. For with all beings
you see breathing vital air, either craft,
or courage, or speed has kept them alive,
protecting their race from the beginning.
And there are many which commend themselves                                [860]
to us by their usefulness and remain
entrusted to our care. Firstly, courage
has protected the fierce race of lions
and ferocious breeds, cunning saves foxes,
and swiftness to escape preserves the deer.                        1220
But light-sleeping dogs with trustworthy hearts
inside their chests, along with every race
produced from the seed of beasts of burden,
and woolly flocks, as well as breeds with horns—
all these beasts, Memmius, have been entrusted
to care of human beings. These creatures,
eager to run from savage animals,
sought peace and generous quantities of food,
which they get without working on their own
to find it, food we give as a reward                                     1230          [870]
for their utility. But those whom nature
has not assigned these qualities, the ones
who cannot survive by themselves or give us
useful benefits, so that we would allow
their kind to feed and survive in safety
under our protection, these quite clearly,
all handicapped by their own lethal chains,
fell prey and spoil to others, until nature
led those races on to their extinction.

But there were no centaurs.(42) And animals                       1240
with a double nature, a dual body                                       COMPOUND ANIMALS DID NOT EXIST
assembled from limbs of different beings,                                           [880]
so that the powers in this and that part
could be sufficiently alike—such creatures
could not exist at any time. This fact
one can understand from what follows here,
no matter how obtuse one’s mind may be.
First, a horse near three years old is full grown,
in its prime. A child is obviously not,
for often at that age, while in his sleep,                                1250
he still seeks out his mother’s milky teat.
Later, when a horse’s vigorous power
and its strong limbs get weak in its old age
and, as vitality departs, grow frail,
at that time for the young man finally
the bloom of youth begins and coats his cheeks
with a soft down. So you cannot accept
centaurs could be created or exist,                                                     [890]
put together by chance from human beings
and load-bearing progeny of horses,                                   1260
or Scyllas, with bodies half sea creatures
enclosed by ravenous dogs, and all other
monsters of this sort, those who limbs we see
do not match each other, for they do not
mature or acquire full bodily strength
or lose that to old age at the same time,
they do not burn with the same sexual fire,
do not share a single common habit,
and the same things are not pleasurable
throughout their bodies.(43) For you may notice                  1270
bearded goats often grow fat on hemlock,                                         [900]
which is bitter poison to human beings.(44)
Besides, since flame has a habit of singeing
and burning tawny bodies of lions,
as well as every kind of flesh and blood
living on the earth, how could it happen
that the chimaera, one single body
in three parts—with a lion in the front,
a snake at the rear, and in the middle,
as her name suggests, a goat—could spew out                    1280
with her mouth fierce flame from her own body?(45)

And therefore, anyone who still believes
that when the earth was new and sky was young,
such animals as these could have been made
and rests his case upon mere novelty,
an empty term, may, using this reason,
let his mouth prattle on of many things—                                             [910]
he may say that back then rivers of gold
flowed everywhere across the lands, and trees
used to bring forth jewelry for blossoms,                             1290
or man was born with limbs of such great strength
he could plant his footsteps across deep seas
and with his hands turn all heaven round him.
For in the era when earth first produced
living creatures, though there were in the ground
many seeds of things, that is still no proof
that compound beasts could have been created
and limbs of different animals combined.
For types of grasses, crops, and fertile trees                                      [920]
which, even nowadays, grow up from earth                        1300
in rich abundance still cannot be formed
into compound mutual creations,
but each arises in its own manner,
and by a predetermined natural law
all keep their characteristic features.
But that human race was much studier                                EARLY HUMAN BEINGS
in the fields, as was natural for a group
the hard earth made. It was built up inside
from larger and more solid bones, attached
t0 powerful sinews through the tissues.                               1310
They were not easily hurt by heat or cold
or new food or any bodily harm.                                                        [930]
And then through many circuits of the sun
rolling across the sky, they went through lives
of wandering, the way that wild beasts do.
There was no hardy farmer to manage
the curving plough, no one who understood
how to cultivate the fields with iron, or set
young plant seedlings in the earth, or cut off
old branches from high trees with pruning knives.                1320
What sun and rains provided, what earth made
all on its own—these gifts were sufficient
to satisfy their hearts. And their bodies
these men would replenish, for the most part,
among acorn-bearing oaks. At that time,
the earth produced wild strawberries, as well,
in huge quantities, larger than the ones
you now see in winter, as they ripen                                                   [940]
to a rich red colour. Then, too, the world,
in its blossoming youth, also gave them                               1330
many coarse foods, enough to gratify
mortals in a wretched state. But rivers
and springs would call to them to quench their thirst,
the way that water now cascading down
large mountains clearly calls from far and wide
the thirsty races of wild animals.
And then, as they roamed around, they would stay
in the nymphs’ familiar forest spaces,
where they knew that flowing brooks of water
washed slippery rocks with a generous stream,                   1340          [950]
trickled on wet stones, and from up above
dripped down on verdant moss, and here and there
burst out and flowed across the level plain.
Back then they did not know how to use fire
or to cover their own bodies with pelts
from wild animal hides. Instead they lived
in forest groves and mountain caves and woods,
sheltering their filthy limbs in bushes,
forced to avoid the scourging winds and rain.
They could not look toward the common good                   1350
and did not know how to make for themselves
any laws or customs. A man would take
whatever prize fortune might throw his way,                                       [960]
with each one trained to look out for himself
and get by on his own. And in the woods,
Venus would join bodies in sexual acts,
for each woman was either overwhelmed
by mutual lust, or by the violent force
and reckless passion of the man, or else
by some reward—acorns, or strawberries,                         1360
or fine pears. And trusting in the power
of their hands and feet, which was amazing,
they went after wild beasts in the forest
by throwing rocks and with large, heavy clubs.
They brought down many, but there were a few
they avoided in their hiding places.
When night overtook them, they would settle
their naked, savage limbs down on the ground,                                   [970]
like feral pigs, wrapping leaves and branches
all around them. Nor did they moan a lot,                           1370
demanding daylight and the sun, wandering
the fields in terror through the shades of night.
Instead they stayed quiet, buried in sleep,
until sun with his rosy torch brought light
into the sky. For since, from childhood on,
they were used to seeing light and darkness
always being produced at alternate times,
it could not happen they would ever wonder
or feel apprehensive that the sunlight                                                   [980]
might be permanently withdrawn and then                           1380
darkness would possess the land forever.
But what did give them more cause to worry
was that tribes of wild creatures frequently
made quiet rest unsafe for wretched men.
Driven from their shelter, they would run off
from their rocky home when a foaming boar
or mighty lion came too close—trembling
in the dead of night they gave up their beds
of piled up leaves to their ferocious guests.
Back then mortal beings would not have left                        1390
sweet light of failing life in greater numbers
than they do now. True, any one of them                                            [990]
was more likely to be seized and offer
wild beasts a living meal, chewed by their teeth,
and would have filled the woods, groves, and mountains
with his screams, as he watched his living flesh
buried in a living tomb. And those men
who, with mangled bodies, had saved themselves
by running away would hold shaking hands
over ghastly wounds and later call out                                 1400
in horrifying cries for death, until
savage writhing pain took away their lives,
for they did not know how to help themselves
and were ignorant of what their wounds required.
But many thousands of men were not led
under army banners to their slaughter
in a single day, and stormy waters                                                      [1000]
of the ocean did not hurl ships and men
against the rocks. The sea would often rise
and rage in random, vain futility,                                          1410
then lightly set aside its empty threats.
The seductive charms of calm sea waters
could not lure any man to his destruction
with their deceptive, smiling waves, for then
the reckless art of seamanship remained
as yet unknown. Then, too, a lack of food
would deliver their weakened limbs to death—
and now, by contrast, an excess of things
destroys. Back then, men, in their ignorance,
would often pour out poison for themselves—                    1420
and now more skilful men give it to others.                                         [1010]

