Of the Nature of Things, by Titus Lucretius Carus

Book I


Mother of Rome, delight of Gods and men,

Dear Venus that beneath the gliding stars

Makest to teem the many-voyaged main

And fruitful lands — for all of living things

Through thee alone are evermore conceived,

Through thee are risen to visit the great sun —

Before thee, Goddess, and thy coming on,

Flee stormy wind and massy cloud away,

For thee the daedal Earth bears scented flowers,

For thee waters of the unvexed deep

Smile, and the hollows of the serene sky

Glow with diffused radiance for thee!

For soon as comes the springtime face of day,

And procreant gales blow from the West unbarred,

First fowls of air, smit to the heart by thee,

Foretoken thy approach, O thou Divine,

And leap the wild herds round the happy fields

Or swim the bounding torrents. Thus amain,

Seized with the spell, all creatures follow thee

Whithersoever thou walkest forth to lead,

And thence through seas and mountains and swift streams,

Through leafy homes of birds and greening plains,

Kindling the lure of love in every breast,

Thou bringest the eternal generations forth,

Kind after kind. And since ’tis thou alone

Guidest the Cosmos, and without thee naught

Is risen to reach the shining shores of light,

Nor aught of joyful or of lovely born,

Thee do I crave co-partner in that verse

Which I presume on Nature to compose

For Memmius mine, whom thou hast willed to be

Peerless in every grace at every hour —

Wherefore indeed, Divine one, give my words

Immortal charm. Lull to a timely rest

O’er sea and land the savage works of war,

For thou alone hast power with public peace

To aid mortality; since he who rules

The savage works of battle, puissant Mars,

How often to thy bosom flings his strength

O’ermastered by the eternal wound of love —

And there, with eyes and full throat backward thrown,

Gazing, my Goddess, open-mouthed at thee,

Pastures on love his greedy sight, his breath

Hanging upon thy lips. Him thus reclined

Fill with thy holy body, round, above!

Pour from those lips soft syllables to win

Peace for the Romans, glorious Lady, peace!

For in a season troublous to the state

Neither may I attend this task of mine

With thought untroubled, nor mid such events

The illustrious scion of the Memmian house

Neglect the civic cause.

    Whilst human kind

Throughout the lands lay miserably crushed

Before all eyes beneath Religion — who

Would show her head along the region skies,

Glowering on mortals with her hideous face —

A Greek it was who first opposing dared

Raise mortal eyes that terror to withstand,

Whom nor the fame of Gods nor lightning’s stroke

Nor threatening thunder of the ominous sky

Abashed; but rather chafed to angry zest

His dauntless heart to be the first to rend

The crossbars at the gates of Nature old.

And thus his will and hardy wisdom won;

And forward thus he fared afar, beyond

The flaming ramparts of the world, until

He wandered the unmeasurable All.

Whence he to us, a conqueror, reports

What things can rise to being, what cannot,

And by what law to each its scope prescribed,

Its boundary stone that clings so deep in Time.

Wherefore Religion now is under foot,

And us his victory now exalts to heaven.

I know how hard it is in Latian verse

To tell the dark discoveries of the Greeks,

Chiefly because our pauper-speech must find

Strange terms to fit the strangeness of the thing;

Yet worth of thine and the expected joy

Of thy sweet friendship do persuade me on

To bear all toil and wake the clear nights through,

Seeking with what of words and what of song

I may at last most gloriously uncloud

For thee the light beyond, wherewith to view

The core of being at the centre hid.

And for the rest, summon to judgments true,

Unbusied ears and singleness of mind

Withdrawn from cares; lest these my gifts, arranged

For thee with eager service, thou disdain

Before thou comprehendest: since for thee

I prove the supreme law of Gods and sky,

And the primordial germs of things unfold,

Whence Nature all creates, and multiplies

And fosters all, and whither she resolves

Each in the end when each is overthrown.

This ultimate stock we have devised to name

Procreant atoms, matter, seeds of things,

Or primal bodies, as primal to the world.

I fear perhaps thou deemest that we fare

An impious road to realms of thought profane;

But ’tis that same religion oftener far

Hath bred the foul impieties of men:

As once at Aulis, the elected chiefs,

Foremost of heroes, Danaan counsellors,

Defiled Diana’s altar, virgin queen,

With Agamemnon’s daughter, foully slain.

She felt the chaplet round her maiden locks

And fillets, fluttering down on either cheek,

And at the altar marked her grieving sire,

The priests beside him who concealed the knife,

And all the folk in tears at sight of her.

With a dumb terror and a sinking knee

She dropped; nor might avail her now that first

’Twas she who gave the king a father’s name.

They raised her up, they bore the trembling girl

On to the altar — hither led not now

With solemn rites and hymeneal choir,

But sinless woman, sinfully foredone,

A parent felled her on her bridal day,

Making his child a sacrificial beast

To give the ships auspicious winds for Troy:

Such are the crimes to which Religion leads.

And there shall come the time when even thou,

Forced by the soothsayer’s terror-tales, shalt seek

To break from us. Ah, many a dream even now

Can they concoct to rout thy plans of life,

And trouble all thy fortunes with base fears.

I own with reason: for, if men but knew

Some fixed end to ills, they would be strong

By some device unconquered to withstand

Religions and the menacings of seers.

But now nor skill nor instrument is theirs,

Since men must dread eternal pains in death.

For what the soul may be they do not know,

Whether ’tis born, or enter in at birth,

And whether, snatched by death, it die with us,

Or visit the shadows and the vasty caves

Of Orcus, or by some divine decree

Enter the brute herds, as our Ennius sang,

Who first from lovely Helicon brought down

A laurel wreath of bright perennial leaves,

Renowned forever among the Italian clans.

Yet Ennius too in everlasting verse

Proclaims those vaults of Acheron to be,

Though thence, he said, nor souls nor bodies fare,

But only phantom figures, strangely wan,

And tells how once from out those regions rose

Old Homer’s ghost to him and shed salt tears

And with his words unfolded Nature’s source.

Then be it ours with steady mind to clasp

The purport of the skies — the law behind

The wandering courses of the sun and moon;

To scan the powers that speed all life below;

But most to see with reasonable eyes

Of what the mind, of what the soul is made,

And what it is so terrible that breaks

On us asleep, or waking in disease,

Until we seem to mark and hear at hand

Dead men whose bones earth bosomed long ago.