Then, once they had acquired huts, hides, and fire              ORIGIN OF FAMILIES AND HOMES
and woman linked up with man and moved
into one [home and] learned [marriage customs],
and they saw themselves creating offspring,
at that point the human race first began
to soften.(46) Fire meant their freezing limbs
could no longer tolerate the cold so well
under heaven’s roof, sexual habits made
their strength diminish, and children soon                             1430
shattered the stern character of parents
with their endearing charms. And then neighbours
began to join in mutual agreements,
seeking not to harm each other or be harmed,                                     [1020]
and they entrusted children and the race
of women to the care of all, pointing out
with vocal sounds, gestures, and broken words
that it was right for all to have pity
on the weak. And though they could not create
universal harmony, nonetheless,                                          1440
large numbers would faithfully keep their word,
or else the human race would, even then,
have been entirely killed off, and breeding
could not have kept up their generations
to this very day.

                                              But nature drove men           ORIGIN OF LANGUAGE
to use their tongues to send out various sounds,
and convenience then brought in names for things,
in much the same way we see a failure                                                [1030]
to use their tongues for speech pushes children
to gestures, when it makes them indicate                             1450
with their fingers objects in front of them.
For all animals sense how they can use
their own abilities. Before horns emerge
and sprout on a calf’s forehead, it uses them
to butt when angry and charges furiously.
Panther cubs and lion whelps use their claws,
feet, and teeth to fight, when their teeth and claws
are still hardly formed. Then with birds we see
that every species trusts its wings and seeks
fluttering assistance from its feathers.                                   1460          [1040]
Thus, to suppose that in the past one man
allocated names to things and that is how
men first learned words is sheer absurdity.(47)
For why was this one man able to mark
all things with words and with his tongue to make
various noises, and we are to believe
that at the same time other men could not
do the same? Moreover, if the others
were not also using words among themselves,
how did the notion of their usefulness                                  1470
plant itself in him? Where did it come from—
the power which was given first to him
to know and in his mind to visualize
what he wished to do? Furthermore, one man                                    [1050]
would not have been able to compel the rest,
prevailing over them with force, so that
they were willing to learn his names for things.
It is not all that easy to persuade men
who cannot listen and to instruct them
what they need to do. They would not bear it                      1480
or in any way let the sounds of words
they had not heard before keep battering
their ears quite uselessly. And finally,
in this matter what is so amazing
if the human race, which had vigorous tongues
and voices, should note things with different sounds
in accordance with their different feelings,
when mute herd creatures and even races
of wild animals are in the habit
of sending out distinctly different sounds                              1490           [1060]
when they feel fear or pain and when their joy
increases? Indeed, one can find this out
from well-known facts. When in Molossian dogs,
their large, loose lips pull back, expose hard teeth,
and start to growl with anger, then their rage
menaces with a very different sound
from when they merely bark and with their noise
fill every space around them.(48) Then again,
when they gently try to lick their puppies
with their tongues or play games by tossing them                 1500
with their paws and then, with their mouths open,
go after them, pretending, as their teeth
gently close, that they are swallowing them,
they fondle those pups with a yelping sound
of a kind far different from what they howl                                          [1070]
when left in a building all by themselves
or when, with their bodies cringing, they creep
whimpering from blows. Furthermore, does not
a horse’s neigh also appear different
when a young stallion in the prime of youth,                         1510
urged on by the prick of winged passion,
rages among mares and, nostrils flared, snorts
his call to arms and when, at other times,
he may neigh while all his limbs are trembling?(49)
And finally, the race of beasts with wings,
the different birds—sea eagles, hawks, and gulls—
which in the sea’s salt water waves seek out                                       [1080]
their food and livelihood, at other times
give very different cries than when they strive
for sustenance and fight over their prey.                              1520
And some of them change their raucous squawking
with the weather, as do the long-lived tribe
of crows and flocks of ravens, when they cry,
so men say, for water and rain, sometimes
summoning winds and breezes. And therefore,
if different feelings compel animals
to utter various sounds, though they are dumb,
how much more reasonable it would be
that mortal men back then should be able
to denote different things with different sounds.                   1530           [1090]

And just in case, while dealing with these things,                 ORIGIN OF HUMAN USE OF FIRE
you are perhaps quietly wondering,
it was lighting which first carried fire down
to mortal men on earth—with that all heat
from flames is generated.(50) For we see
many things ignite and burn up when struck
by fire from heaven, once the bolt transmits
its heat. Then, too, when a tree with branches
is lashed by winds, sways back and forth, presses
and rubs the branches of another tree,                                1540
the violent force of rubbing brings out fire,
and while trunk and branches chafe each other,
sometimes the flaming heat of fire ignites.                                            [1100]
Either of these two could have provided
fire to mortal men. And then sun taught them
to cook their food, using the heat of flames
to soften it, because out in the fields
they would see many objects getting soft
once beaten by sun’s heat and lashing rays.

Then day after day those men who stood out                      1550
for their keen intellect and had strong minds                       DEVELOPMENT OF TOWNS
would, from kindness, increasingly show them
how to exchange their previous livelihood
and former life, for something new. Then kings
began to build towns and found fortresses,
as a defence and refuge for themselves,
and also to divide up and hand out
herds and fields to each man, on the basis                                          [1110]
of his good looks, intelligence, and strength.
For how someone looked was highly valued,                      1560
and strength was thought an honour. After that,
wealth was introduced, and gold discovered,
which quickly robbed the strong and beautiful
of their esteem. For people, no matter
how strong they grow or how fine their bodies
are to look at, mostly follow the lead
of those who have more wealth. But if someone
were to guide his life with proper reasoning,
that man would possess great wealth by living
frugally with a tranquil mind, for when                                 1570
one has few things, there never is a lack.
But what men wanted for themselves was fame                                  [1120]
and power, so their fortune might remain
on a firm foundation and, with that wealth,
they could lead a peaceful life. But in vain,
since, while striving to rise up to the heights
of honour, they made their pathway perilous,
and envy, like a lightning bolt, sometimes
hurls them in disgrace from the very top
down to filthy Tartarus, for envy,                                        1580
just like lightning, generally sets on fire
the loftiest places, all those which rise
above the others. So it is much better
to stay quiet and obey than to yearn
for regal power and to govern kingdoms.                                            [1130]
Then let men tire themselves out pointlessly
and sweat blood as they fight their way along
ambition’s narrow road, since what they know
comes from mouths of others and they search
for things based on what they hear rather than                     1590
relying on their own feelings. But doing this
is no more use now than it was before
and will not be in future.

                                            Therefore, kings
were killed, the ancient majesty of thrones
and proud sceptres were cast down and ruined,
the splendid symbol on the monarch’s head,
stained with blood beneath the rabble’s feet,
mourned the loss of its great reputation,
for what is too much feared in earlier days                                          [1140]
is trampled on with passion. And so things                          1600
returned to the utmost dregs of chaos,
when every man sought out ruling power
and dominance for himself. After that,
some taught people to create magistrates
and set up laws, so that they might consent
to follow legal rules. For the human race,
worn out by living in mere violence,
was exhausted by men’s hostilities,
and so, on its own, it submitted itself
more readily to rules and binding laws.                                1610
For since each man was prepared to punish
in his own cause with greater cruelty
than is now permitted by impartial law,
this fact made men grow sick of living life                                           [1150]
by force. From that the fear of punishment
pollutes the prizes of this life. For harm
and violence entangle everyone,
and, for the most part, they rebound on him
who was their origin. It is not easy
for a man to live a calm, peaceful life,                                  1620
if his acts contravene the common laws
of peace. For though he may not be noticed
by gods and men, he must still be concerned
whether his secret will remain concealed
forever, since many men frequently
talk in their sleep or grow delirious
from sicknesses and give themselves away,
and, so we are told, publicly reveal
their concealed transgressions and wicked deeds.                              [1160]

Now, what is it that has spread the influence                       1630
of the gods through powerful states, filling                           ORIGIN AND SPREAD OF RELIGION
cities with altars, and brought it about
that men set up sacred ceremonies,
rituals which today are flourishing
at important times and in great places,
and from which, even now, in mortal men
is placed a dreadful fear which elevates
new temples to the gods in all the earth
and forces men on days of festivals
to gather—to explain all this in words                                 1640
is not so difficult.(51) For in those days,
races of mortal men already saw,                                                       [1170]
even while awake, splendid shapes of gods
and, in sleep, these were still more wonderful
for their physical size.(52) So they gave them
sensation, since they seemed to move their limbs
and utter haughty words appropriate
to their fine appearance and ample strength.
Men gave them eternal life, since their faces
always kept appearing and their figures                               1650
stayed the same—and beyond that, above all
because they believed there was no power
which could easily subdue such mighty beings.
And for that reason they assumed these gods
far excelled in happiness, since fear of death                                       [1180]
would trouble none of them. At the same time,
while they were sleeping they could see these gods
carrying out many amazing acts,
which for them required no effort at all.
Then, too, they kept observing what went on                      1660
in the sky in fixed order—various seasons
of the year returning—and could not see
the causes that made these happen. Therefore,
they found themselves a way out, by linking
all these to the gods, making everything
directed by gods’ will. And they created
habitations and spaces for the gods
up in the sky, for they saw night and moon
moving through the heavens—moon, day, and night,
glorious nocturnal constellations,                                         1670           [1190]
celestial torches wandering at night,
flying fires, clouds, sun, rain, snow, and wind,
lighting, hail, swift peals and ominous sounds
of menacing thunder.