Substance is Eternal

This terror, then, this darkness of the mind,

Not sunrise with its flaring spokes of light,

Nor glittering arrows of morning can disperse,

But only Nature’s aspect and her law,

Which, teaching us, hath this exordium:

Nothing from nothing ever yet was born.

Fear holds dominion over mortality

Only because, seeing in land and sky

So much the cause whereof no wise they know,

Men think Divinities are working there.

Meantime, when once we know from nothing still

Nothing can be create, we shall divine

More clearly what we seek: those elements

From which alone all things created are,

And how accomplished by no tool of Gods.

Suppose all sprang from all things: any kind

Might take its origin from any thing,

No fixed seed required. Men from the sea

Might rise, and from the land the scaly breed,

And, fowl full fledged come bursting from the sky;

The horned cattle, the herds and all the wild

Would haunt with varying offspring tilth and waste;

Nor would the same fruits keep their olden trees,

But each might grow from any stock or limb

By chance and change. Indeed, and were there not

For each its procreant atoms, could things have

Each its unalterable mother old?

But, since produced from fixed seeds are all,

Each birth goes forth upon the shores of light

From its own stuff, from its own primal bodies.

And all from all cannot become, because

In each resides a secret power its own.

Again, why see we lavished o’er the lands

At spring the rose, at summer heat the corn,

The vines that mellow when the autumn lures,

If not because the fixed seeds of things

At their own season must together stream,

And new creations only be revealed

When the due times arrive and pregnant earth

Safely may give unto the shores of light

Her tender progenies? But if from naught

Were their becoming, they would spring abroad

Suddenly, unforeseen, in alien months,

With no primordial germs, to be preserved

From procreant unions at an adverse hour.

Nor on the mingling of the living seeds

Would space be needed for the growth of things

Were life an increment of nothing: then

The tiny babe forthwith would walk a man,

And from the turf would leap a branching tree —

Wonders unheard of; for, by Nature, each

Slowly increases from its lawful seed,

And through that increase shall conserve its kind.

Whence take the proof that things enlarge and feed

From out their proper matter. Thus it comes

That earth, without her seasons of fixed rains,

Could bear no produce such as makes us glad,

And whatsoever lives, if shut from food,

Prolongs its kind and guards its life no more.

Thus easier ’tis to hold that many things

Have primal bodies in common (as we see

The single letters common to many words)

Than aught exists without its origins.

Moreover, why should Nature not prepare

Men of a bulk to ford the seas afoot,

Or rend the mighty mountains with their hands,

Or conquer Time with length of days, if not

Because for all begotten things abides

The changeless stuff, and what from that may spring

Is fixed forevermore? Lastly we see

How far the tilled surpass the fields untilled

And to the labour of our hands return

Their more abounding crops; there are indeed

Within the earth primordial germs of things,

Which, as the ploughshare turns the fruitful clods

And kneads the mould, we quicken into birth.

Else would ye mark, without all toil of ours,

Spontaneous generations, fairer forms.

Confess then, naught from nothing can become,

Since all must have their seeds, wherefrom to grow,

Wherefrom to reach the gentle fields of air.

Hence too it comes that Nature all dissolves

Into their primal bodies again, and naught

Perishes ever to annihilation.

For, were aught mortal in its every part,

Before our eyes it might be snatched away

Unto destruction; since no force were needed

To sunder its members and undo its bands.

Whereas, of truth, because all things exist,

With seed imperishable, Nature allows

Destruction nor collapse of aught, until

Some outward force may shatter by a blow,

Or inward craft, entering its hollow cells,

Dissolve it down. And more than this, if Time,

That wastes with eld the works along the world,

Destroy entire, consuming matter all,

Whence then may Venus back to light of life

Restore the generations kind by kind?

Or how, when thus restored, may daedal Earth

Foster and plenish with her ancient food,

Which, kind by kind, she offers unto each?

Whence may the water-springs, beneath the sea,

Or inland rivers, far and wide away,

Keep the unfathomable ocean full?

And out of what does Ether feed the stars?

For lapsed years and infinite age must else

Have eat all shapes of mortal stock away:

But be it the Long Ago contained those germs,

By which this sum of things recruited lives,

Those same infallibly can never die,

Nor nothing to nothing evermore return.

And, too, the selfsame power might end alike

All things, were they not still together held

By matter eternal, shackled through its parts,

Now more, now less. A touch might be enough

To cause destruction. For the slightest force

Would loose the weft of things wherein no part

Were of imperishable stock. But now

Because the fastenings of primordial parts

Are put together diversely and stuff

Is everlasting, things abide the same

Unhurt and sure, until some power comes on

Strong to destroy the warp and woof of each:

Nothing returns to naught; but all return

At their collapse to primal forms of stuff.

Lo, the rains perish which Ether-father throws

Down to the bosom of Earth-mother; but then

Upsprings the shining grain, and boughs are green

Amid the trees, and trees themselves wax big

And lade themselves with fruits; and hence in turn

The race of man and all the wild are fed;

Hence joyful cities thrive with boys and girls;

And leafy woodlands echo with new birds;

Hence cattle, fat and drowsy, lay their bulk

Along the joyous pastures whilst the drops

Of white ooze trickle from distended bags;

Hence the young scamper on their weakling joints

Along the tender herbs, fresh hearts afrisk

With warm new milk. Thus naught of what so seems

Perishes utterly, since Nature ever

Upbuilds one thing from other, suffering naught

To come to birth but through some other’s death.

. . . . . .

And now, since I have taught that things cannot

Be born from nothing, nor the same, when born,

To nothing be recalled, doubt not my words,

Because our eyes no primal germs perceive;

For mark those bodies which, though known to be

In this our world, are yet invisible:

The winds infuriate lash our face and frame,

Unseen, and swamp huge ships and rend the clouds,

Or, eddying wildly down, bestrew the plains

With mighty trees, or scour the mountain tops

With forest-crackling blasts. Thus on they rave

With uproar shrill and ominous moan. The winds,

’Tis clear, are sightless bodies sweeping through

The sea, the lands, the clouds along the sky,

Vexing and whirling and seizing all amain;

And forth they flow and pile destruction round,

Even as the water’s soft and supple bulk

Becoming a river of abounding floods,

Which a wide downpour from the lofty hills

Swells with big showers, dashes headlong down

Fragments of woodland and whole branching trees;

Nor can the solid bridges bide the shock

As on the waters whelm: the turbulent stream,

Strong with a hundred rains, beats round the piers,

Crashes with havoc, and rolls beneath its waves

Down-toppled masonry and ponderous stone,

Hurling away whatever would oppose.