                                    O unhappy race of men,                 PERNICIOUS EFFECTS OF RELIGION
when they ascribed such actions to the gods
and added to them bitter rage! What sorrows
they then made for themselves, what wounds for us,
what weeping for our children yet to come!
There is no piety in being seen
time and again turning towards a stone                                1680
with one’s head covered and approaching close
to every altar, and hurling oneself
prostrate on the ground, stretching out one’s palms                             [1200]
before gods’ shrines, or spreading lots of blood
from four-footed beasts on altars, or piling
sacred pledges onto sacred pledges,
but rather in being able to perceive
all things with one’s mind at peace.(53) When we look
at celestial regions of this huge world,
aetherial space fixed above twinkling stars,                         1690
and our minds think of paths of sun and moon,
then into hearts oppressed by other ills
fear starts to stir and raise its head, as well,
that perhaps there might exist over us
immensely powerful gods, whose force turns
the sparkling stars in their various motions.                                          [1210]
For lack of reasoning attacks the mind
with doubts whether there was an origin,
a beginning of the world, and then, too,
whether there is to be an end—how long                            1700
can the world’s walls hold up under the strain
of restless motion—or whether, endowed
by the gods with everlasting power,
they can glide through eternal tracts of time
defying the mighty strength of endless age.
Moreover, whose heart does not shrink with fear
of gods, whose limbs do not creep in terror,
when scorched earth shudders from horrific blows                              [1220]
of lightning and rumblings pass through the huge sky?
Do not people and whole nations tremble,                          1710
and haughty kings, transfixed by fear of gods,
draw back into their bodies, for fear that,
because of some foul crime or arrogant word,
the dread time of paying full punishment
has come? Moreover, when with utmost force
tempestuous winds at sea sweep the leader
of a fleet across the waves, and with him
strong legions and their elephants, as well,
does he not with vows beg the gods for peace,
pleading timidly in his prayers for winds                              1720
to stop and for favouring breezes? In vain—                                       [1230]
since often caught up in those stormy winds,
for all his prayers, he is still carried off
to the shoals of death. That reveals how much
some unseen power crushes human things
and seems to trample down and have its fun
with splendid fasces and cruel axes.(54)
And then, when all the earth shakes underfoot
and tottering towns fall or their collapse
is threatened and hangs in doubt, no wonder                       1730
if races of mortal men hate themselves
and make room for the amazing forces
and immense power of gods here on earth,
so that they have control of everything.                                               [1240]

Then copper, gold, and iron were discovered,                 DISCOVERY OF METALS
along with heavy silver and useful lead,
when heat from fires burned up large forests
on massive mountains, from a lightning bolt
sent from the sky, or because men waging war
with each other in the woods brought in fire                        1740
among their enemies to create panic,
or because, drawn to the land’s fecundity,
men wanted to open up fertile fields
and turn countryside to pasture, or else
to kill wild beasts and thus enrich themselves
with plunder. For hunting with pits and fires                                        [1250]
came before closing off the woods with nets
and chasing beasts with dogs. Whatever the case,
whatever made scorching heat burn up trees
with a fearful cracking from their deep roots                        1750
and seared the earth with fire, there then flowed out
from boiling veins streams of gold and silver,
as well as copper and lead, which gathered
in hollow places in the ground. Later,                                 ORIGIN OF METAL WORK
when men saw it solidified, shining
in the ground with a marvellous lustre,
attracted by the smooth, brilliant colour,
they gathered it up. And then they noticed
it had been molded into a figure                                                          [1260]
similar in outline to the hollows                                            1760
in which each one was located. So then,
it occurred to them that these substances
could be melted down with heat and settle
into the form and shape of anything,
and, in fact, might be molded by hammering
into points and edges as sharp and fine
as one might wish for. Thus they could produce
tools for themselves so they could cut down trees,
hew timbers, plane logs smooth, and make holes
with augers, awls, and drills. First they prepared                 1770
to do this with gold and silver, no less
than with the fierce strength of sturdy copper.(55)                                [1270]
That was no use, since with gold and silver
their strength kept fracturing and giving out—
unlike copper, they could not bear hard use.
So at that time they valued copper more
and neglected gold—its dull blunt edges
made it useless. Now copper is ignored,
and gold has climbed the pinnacle of honour.
Thus, rolling time changes seasons of things.                       1780
What was once esteemed, later has no worth.
And then something different follows—it leaves
its despised place and becomes sought after
more and more each day, and when found, flowers
with praise and is held in splendid honour                                           [1280]
among men.

                       Now, Memmius, to find out                        BRONZE AND IRON
how the nature of iron was discovered
is easy—you can do that on your own.
Ancient weapons were hands, nails, teeth, and stones,
as well as branches broken off from trees,                          1790
along with flame and fire, once these were known.
Later, men learned the force of bronze and iron.
They came to understand how to use bronze
before they learned of iron, because bronze
is easier to work and supplies of it
are larger. Using bronze men worked earth’s soil,              METAL WEAPONS OF WAR
with bronze they launched themselves in storms of war,
inflicting deep wounds, seizing land and cattle.                                    [1290]
For everything defenceless and unarmed
soon surrendered to those who brandished weapons.          1800
But after that the iron sword gradually
took over, and the shape of the bronze sickle
changed to a thing of scorn.(56) And then with iron,
men began to plough earth’s soil, and contests
in uncertain wars were rendered equal.(57)
Armed men mounted horses’ backs, guiding them               ANIMALS IN WARFARE
with reins, bravely fighting with their right hands,
before they undertook the risks of war
in chariots with two horses. And yoking
two horses came before men harnessed four                       1810           [1300]
or climbed fully armed into war chariots
equipped with scythes. Then Carthaginians
taught hideous Lucanian bulls—with towers
on their backs and snakes for hands—to suffer
the wounds of battle and create panic
in large groups of fighting martial warriors.(58)
Harsh war made one thing after another
to terrify those races of armed men,
and thus increase war’s horror day by day.
Men tried to harness bulls to serve in battle                         1820
and tried to send out fierce wild boars as well
against their enemy. Some had strong lions
marched out ahead of them, with armed trainers                                 [1310]
and cruel masters who could control them,
keeping them in chains. But that was useless.
For in the confusion of the slaughter
the hot, fierce beasts spread panic in the ranks
of both sides by tossing their fearful manes
around their heads in all directions. Riders
could not calm their horses’ hearts, terrified                        1830
by roaring lions, or apply their reins
to wheel them round against the enemy.
Female lions hurled their raging bodies,
leaping everywhere, and attacked the face
of those who came against them or seized men
without warning from behind and threw them,                                     [1320]
once in their grip and overcome with wounds,
down on the ground and then ripped into them
with their hooked claws and powerful teeth.
Bulls tossed and stomped their own men underfoot.            1840
With their horns they gored the horses’ bellies
and below their flanks, tearing up the ground
in terrifying rage. And wild boars, too,
with their strong tusks, would slaughter their own troops
and in their frenzy spatter blood on spears
broken off in their own muscles, spreading
confused destruction through ranks of soldiers
on horses and on foot. Moving to one side,
horses would avoid the savage onslaughts                                          [1330]
made by tusks, or else would rear up, their feet                   1850
pawing air, but that was all quite hopeless,
for you could see them collapse, tendons sliced,
and covering the earth with their heavy fall.
If, before the fight, men had thought those beasts
sufficiently well trained at home, they saw,
once the conflict started, them going berserk
from injuries, screams, flight, fear, confusion,
and they could impose no sense of order
on any group of them, for wild creatures,
all the various types, kept on scattering,                              1860
the way Lucanian bulls badly hacked with swords
now often scatter, giving their own troops                                           [1340]
many dreadful wounds. Men wished to do this
from their desire, not so much to conquer,
as to give their enemies a reason
to lament before they themselves were killed,
for they lacked confidence in their numbers
and had no weapons. If, in fact, they did this.
But I find it difficult to accept
that before this happened they would not see                      1870
and realize in advance how disastrous
it would be for both. You might be able
more plausibly to claim that this was done
out in the universe, in different worlds
created in different ways, rather than
on this one particular sphere of earth.(59)

Clothing made from materials tied together                                         [1350]
came before woven garments, woven clothes                     FABRIC FOR CLOTHING
came after iron, for cloth is made with iron—
that is the only way men can turn out                                   1880
such fine, smooth heddles and spindles, shuttles,
and rattling yard-beams.(60) Nature forced the males
to work with the wool before the females,
for the male sex far excels in skill and is
much more inventive, until tough farmers
scorned weaving, and then the men were willing
to let the women do that kind of work
and to share equally among themselves
in hard labour, strengthening hands and limbs                                      [1360]
with heavy tasks.

                       But the creator of things,                             1890
nature herself, was the first example                                   HORTICULTURE AND FARMING
of sowing seed and the start of grafting,
for berries and acorns fell down from trees
and, in due season, produced underneath
a crowd of seedlings. Then from nature, too,
they got the idea of setting young shoots
into branches and planting new saplings
in the ground through all their fields. After that,
they kept trying various ways of tilling
pleasant fields and noticed that with tender care                  1900
and gentle cultivation earth would tame
wild fruits. Day by day, men forced the forests
to move further up the mountains, yielding                                           [1370]
lower parts to farming, so they could have
meadows, lakes, streams, grain fields, and rich vineyards
on hills and plains, and dark bands of olives
could run between, marking the divisions,
spreading over hillocks, plains, and valleys,
just as you now see all the land divided
with various fine things—men make it shine                         1910
by arranging sweet orchard trees in rows,
and, with fertile shrubs planted all around,
keep them fenced in.

                       However, using mouths                               SINGING AND MUSIC
to imitate the liquid sounds of birds
took place well before men could sing in tune,                                    [1380]
making delightful songs which pleased the ear.
And winds whistling through hollow parts of reeds
first taught country people to blow through stalks
of hemlock hollowed out. From that they learned,
little by little, the sweet plaintive notes                                 1920
which, when players’ fingers close off the stops,
come pouring out. These were heard through forests,
pathless woods, and thickets, in lonely spots
of shepherds and places of godlike rest.(61)
Singing soothed their hearts and gave them pleasure,                           [1390]
when they had eaten their fill, for at that time
all things are delightful. As a result,
they would, as a group, often stretch themselves
on soft grass beside a stream of water,
under the branches of a lofty tree,                                       1930
and, at no great cost, refresh their bodies,
above all at those times fine weather smiled
and seasons of the year painted green grass
with flowers.(62) At such times they would enjoy
jokes, talk, and happy laughter. For back then
the country muse was young and vigorous.
Then joyful gaiety encouraged them
to drape their heads and shoulders with garlands
of flowers and leaves intertwined and dance,                                      [1400]
moving ahead with no sense of rhythm,                               1940
shifting their limbs crudely, with heavy feet
stomping on mother earth. From this arose
smiles and joyful laughter, for all these things
were newer then, flourishing, more wonderful.
And to those who remained awake on guard
from this came comfort for their loss of sleep—
letting their voices move through various notes,
weaving songs, and running their curving lips
across the pipes. From that, even today,
men on watch still keep to these traditions                           1950
and have just learned to maintain the rhythm
of the song. But for all that, they derive
no more enjoyment from this sweet delight                                          [1410]
than did those forest sons of earth back then.
For if we have not previously known
anything sweeter, then what is present,
here at hand, provides the greatest pleasure
and seems the best, and later, if we find
something better, as a rule it transforms
and kills feelings we had for things before.                          1960
And so men began to despise acorns
and abandoned those resting spots covered
with grass and piled with leaves. In the same way,
they shunned clothes made from wild animal hide—
though I suspect that at that time those hides
roused such envy that the man who first began
to wear them was set upon and slaughtered,                                       [1420]
and yet because they pulled the hides apart
among themselves and caused so much bloodshed,
they spoiled those skins, so they could not be used.            1970
Then it was hides, and now it is purple
and gold which harass men’s lives with worry
and weary them in warfare. And in this,
I think, the greater blame belongs to us.
For cold would torment those earth-born humans,
naked but for wild beasts’ hides, but for us
there is nothing harmful about a lack
of purple clothing embellished with gold
and massive symbols, if we still possess
common garments which keep us well protected.                1980
Thus, the human race labours constantly,                                            [1430]
without purpose and in vain, consuming
men’s lives with empty worries, for clearly
they are ignorant about a limit
to their possessions and about how far
true pleasure can increase. And little by little
this has carried life into deep waters
and stirred up from the very lowest depths
huge seething tides of war.