Even so must move the blasts of all the winds,

Which, when they spread, like to a mighty flood,

Hither or thither, drive things on before

And hurl to ground with still renewed assault,

Or sometimes in their circling vortex seize

And bear in cones of whirlwind down the world:

The winds are sightless bodies and naught else —

Since both in works and ways they rival well

The mighty rivers, the visible in form.

Then too we know the varied smells of things

Yet never to our nostrils see them come;

With eyes we view not burning heats, nor cold,

Nor are we wont men’s voices to behold.

Yet these must be corporeal at the base,

Since thus they smite the senses: naught there is

Save body, having property of touch.

And raiment, hung by surf-beat shore, grows moist,

The same, spread out before the sun, will dry;

Yet no one saw how sank the moisture in,

Nor how by heat off-driven. Thus we know,

That moisture is dispersed about in bits

Too small for eyes to see. Another case:

A ring upon the finger thins away

Along the under side, with years and suns;

The drippings from the eaves will scoop the stone;

The hooked ploughshare, though of iron, wastes

Amid the fields insidiously. We view

The rock-paved highways worn by many feet;

And at the gates the brazen statues show

Their right hands leaner from the frequent touch

Of wayfarers innumerable who greet.

We see how wearing-down hath minished these,

But just what motes depart at any time,

The envious nature of vision bars our sight.

Lastly whatever days and nature add

Little by little, constraining things to grow

In due proportion, no gaze however keen

Of these our eyes hath watched and known. No more

Can we observe what’s lost at any time,

When things wax old with eld and foul decay,

Or when salt seas eat under beetling crags.

Thus Nature ever by unseen bodies works.

The Void

But yet creation’s neither crammed nor blocked

About by body: there’s in things a void —

Which to have known will serve thee many a turn,

Nor will not leave thee wandering in doubt,

Forever searching in the sum of all,

And losing faith in these pronouncements mine.

There’s place intangible, a void and room.

For were it not, things could in nowise move;

Since body’s property to block and check

Would work on all and at an times the same.

Thus naught could evermore push forth and go,

Since naught elsewhere would yield a starting place.

But now through oceans, lands, and heights of heaven,

By divers causes and in divers modes,

Before our eyes we mark how much may move,

Which, finding not a void, would fail deprived

Of stir and motion; nay, would then have been

Nowise begot at all, since matter, then,

Had staid at rest, its parts together crammed.

Then too, however solid objects seem,

They yet are formed of matter mixed with void:

In rocks and caves the watery moisture seeps,

And beady drops stand out like plenteous tears;

And food finds way through every frame that lives;

The trees increase and yield the season’s fruit

Because their food throughout the whole is poured,

Even from the deepest roots, through trunks and boughs;

And voices pass the solid walls and fly

Reverberant through shut doorways of a house;

And stiffening frost seeps inward to our bones.

Which but for voids for bodies to go through

’Tis clear could happen in nowise at all.

Again, why see we among objects some

Of heavier weight, but of no bulkier size?

Indeed, if in a ball of wool there be

As much of body as in lump of lead,

The two should weigh alike, since body tends

To load things downward, while the void abides,

By contrary nature, the imponderable.

Therefore, an object just as large but lighter

Declares infallibly its more of void;

Even as the heavier more of matter shows,

And how much less of vacant room inside.

That which we’re seeking with sagacious quest

Exists, infallibly, commixed with things —

The void, the invisible inane.

    Right here

I am compelled a question to expound,

Forestalling something certain folk suppose,

Lest it avail to lead thee off from truth:

Waters (they say) before the shining breed

Of the swift scaly creatures somehow give,

And straightway open sudden liquid paths,

Because the fishes leave behind them room

To which at once the yielding billows stream.

Thus things among themselves can yet be moved,

And change their place, however full the Sum —

Received opinion, wholly false forsooth.

For where can scaly creatures forward dart,

Save where the waters give them room? Again,

Where can the billows yield a way, so long

As ever the fish are powerless to go?

Thus either all bodies of motion are deprived,

Or things contain admixture of a void

Where each thing gets its start in moving on.

Lastly, where after impact two broad bodies

Suddenly spring apart, the air must crowd

The whole new void between those bodies formed;

But air, however it stream with hastening gusts,

Can yet not fill the gap at once — for first

It makes for one place, ere diffused through all.

And then, if haply any think this comes,

When bodies spring apart, because the air

Somehow condenses, wander they from truth:

For then a void is formed, where none before;

And, too, a void is filled which was before.

Nor can air be condensed in such a wise;

Nor, granting it could, without a void, I hold,

It still could not contract upon itself

And draw its parts together into one.

Wherefore, despite demur and counter-speech,

Confess thou must there is a void in things.

And still I might by many an argument

Here scrape together credence for my words.

But for the keen eye these mere footprints serve,

Whereby thou mayest know the rest thyself.

As dogs full oft with noses on the ground,

Find out the silent lairs, though hid in brush,

Of beasts, the mountain-rangers, when but once

They scent the certain footsteps of the way,

Thus thou thyself in themes like these alone

Can hunt from thought to thought, and keenly wind

Along even onward to the secret places

And drag out truth. But, if thou loiter loth

Or veer, however little, from the point,

This I can promise, Memmius, for a fact:

Such copious drafts my singing tongue shall pour

From the large well-springs of my plenished breast

That much I dread slow age will steal and coil

Along our members, and unloose the gates

Of life within us, ere for thee my verse

Hath put within thine ears the stores of proofs

At hand for one soever question broached.

Nothing Exists Per Se Except Atoms and the Void

But, now again to weave the tale begun,

All nature, then, as self-sustained, consists

Of twain of things: of bodies and of void

In which they’re set, and where they’re moved around.