                                               But sun and moon,
those watchmen moving on with their own light                   1990
around the immense revolving spaces                                  MODERN CIVILIZATION
of the world taught human beings that seasons
of the year come back and that what happens
is brought about in a certain order
according to a predetermined plan.
And now they would spend their lives surrounded                              [1440]
by strong fortresses, with land divided,
marked out, and cultivated. The ocean
then blossomed with ships flying under sail,
towns had partners and allies, now confirmed                     2000
by treaties, poets began to pass down
deeds of men in songs—and just before that
writing was invented.(63) Therefore, our age
cannot look back at what was done before,
unless our reason points out the traces.
Ships and cultivated lands, walls, laws, arms,
roads, clothing, and all other things like this,
all the rewards, all luxuries of life                                                        [1450]
without exception—fine polished statues,
poems, paintings—they gradually learned                           2010
through practice, along with the experience
of active minds, and advanced step by step.
Thus, little by little time brings in view
each individual thing, and then reason
raises it into regions of the light.
For in the arts things must be clarified
one after another, in due order,
until they reach their highest pinnacle.(64)





(1) Lucretius is here paying tribute, once more, to Epicurus. In this tribute we are reminded again that the great value of Epicurus’ teaching for Lucretius is not only the knowledge it reveals of the world, but, more importantly, the ethical implications of that knowledge: it enables us to live properly. [Back to Text]


(2) Lucretius uses the name Liber rather than Bacchus, a traditional Italian god associated with farming. Later Liber was identified with the Greek god of wine, Bacchus. [Back to Text]


(3) Hercules is the major human hero of Greek mythology and (as Bailey points out) an important figure for the Stoics, whose ideas Lucretius repeatedly attacks. As a punishment for killing his wife in a fit of madness, Hercules was given twelve tasks: killing the Nemean lion, slaughtering the nine-headed Lernaean hydra, capturing the golden hind of Artemis, capturing the Erymanthian boar, cleaning the Augean stables, killing the Stymphalian birds, capturing the Cretan bull, stealing the horses of Diomedes, getting the girdle of the queen of the Amazons, stealing the cattle of the monster Geryon (who had three torsos, hence he was “triple-bodied”), getting the apples of the Hesperides, and capturing Cerberus (the dog guarding the gates of Hades). [Back to Text]


(4) The text of the Latin is commonly rearranged here to make the list more coherent. Munro conjectures a line has been lost before line 30 of the Latin. The suggested additions are in square brackets in the English above. [Back to Text]


(5) The Pythian priestess is the prophetess of Phoebus Apollo, at his shrine in Delphi. The Giants, in Greek mythology, were monstrous children of Earth, who fought against the Olympian gods; the latter prevailed with the help of Hercules, and the Giants were all destroyed or imprisoned. This section (starting in line 110 of the Latin) is a digression from the announced intention to explain the material formation of the earth, a subject to which Lucretius returns at line 235 of the Latin. [Back to Text]


(6) The point here seems to be that since the mind cannot live just anywhere in the body but has its own designated place, then there is all the more reason to believe that it cannot survive outside the body in things which are always inanimate (earth, water, sun, fire). Lucretius is arguing against the notion that nature is somehow filled with divine attributes or sensation. [Back to Text]


(7) Lucretius never does deliver on this promise. He returns briefly to the gods later in this book (lines 1642 to 1646), but never clarifies precisely the nature of their material substance. [Back to Text]


(8) Lucretius here seems to be assuming that gods are incapable of imagining or coming up with anything entirely new. And, unlike some later thinkers influenced by this poem, Lucretius does not link the gods with the rules by which nature proceeds, making them the creators of a world which operates on material principles which they have established (one common way of linking a scientific understanding of the universe with religious faith), nor, as he goes on to say, does he see in the way nature works any evidence of a divine design. [Back to Text]


(9) Lucretius here returns to the argument he originally announced about the formation of the world, ending the digression which begins on line 110 of the Latin. The opening phrase he uses “first of all” (principio) has no connection with the verses immediately preceding this new section; hence, that phrase has been changed in the English text above to “Now, to resume.” [Back to Text]


(10) This rather awkwardly expressed example is part of Lucretius’ argument to show that the world is constantly changing, with material always shifting around and being used up. There is nothing permanent or lasting about light, since it requires the constant use of new matter. [Back to Text]


(11) A corrupt line (line 312 of the Latin) has been emended by Munro, who points out that Lucretius is being sarcastic here. The monuments are asking the observer if he thinks it is possible for the memory of these men to disappear, and yet the monuments themselves are in ruins and will soon be gone. [Back to Text]

(12) The war between the different part of the earth is “unsanctioned,” as Smith observes, because the combatants are all part of the same world (i.e., their strife is like a civil war). [Back to Text]

(13) Phaeton, in Greek mythology, was the son of Helios, god of the sun (Lucretius uses the name of the old Roman god of the sun, Sol). Phaeton tried driving the sun’s chariot and horses on their usual route across the sky but lost control. As a result, the sun came too close to the earth, burning it and creating deserts. In order to save the earth, Zeus had to destroy Phaeton with a thunderbolt. [Back to Text]

(14) Lucretius seems to be conceding that there may have been a devastating fire, of the sort the Phaeton myth describes, but the only true explanation is a physical one: fire needs material fuel in order to burn and, once that fuel is used up, the fire goes out, unless it has been put out in some other way first. He goes on the make a similar concession with the well-known myth of the great flood. [Back to Text]

(15) This is a reference to the steady flow of water towards the Hellespont, something reported on later by Pliny the Elder, and picked up from there (in Holland’s English translation) by Shakespeare: “Like to the Pontic sea,/ Whose icy current and compulsive course/ Ne'er feels retiring ebb, but keeps due on/ To the Propontic and the Hellespont. . . .” (Othello, 3.3). [Back to Text]

(16) This passage on the movement of the stars, as many editors have observed, seems out of place, since it interrupts the description of how the world developed. [Back to Text]

(17) Lucretius considers here different possible explanations for why the stars move. The first idea is that the world (i.e., our part of the cosmos), which is spherical, moves like a giant water-wheel, with a fixed axis held in place by the pressure of air, which is then turned by another current of air from either above or below. The lower current will be in a direction opposite to the movement of the upper portion of the circle (as in a waterwheel). [Back to Text]

(18) As Lucretius has remarked more than once, since the stars are fires, they require a constant supply of fuel. [Back to Text]

(19) Lucretius here acknowledges an important principle for him. He has already stated that whatever the senses confirm is true and whatever the senses contradict is false. However, theories which seek to explain natural phenomena are all equally true unless they are denied by sense experience. Even though in this world there may be only one cause, in a different world the same natural event might happen for a different reason. Hence, his task is not to determine one single explanation in cases where different accounts all agree equally well with sense experience, as in the discussion of the four possible causes for the motion of the stars. This point helps to underscore the priority Lucretius gives to sense experience rather than to a single theoretical explanation of that experience. After this short discussion of the motion of the stars, Lucretius returns to the formation of the earth. [Back to Text]


 (20) As Munro notes, Lucretius does not here mention the overall shape of earth, but these remarks suggest that he thinks of it as a having flat surface above and below. Its material gradually gets less dense under the top surface, so that on the bottom the material merges or becomes one with the air below (Bailey uses the image of a spring mattress to describe the idea). This phenomenon keeps earth in place because it forms an almost organic entity with the material below, as the word “lives” and the following analogy to the human body suggest (although elsewhere Lucretius is insistent that the earth is not a living creature). [Back to Text]


(21) Bailey (along with many others) notes the curiosity of these statements about how the size of fires does not apparently change with distance and the inference that the sun and moon must be more or less the same size as they appear to be when we look at them from the earth. Copley refers here to “the great central weakness of Epicureanism, its total lack of mathematics. . . .” Lucretius is, of course, relying upon his basic claim that the senses do not deceive us; hence, the celestial fires must be more or less the same size as they appear to us because they are so clear and distinct. Still, the logic does seem strange. [Back to Text]


(22) Line 596 in the Latin has been omitted. It is the same as line 584. [Back to Text]


(23) The third possibility is the notion of invisible heat. The area around the sun might produce heat without our being able to see any flames; hence, the fact that the sun presents the appearance of a small burning disk is less important. Munro calls attention to modern scientific parallels to this passage. [Back to Text]


(24) As Bailey points out, Lucretius is here attempting to account for two motions of the sun, its annual circuit in which it moves through the constellations, and its movement up and down in its daily orbit around the earth. His explanation, Bailey observes, is somewhat confused because he offers his reasons for these two different phenomena as alternatives, rather than as two explanations for two different features of the sun’s movement. [Back to Text]

(25) The constellations (sometimes called signs) are, of course, the signs of the zodiac. [Back to Text]

(26) To describe the time of these orbits, Lucretius uses the term “great years,” which, as mentioned before, is a time equivalent to many hundreds or thousands of solar (or sideral) years (the exact number was disputed). Cicero (in De natura deorum, 45 BC) defined the Great Year as follows: “On the diverse motions of the planets the mathematicians have based what they call the Great Year, which is completed when the sun, moon and five planets having all finished their courses have returned to the same positions relative to one another. The length of this period is hotly debated, but it must necessarily be a fixed and definite time.’” [Back to Text]


(27) The “yearly node” is the equinox, which occurs twice a year when the path of the sun’s annual movement crosses the earth’s equatorial plane. [Back to Text]


(28) The first part of this sentence is confusing and its meaning has been disputed. Is Lucretius talking about the annual orbit of the sun through the cosmos or about its daily rotation around the earth? In the first case, the “two goals” would be the solstices, and the sentence would mean (as Munro points out) that when the sun is midway between the solstices it is midway between the solstices; in the latter, the “two goals” would be the rising and setting of the sun, and the sentence would mean that when the sun is midway between the solstices day and night are equal in length. I have followed Munro’s suggestions, and, in order to clarify the passage somewhat, have added the line “points where sun rises and then later sets” in square brackets. [Back to Text]

(29) The words in square brackets are Bailey’s suggestion for a line which appears to be missing. The final explanation for why some days are shorter or longer than others assumes that the sun is remade each day. The other two assume that the sun passes below the earth during the night. Once again, Lucretius offers a selection of theories but does not adjudicate among them, since they all satisfy our sense experience. [Back to Text]

(30) The words in square brackets are commonly added to the text to make better sense of the sentence. And I have changed the conjunction from since to but, in order to clarify the logic of the argument. [Back to Text]


(31) As many editors point out, this passage seems to be a description of an illustration or a pantomime of some sort. Zephyrus is the west wind, normally the gentlest and most welcome of the winds; Flora is the Roman goddess of flowers. [Back to Text]


(32) Lucretius uses the Latin Euhius Euan, a phrase denoting Bacchus, god of wine and the grape harvest. Ceres is the goddess of grain crops. [Back to Text]


(33) Volturnus is a river god, but the name is often conflated or confused with Vulturnus, one of the wind gods. [Back to Text]


(34) Bailey points out that Lucretius’ ability to understand eclipses is severely hampered by his insistence that the sun and the moon are the same size as we observe them in the sky (i.e., much smaller than earth). In such an arrangement the “cone” of the shadow cast by the earth on the moon could not be formed. [Back to Text]