For common instinct of our race declares

That body of itself exists: unless

This primal faith, deep-founded, fail us not,

Naught will there be whereunto to appeal

On things occult when seeking aught to prove

By reasonings of mind. Again, without

That place and room, which we do call the inane,

Nowhere could bodies then be set, nor go

Hither or thither at all — as shown before.

Besides, there’s naught of which thou canst declare

It lives disjoined from body, shut from void —

A kind of third in nature. For whatever

Exists must be a somewhat; and the same,

If tangible, however fight and slight,

Will yet increase the count of body’s sum,

With its own augmentation big or small;

But, if intangible and powerless ever

To keep a thing from passing through itself

On any side, ’twill be naught else but that

Which we do call the empty, the inane.

Again, whate’er exists, as of itself,

Must either act or suffer action on it,

Or else be that wherein things move and be:

Naught, saving body, acts, is acted on;

Naught but the inane can furnish room. And thus,

Beside the inane and bodies, is no third

Nature amid the number of all things —

Remainder none to fall at any time

Under our senses, nor be seized and seen

By any man through reasonings of mind.

Name o’er creation with what names thou wilt,

Thou’lt find but properties of those first twain,

Or see but accidents those twain produce.

A property is that which not at all

Can be disjoined and severed from a thing

Without a fatal dissolution: such,

Weight to the rocks, heat to the fire, and flow

To the wide waters, touch to corporal things,

Intangibility to the viewless void.

But state of slavery, pauperhood, and wealth,

Freedom, and war, and concord, and all else

Which come and go whilst nature stands the same,

We’re wont, and rightly, to call accidents.

Even time exists not of itself; but sense

Reads out of things what happened long ago,

What presses now, and what shall follow after:

No man, we must admit, feels time itself,

Disjoined from motion and repose of things.

Thus, when they say there “is” the ravishment

Of Princess Helen, “is” the siege and sack

Of Trojan Town, look out, they force us not

To admit these acts existent by themselves,

Merely because those races of mankind

(Of whom these acts were accidents) long since

Irrevocable age has borne away:

For all past actions may be said to be

But accidents, in one way, of mankind —

In other, of some region of the world.

Add, too, had been no matter, and no room

Wherein all things go on, the fire of love

Upblown by that fair form, the glowing coal

Under the Phrygian Alexander’s breast,

Had ne’er enkindled that renowned strife

Of savage war, nor had the wooden horse

Involved in flames old Pergama, by a birth

At midnight of a brood of the Hellenes.

And thus thou canst remark that every act

At bottom exists not of itself, nor is

As body is, nor has like name with void;

But rather of sort more fitly to be called

An accident of body, and of place

Wherein all things go on.

Character of the Atoms

    Bodies, again,

Are partly primal germs of things, and partly

Unions deriving from the primal germs.

And those which are the primal germs of things

No power can quench; for in the end they conquer

By their own solidness; though hard it be

To think that aught in things has solid frame;

For lightnings pass, no less than voice and shout,

Through hedging walls of houses, and the iron

White-dazzles in the fire, and rocks will burn

With exhalations fierce and burst asunder.

Totters the rigid gold dissolved in heat;

The ice of bronze melts conquered in the flame;

Warmth and the piercing cold through silver seep,

Since, with the cups held rightly in the hand,

We oft feel both, as from above is poured

The dew of waters between their shining sides:

So true it is no solid form is found.

But yet because true reason and nature of things

Constrain us, come, whilst in few verses now

I disentangle how there still exist

Bodies of solid, everlasting frame —

The seeds of things, the primal germs we teach,

Whence all creation around us came to be.

First since we know a twofold nature exists,

Of things, both twain and utterly unlike —

Body, and place in which an things go on —

Then each must be both for and through itself,

And all unmixed: where’er be empty space,

There body’s not; and so where body bides,

There not at all exists the void inane.

Thus primal bodies are solid, without a void.

But since there’s void in all begotten things,

All solid matter must be round the same;

Nor, by true reason canst thou prove aught hides

And holds a void within its body, unless

Thou grant what holds it be a solid. Know,

That which can hold a void of things within

Can be naught else than matter in union knit.

Thus matter, consisting of a solid frame,

Hath power to be eternal, though all else,

Though all creation, be dissolved away.

Again, were naught of empty and inane,

The world were then a solid; as, without

Some certain bodies to fill the places held,

The world that is were but a vacant void.

And so, infallibly, alternate-wise

Body and void are still distinguished,

Since nature knows no wholly full nor void.

There are, then, certain bodies, possessed of power

To vary forever the empty and the full;

And these can nor be sundered from without

By beats and blows, nor from within be torn

By penetration, nor be overthrown

By any assault soever through the world —

For without void, naught can be crushed, it seems,

Nor broken, nor severed by a cut in twain,

Nor can it take the damp, or seeping cold

Or piercing fire, those old destroyers three;

But the more void within a thing, the more

Entirely it totters at their sure assault.

Thus if first bodies be, as I have taught,

Solid, without a void, they must be then

Eternal; and, if matter ne’er had been

Eternal, long ere now had all things gone

Back into nothing utterly, and all

We see around from nothing had been born —

But since I taught above that naught can be

From naught created, nor the once begotten

To naught be summoned back, these primal germs

Must have an immortality of frame.

And into these must each thing be resolved,

When comes its supreme hour, that thus there be

At hand the stuff for plenishing the world.

. . . . . .

So primal germs have solid singleness

Nor otherwise could they have been conserved

Through aeons and infinity of time

For the replenishment of wasted worlds.

Once more, if nature had given a scope for things

To be forever broken more and more,

By now the bodies of matter would have been

So far reduced by breakings in old days

That from them nothing could, at season fixed,

Be born, and arrive its prime and top of life.

For, lo, each thing is quicker marred than made;

And so whate’er the long infinitude

Of days and all fore-passed time would now

By this have broken and ruined and dissolved,

That same could ne’er in all remaining time

Be builded up for plenishing the world.

But mark: infallibly a fixed bound

Remaineth stablished ‘gainst their breaking down;

Since we behold each thing soever renewed,

And unto all, their seasons, after their kind,

Wherein they arrive the flower of their age.

Again, if bounds have not been set against

The breaking down of this corporeal world,

Yet must all bodies of whatever things

Have still endured from everlasting time

Unto this present, as not yet assailed

By shocks of peril. But because the same

Are, to thy thinking, of a nature frail,

It ill accords that thus they could remain

(As thus they do) through everlasting time,

Vexed through the ages (as indeed they are)

By the innumerable blows of chance.

So in our programme of creation, mark

How ’tis that, though the bodies of all stuff

Are solid to the core, we yet explain

The ways whereby some things are fashioned soft —

Air, water, earth, and fiery exhalations —

And by what force they function and go on:

The fact is founded in the void of things.

But if the primal germs themselves be soft,

Reason cannot be brought to bear to show

The ways whereby may be created these

Great crags of basalt and the during iron;

For their whole nature will profoundly lack

The first foundations of a solid frame.

But powerful in old simplicity,

Abide the solid, the primeval germs;

And by their combinations more condensed,

All objects can be tightly knit and bound

And made to show unconquerable strength.

Again, since all things kind by kind obtain

Fixed bounds of growing and conserving life;

Since Nature hath inviolably decreed

What each can do, what each can never do;

Since naught is changed, but all things so abide

That ever the variegated birds reveal

The spots or stripes peculiar to their kind,

Spring after spring: thus surely all that is

Must be composed of matter immutable.

For if the primal germs in any wise

Were open to conquest and to change, ‘twould be

Uncertain also what could come to birth

And what could not, and by what law to each

Its scope prescribed, its boundary stone that clings

So deep in Time. Nor could the generations

Kind after kind so often reproduce

The nature, habits, motions, ways of life,

Of their progenitors.

    And then again,

Since there is ever an extreme bounding point

. . . . . .

Of that first body which our senses now

Cannot perceive: That bounding point indeed

Exists without all parts, a minimum

Of nature, nor was e’er a thing apart,

As of itself — nor shall hereafter be,

Since ’tis itself still parcel of another,

A first and single part, whence other parts

And others similar in order lie

In a packed phalanx, filling to the full

The nature of first body: being thus

Not self-existent, they must cleave to that

From which in nowise they can sundered be.

So primal germs have solid singleness,

Which tightly packed and closely joined cohere

By virtue of their minim particles —

No compound by mere union of the same;

But strong in their eternal singleness,

Nature, reserving them as seeds for things,

Permitteth naught of rupture or decrease.

Moreover, were there not a minimum,

The smallest bodies would have infinites,

Since then a half-of-half could still be halved,

With limitless division less and less.

Then what the difference ‘twixt the sum and least?

None: for however infinite the sum,

Yet even the smallest would consist the same

Of infinite parts. But since true reason here

Protests, denying that the mind can think it,

Convinced thou must confess such things there are

As have no parts, the minimums of nature.

And since these are, likewise confess thou must

That primal bodies are solid and eterne.

Again, if Nature, creatress of all things,

Were wont to force all things to be resolved

Unto least parts, then would she not avail

To reproduce from out them anything;

Because whate’er is not endowed with parts

Cannot possess those properties required

Of generative stuff — divers connections,

Weights, blows, encounters, motions, whereby things

Forevermore have being and go on.

Confutation of Other Philosophers

And on such grounds it is that those who held

The stuff of things is fire, and out of fire

Alone the cosmic sum is formed, are seen

Mightily from true reason to have lapsed.

Of whom, chief leader to do battle, comes

That Heraclitus, famous for dark speech

Among the silly, not the serious Greeks

Who search for truth. For dolts are ever prone

That to bewonder and adore which hides

Beneath distorted words, holding that true

Which sweetly tickles in their stupid ears,

Or which is rouged in finely finished phrase.

For how, I ask, can things so varied be,

If formed of fire, single and pure? No whit

‘Twould help for fire to be condensed or thinned,

If all the parts of fire did still preserve

But fire’s own nature, seen before in gross.

The heat were keener with the parts compressed,

Milder, again, when severed or dispersed —

And more than this thou canst conceive of naught

That from such causes could become; much less

Might earth’s variety of things be born

From any fires soever, dense or rare.

This too: if they suppose a void in things,

Then fires can be condensed and still left rare;

But since they see such opposites of thought

Rising against them, and are loath to leave

An unmixed void in things, they fear the steep

And lose the road of truth. Nor do they see,

That, if from things we take away the void,

All things are then condensed, and out of all

One body made, which has no power to dart

Swiftly from out itself not anything —

As throws the fire its light and warmth around,

Giving thee proof its parts are not compact.

But if perhaps they think, in other wise,

Fires through their combinations can be quenched

And change their substance, very well: behold,

If fire shall spare to do so in no part,

Then heat will perish utterly and all,

And out of nothing would the world be formed.

For change in anything from out its bounds

Means instant death of that which was before;

And thus a somewhat must persist unharmed

Amid the world, lest all return to naught,

And, born from naught, abundance thrive anew.

Now since indeed there are those surest bodies

Which keep their nature evermore the same,

Upon whose going out and coming in

And changed order things their nature change,

And all corporeal substances transformed,

’Tis thine to know those primal bodies, then,

Are not of fire. For ’twere of no avail

Should some depart and go away, and some

Be added new, and some be changed in order,

If still all kept their nature of old heat:

For whatsoever they created then

Would still in any case be only fire.

The truth, I fancy, this: bodies there are

Whose clashings, motions, order, posture, shapes

Produce the fire and which, by order changed,

Do change the nature of the thing produced,

And are thereafter nothing like to fire

Nor whatso else has power to send its bodies

With impact touching on the senses’ touch.

Again, to say that all things are but fire

And no true thing in number of all things

Exists but fire, as this same fellow says,

Seems crazed folly. For the man himself

Against the senses by the senses fights,

And hews at that through which is all belief,

Through which indeed unto himself is known

The thing he calls the fire. For, though he thinks

The senses truly can perceive the fire,

He thinks they cannot as regards all else,

Which still are palpably as clear to sense —

To me a thought inept and crazy too.

For whither shall we make appeal? for what

More certain than our senses can there be

Whereby to mark asunder error and truth?

Besides, why rather do away with all,

And wish to allow heat only, then deny

The fire and still allow all else to be? —

Alike the madness either way it seems.