(35) Line 771 of the Latin has been omitted. It is the same as line 764 of the Latin. [Back to Text]


(36) In classical times the idea that the first human life was born in the earth was widespread; as Blundell puts it, “No other basic hypothesis, so far as we know was ever put forward in scientific philosophy” (quoted by Campbell). [Back to Text]


(37) The cicada emerges from the ground in the summer heat, climbs up a plant stalk, and sheds its thin skin. This was taken by some as evidence of earth generating living things spontaneously. The birds’ eggs mentioned, one assumes, were first produced by earth. There is some ambiguity about whether Lucretius sees a creation sequence, with human beings coming after birds or whether he sees the creation of animal life all occurring at the same time. Campbell insists that the emphasis is on simultaneous creation of animal and human species. [Back to Text]


(38) This sentence seems to mean that because the earth was young, therefore the various natural forces (wind, cold, and so on) were also young and weak. [Back to Text]


(39) The “preset time” refers to the youth of the world. The organic metaphor at work here in the description of the origin of living things, of the youth of the earth, and of earth as a birth mother is somewhat at odds with the notion of random, mechanical collisions and combinations as the events which create all things. Campbell notes that Lucretius appears to have a dual vision of earth in its early days: on the one hand, a procreative, soft, and caring mother and, on the other hand, a hard and cruel stage for the survival of the fittest. [Back to Text]


(40) As Campbell points out, the sense here is that the earth once could produce all sorts of living beings which it cannot produce any more, and things which could not produce life at first (i.e., the newly emerging animals) now, through sexual reproduction, can. [Back to Text]


(41) Here (and in what follows) is an interesting anticipation of the rudiments of natural selection: nature produces a wide variety of types, and those which cannot support themselves or reproduce die out. The fittest survive because they have a physical advantage of some kind. Campbell notes, however, that we must not be too quick to see here an anticipation of Darwin’s theories, in part because Lucretius has no sense of evolution and of the development of new species out of old ones. The production of these varieties took place only in the youth of the world. [Back to Text]


(42) As mentioned previously, a centaur is a creature with the head and torso of a man and the body of a horse. [Back to Text]


(43) Scylla is a composite monster with six heads and dogs attached to the body living in the rocks in the straits between Italy and Sicily. [Back to Text]


(44) The reference here is to satyrs, composite creatures which, in Roman times, were pictured as part human being and part goat. [Back to Text]


(45) The Chimaera is a legendary fire-breathing monster made up of three different animals. Chimaera is the Greek word for she goat. [Back to Text]


(46) A line is evidently missing after line 1012 of the Latin. The words in square brackets provide the general sense. [Back to Text]


(47) The origin of language was a matter of considerable dispute among classical philosophers. Some of them maintained that one person was responsible for giving names to things (e.g., Pythagoras), in the same way the Bible assigns credit for that to Adam. Lucretius is arguing for a much more natural development of language. [Back to Text]


(48) Mollossian dogs, well known in ancient times, are now an extinct breed, but they are considered the ancestors of today’s large mastiffs. [Back to Text]


(49) The detail about passion having wings is a reference to Cupid (in Latin Amor). [Back to Text]


(50) A number of editors observe that this verse paragraph and the next two seem somewhat out of place, since they are not relevant to what comes immediately before or after them. [Back to Text]


(51) Here Lucretius returns to his account of the very early days of human society, a narrative which has been interrupted by the previous three verse paragraphs (on the arrival of fire, the overthrow of kingly rule, and the creation of a legal system). [Back to Text]


(52) Bailey calls attention to the problem of where these images of the divine might originate in a material universe and points out that Lucretius seems to have believed that images of the gods come from a stream of matter passing from them into the minds of human beings. These particles cannot be perceived by the senses but enter the human body and affect the soul. But the evidence, Bailey concedes, makes the issue difficult to resolve. [Back to Text]


(53) Lucretius is in this sentence describing the various gestures and motions a Roman worshipper goes through in normal worship. The “stone” is a statue of the god. [Back to Text]


(54) The fasces (from the Latin word for a bundle) is a collection of sticks bound together into a cylinder, often with one or more axes included. It was an important symbol of the Roman Republic, indicating the importance of a tight collective unity among the people and the power of the state. In modern times the image has been used as a common symbol for the unity of the state by some countries and political institutions. [Back to Text]


(55) As Copley points out, the Latin word aer means both copper and bronze. Bronze is harder than copper and would therefore make good sense here, but bronze is an alloy of copper and tin and does not occur naturally. Hence, the word copper is preferable, since Lucretius is talking about the very early days, when men were working with metallic ores they found in nature. [Back to Text]


(56) As other editors note, this odd reference to a bronze sickle may refer to magical rites. [Back to Text]


(57) The contests were “rendered equal” because iron weapons became so common they were generally available to all fighting groups. [Back to Text]


(58) Lucanian bulls are elephants, whose trunks give them “snakes for hands.” The Romans used this term because they first saw elephants in Lucania in the wars against Pyrrhus in Italy (in 280 BC). The Carthaginian general Hannibal famously brought elephants with his army over the Alps into Italy from Spain (218-217 BC). [Back to Text]


(59) Lines 1869 to 1877 in the English have attracted criticism: some editors see them as an interpolation or a marginal comment by someone else and omit them. [Back to Text]


(60) Heddles, spindles, shuttles, and yard beams are parts of the machinery used in weaving with looms. [Back to Text]


(61) The exact meaning of this line is uncertain. The two lines immediately after this (1388 and 1389 in the Latin) have been omitted. They appear again at lines 1454 and 1455 of the Latin. [Back to Text]

(62) This passage is almost the same as Book 2, lines 29 to 33 of the Latin. [Back to Text]

(63) Part of line 1442 of the Latin (line 1999 in the English) is corrupt. [Back to Text]

(64) I have followed Munro’s suggested emendation of the Latin in the last sentence. [Back to Text]




Link to On the Nature of Things, Book Six


Link to On the Nature of Things, Table of Contents