Thus whosoe’er have held the stuff of things

To be but fire, and out of fire the sum,

And whosoever have constituted air

As first beginning of begotten things,

And all whoever have held that of itself

Water alone contrives things, or that earth

Createth all and changes things anew

To divers natures, mightily they seem

A long way to have wandered from the truth.

Add, too, whoever make the primal stuff

Twofold, by joining air to fire, and earth

To water; add who deem that things can grow

Out of the four — fire, earth, and breath, and rain;

As first Empedocles of Acragas,

Whom that three-cornered isle of all the lands

Bore on her coasts, around which flows and flows

In mighty bend and bay the Ionic seas,

Splashing the brine from off their gray-green waves.

Here, billowing onward through the narrow straits,

Swift ocean cuts her boundaries from the shores

Of the Italic mainland. Here the waste

Charybdis; and here Aetna rumbles threats

To gather anew such furies of its flames

As with its force anew to vomit fires,

Belched from its throat, and skyward bear anew

Its lightnings’ flash. And though for much she seem

The mighty and the wondrous isle to men,

Most rich in all good things, and fortified

With generous strength of heroes, she hath ne’er

Possessed within her aught of more renown,

Nor aught more holy, wonderful, and dear

Than this true man. Nay, ever so far and pure

The lofty music of his breast divine

Lifts up its voice and tells of glories found,

That scarce he seems of human stock create.

Yet he and those forementioned (known to be

So far beneath him, less than he in all),

Though, as discoverers of much goodly truth,

They gave, as ’twere from out of the heart’s own shrine,

Responses holier and soundlier based

Than ever the Pythia pronounced for men

From out the tripod and the Delphian laurel,

Have still in matter of first-elements

Made ruin of themselves, and, great men, great

Indeed and heavy there for them the fall:

First, because, banishing the void from things,

They yet assign them motion, and allow

Things soft and loosely textured to exist,

As air, dew, fire, earth, animals, and grains,

Without admixture of void amid their frame.

Next, because, thinking there can be no end

In cutting bodies down to less and less

Nor pause established to their breaking up,

They hold there is no minimum in things;

Albeit we see the boundary point of aught

Is that which to our senses seems its least,

Whereby thou mayst conjecture, that, because

The things thou canst not mark have boundary points,

They surely have their minimums. Then, too,

Since these philosophers ascribe to things

Soft primal germs, which we behold to be

Of birth and body mortal, thus, throughout,

The sum of things must be returned to naught,

And, born from naught, abundance thrive anew —

Thou seest how far each doctrine stands from truth.

And, next, these bodies are among themselves

In many ways poisons and foes to each,

Wherefore their congress will destroy them quite

Or drive asunder as we see in storms

Rains, winds, and lightnings all asunder fly.

Thus too, if all things are create of four,

And all again dissolved into the four,

How can the four be called the primal germs

Of things, more than all things themselves be thought,

By retroversion, primal germs of them?

For ever alternately are both begot,

With interchange of nature and aspect

From immemorial time. But if percase

Thou think’st the frame of fire and earth, the air,

The dew of water can in such wise meet

As not by mingling to resign their nature,

From them for thee no world can be create —

No thing of breath, no stock or stalk of tree:

In the wild congress of this varied heap

Each thing its proper nature will display,

And air will palpably be seen mixed up

With earth together, unquenched heat with water.

But primal germs in bringing things to birth

Must have a latent, unseen quality,

Lest some outstanding alien element

Confuse and minish in the thing create

Its proper being.

    But these men begin

From heaven, and from its fires; and first they feign

That fire will turn into the winds of air,

Next, that from air the rain begotten is,

And earth created out of rain, and then

That all, reversely, are returned from earth —

The moisture first, then air thereafter heat —

And that these same ne’er cease in interchange,

To go their ways from heaven to earth, from earth

Unto the stars of the aethereal world —

Which in no wise at all the germs can do.

Since an immutable somewhat still must be,

Lest all things utterly be sped to naught;

For change in anything from out its bounds

Means instant death of that which was before.

Wherefore, since those things, mentioned heretofore,

Suffer a changed state, they must derive

From others ever unconvertible,

Lest an things utterly return to naught.

Then why not rather presuppose there be

Bodies with such a nature furnished forth

That, if perchance they have created fire,

Can still (by virtue of a few withdrawn,

Or added few, and motion and order changed)

Fashion the winds of air, and thus all things

Forevermore be interchanged with all?

“But facts in proof are manifest,” thou sayest,

“That all things grow into the winds of air

And forth from earth are nourished, and unless

The season favour at propitious hour

With rains enough to set the trees a-reel

Under the soak of bulking thunderheads,

And sun, for its share, foster and give heat,

No grains, nor trees, nor breathing things can grow.”

True — and unless hard food and moisture soft

Recruited man, his frame would waste away,

And life dissolve from out his thews and bones;

For out of doubt recruited and fed are we

By certain things, as other things by others.

Because in many ways the many germs

Common to many things are mixed in things,

No wonder ’tis that therefore divers things

By divers things are nourished. And, again,

Often it matters vastly with what others,

In what positions the primordial germs

Are bound together, and what motions, too,

They give and get among themselves; for these

Same germs do put together sky, sea, lands,

Rivers, and sun, grains, trees, and breathing things,

But yet commixed they are in divers modes

With divers things, forever as they move.

Nay, thou beholdest in our verses here

Elements many, common to many worlds,

Albeit thou must confess each verse, each word

From one another differs both in sense

And ring of sound — so much the elements

Can bring about by change of order alone.

But those which are the primal germs of things

Have power to work more combinations still,

Whence divers things can be produced in turn.

Now let us also take for scrutiny

The homeomeria of Anaxagoras,

So called by Greeks, for which our pauper-speech

Yieldeth no name in the Italian tongue,

Although the thing itself is not o’erhard

For explanation. First, then, when he speaks

Of this homeomeria of things, he thinks

Bones to be sprung from littlest bones minute,

And from minute and littlest flesh all flesh,

And blood created out of drops of blood,

Conceiving gold compact of grains of gold,

And earth concreted out of bits of earth,

Fire made of fires, and water out of waters,

Feigning the like with all the rest of stuff.

Yet he concedes not any void in things,

Nor any limit to cutting bodies down.

Wherefore to me he seems on both accounts

To err no less than those we named before.

Add too: these germs he feigns are far too frail —

If they be germs primordial furnished forth

With but same nature as the things themselves,

And travail and perish equally with those,

And no rein curbs them from annihilation.

For which will last against the grip and crush

Under the teeth of death? the fire? the moist?

Or else the air? which then? the blood? the bones?

No one, methinks, when every thing will be

At bottom as mortal as whate’er we mark

To perish by force before our gazing eyes.

But my appeal is to the proofs above

That things cannot fall back to naught, nor yet

From naught increase. And now again, since food

Augments and nourishes the human frame,

’Tis thine to know our veins and blood and bones

And thews are formed of particles unlike

To them in kind; or if they say all foods

Are of mixed substance having in themselves

Small bodies of thews, and bones, and also veins

And particles of blood, then every food,

Solid or liquid, must itself be thought

As made and mixed of things unlike in kind —

Of bones, of thews, of ichor and of blood.

Again, if all the bodies which upgrow

From earth, are first within the earth, then earth

Must be compound of alien substances

Which spring and bloom abroad from out the earth.

Transfer the argument, and thou may’st use

The selfsame words: if flame and smoke and ash

Still lurk unseen within the wood, the wood

Must be compound of alien substances

Which spring from out the wood.

    Right here remains

A certain slender means to skulk from truth,

Which Anaxagoras takes unto himself,

Who holds that all things lurk commixed with all

While that one only comes to view, of which

The bodies exceed in number all the rest,

And lie more close to hand and at the fore —

A notion banished from true reason far.

For then ’twere meet that kernels of the grains

Should oft, when crunched between the might of stones,

Give forth a sign of blood, or of aught else

Which in our human frame is fed; and that

Rock rubbed on rock should yield a gory ooze.

Likewise the herbs ought oft to give forth drops

Of sweet milk, flavoured like the uddered sheep’s;

Indeed we ought to find, when crumbling up

The earthy clods, there herbs, and grains, and leaves,

All sorts dispersed minutely in the soil;

Lastly we ought to find in cloven wood

Ashes and smoke and bits of fire there hid.

But since fact teaches this is not the case,

’Tis thine to know things are not mixed with things

Thuswise; but seeds, common to many things,

Commixed in many ways, must lurk in things.

“But often it happens on skiey hills” thou sayest,

“That neighbouring tops of lofty trees are rubbed

One against other, smote by the blustering south,

Till all ablaze with bursting flower of flame.”

Good sooth — yet fire is not ingraft in wood,

But many are the seeds of heat, and when

Rubbing together they together flow,

They start the conflagrations in the forests.

Whereas if flame, already fashioned, lay

Stored up within the forests, then the fires

Could not for any time be kept unseen,

But would be laying all the wildwood waste

And burning all the boscage. Now dost see

(Even as we said a little space above)

How mightily it matters with what others,

In what positions these same primal germs

Are bound together? And what motions, too,

They give and get among themselves? how, hence,

The same, if altered ‘mongst themselves, can body

Both igneous and ligneous objects forth —

Precisely as these words themselves are made

By somewhat altering their elements,

Although we mark with name indeed distinct

The igneous from the ligneous. Once again,

If thou suppose whatever thou beholdest,

Among all visible objects, cannot be,

Unless thou feign bodies of matter endowed

With a like nature — by thy vain device

For thee will perish all the germs of things:

’Twill come to pass they’ll laugh aloud, like men,

Shaken asunder by a spasm of mirth,

Or moisten with salty tear-drops cheeks and chins.

The Infinity of the Universe

Now learn of what remains! More keenly hear!

And for myself, my mind is not deceived

How dark it is: But the large hope of praise

Hath strook with pointed thyrsus through my heart;

On the same hour hath strook into my breast

Sweet love of the Muses, wherewith now instinct,

I wander afield, thriving in sturdy thought,

Through unpathed haunts of the Pierides,

Trodden by step of none before. I joy

To come on undefiled fountains there,

To drain them deep; I joy to pluck new flowers,

To seek for this my head a signal crown

From regions where the Muses never yet

Have garlanded the temples of a man:

First, since I teach concerning mighty things,

And go right on to loose from round the mind

The tightened coils of dread religion;

Next, since, concerning themes so dark, I frame

Songs so pellucid, touching all throughout

Even with the Muses’ charm — which, as ‘twould seem,

Is not without a reasonable ground:

But as physicians, when they seek to give

Young boys the nauseous wormwood, first do touch

The brim around the cup with the sweet juice

And yellow of the honey, in order that

The thoughtless age of boyhood be cajoled

As far as the lips, and meanwhile swallow down

The wormwood’s bitter draught, and, though befooled,

Be yet not merely duped, but rather thus

Grow strong again with recreated health:

So now I too (since this my doctrine seems

In general somewhat woeful unto those

Who’ve had it not in hand, and since the crowd

Starts back from it in horror) have desired

To expound our doctrine unto thee in song

Soft-speaking and Pierian, and, as ’twere,

To touch it with sweet honey of the Muse —

If by such method haply I might hold

The mind of thee upon these lines of ours,

Till thou see through the nature of all things,

And how exists the interwoven frame.

But since I’ve taught that bodies of matter, made

Completely solid, hither and thither fly

Forevermore unconquered through all time,

Now come, and whether to the sum of them

There be a limit or be none, for thee

Let us unfold; likewise what has been found

To be the wide inane, or room, or space

Wherein all things soever do go on,

Let us examine if it finite be

All and entire, or reach unmeasured round

And downward an illimitable profound.

Thus, then, the All that is is limited

In no one region of its onward paths,

For then ‘tmust have forever its beyond.

And a beyond ’tis seen can never be

For aught, unless still further on there be

A somewhat somewhere that may bound the same —

So that the thing be seen still on to where

The nature of sensation of that thing

Can follow it no longer. Now because

Confess we must there’s naught beside the sum,

There’s no beyond, and so it lacks all end.

It matters nothing where thou post thyself,

In whatsoever regions of the same;

Even any place a man has set him down

Still leaves about him the unbounded all

Outward in all directions; or, supposing

A moment the all of space finite to be,

If some one farthest traveller runs forth

Unto the extreme coasts and throws ahead

A flying spear, is’t then thy wish to think

It goes, hurled off amain, to where ’twas sent

And shoots afar, or that some object there

Can thwart and stop it? For the one or other

Thou must admit and take. Either of which

Shuts off escape for thee, and does compel

That thou concede the all spreads everywhere,

Owning no confines. Since whether there be

Aught that may block and check it so it comes

Not where ’twas sent, nor lodges in its goal,

Or whether borne along, in either view

‘Thas started not from any end. And so

I’ll follow on, and whereso’er thou set

The extreme coasts, I’ll query, “what becomes

Thereafter of thy spear?” ’Twill come to pass

That nowhere can a world’s-end be, and that

The chance for further flight prolongs forever

The flight itself. Besides, were all the space

Of the totality and sum shut in

With fixed coasts, and bounded everywhere,

Then would the abundance of world’s matter flow

Together by solid weight from everywhere

Still downward to the bottom of the world,

Nor aught could happen under cope of sky,

Nor could there be a sky at all or sun —

Indeed, where matter all one heap would lie,

By having settled during infinite time.

But in reality, repose is given

Unto no bodies ‘mongst the elements,

Because there is no bottom whereunto

They might, as ’twere, together flow, and where

They might take up their undisturbed abodes.

In endless motion everything goes on

Forevermore; out of all regions, even

Out of the pit below, from forth the vast,

Are hurtled bodies evermore supplied.

The nature of room, the space of the abyss

Is such that even the flashing thunderbolts

Can neither speed upon their courses through,

Gliding across eternal tracts of time,

Nor, further, bring to pass, as on they run,

That they may bate their journeying one whit:

Such huge abundance spreads for things around —

Room off to every quarter, without end.

Lastly, before our very eyes is seen

Thing to bound thing: air hedges hill from hill,

And mountain walls hedge air; land ends the sea,

And sea in turn all lands; but for the All

Truly is nothing which outside may bound.

That, too, the sum of things itself may not

Have power to fix a measure of its own,

Great nature guards, she who compels the void

To bound all body, as body all the void,

Thus rendering by these alternates the whole

An infinite; or else the one or other,

Being unbounded by the other, spreads,

Even by its single nature, ne’ertheless

Immeasurably forth. . . .

Nor sea, nor earth, nor shining vaults of sky,

Nor breed of mortals, nor holy limbs of gods

Could keep their place least portion of an hour:

For, driven apart from out its meetings fit,

The stock of stuff, dissolved, would be borne

Along the illimitable inane afar,

Or rather, in fact, would ne’er have once combined

And given a birth to aught, since, scattered wide,

It could not be united. For of truth

Neither by counsel did the primal germs

‘Stablish themselves, as by keen act of mind,

Each in its proper place; nor did they make,

Forsooth, a compact how each germ should move;

But since, being many and changed in many modes

Along the All, they’re driven abroad and vexed

By blow on blow, even from all time of old,

They thus at last, after attempting all

The kinds of motion and conjoining, come

Into those great arrangements out of which

This sum of things established is create,

By which, moreover, through the mighty years,

It is preserved, when once it has been thrown

Into the proper motions, bringing to pass

That ever the streams refresh the greedy main

With river-waves abounding, and that earth,

Lapped in warm exhalations of the sun,

Renews her broods, and that the lusty race

Of breathing creatures bears and blooms, and that

The gliding fires of ether are alive —

What still the primal germs nowise could do,

Unless from out the infinite of space

Could come supply of matter, whence in season

They’re wont whatever losses to repair.

For as the nature of breathing creatures wastes,

Losing its body, when deprived of food:

So all things have to be dissolved as soon

As matter, diverted by what means soever

From off its course, shall fail to be on hand.

Nor can the blows from outward still conserve,

On every side, whatever sum of a world

Has been united in a whole. They can

Indeed, by frequent beating, check a part,

Till others arriving may fulfil the sum;

But meanwhile often are they forced to spring

Rebounding back, and, as they spring, to yield,

Unto those elements whence a world derives,

Room and a time for flight, permitting them

To be from off the massy union borne

Free and afar. Wherefore, again, again:

Needs must there come a many for supply;

And also, that the blows themselves shall be

Unfailing ever, must there ever be

An infinite force of matter all sides round.

And in these problems, shrink, my Memmius, far

From yielding faith to that notorious talk:

That all things inward to the centre press;

And thus the nature of the world stands firm

With never blows from outward, nor can be

Nowhere disparted — since all height and depth

Have always inward to the centre pressed

(If thou art ready to believe that aught

Itself can rest upon itself ); or that

The ponderous bodies which be under earth

Do all press upwards and do come to rest

Upon the earth, in some way upside down,

Like to those images of things we see

At present through the waters. They contend,

With like procedure, that all breathing things

Head downward roam about, and yet cannot

Tumble from earth to realms of sky below,

No more than these our bodies wing away

Spontaneously to vaults of sky above;

That, when those creatures look upon the sun,

We view the constellations of the night;

And that with us the seasons of the sky

They thus alternately divide, and thus

Do pass the night coequal to our days,

But a vain error has given these dreams to fools,

Which they’ve embraced with reasoning perverse

For centre none can be where world is still

Boundless, nor yet, if now a centre were,

Could aught take there a fixed position more

Than for some other cause ‘tmight be dislodged.

For all of room and space we call the void

Must both through centre and non-centre yield

Alike to weights where’er their motions tend.

Nor is there any place, where, when they’ve come,

Bodies can be at standstill in the void,

Deprived of force of weight; nor yet may void

Furnish support to any — nay, it must,

True to its bent of nature, still give way.

Thus in such manner not at all can things

Be held in union, as if overcome

By craving for a centre.

    But besides,

Seeing they feign that not all bodies press

To centre inward, rather only those

Of earth and water (liquid of the sea,

And the big billows from the mountain slopes,

And whatsoever are encased, as ’twere,

In earthen body), contrariwise, they teach

How the thin air, and with it the hot fire,

Is borne asunder from the centre, and how,

For this all ether quivers with bright stars,

And the sun’s flame along the blue is fed

(Because the heat, from out the centre flying,

All gathers there), and how, again, the boughs

Upon the tree-tops could not sprout their leaves,

Unless, little by little, from out the earth

For each were nutriment . . .

. . . . . .

Lest, after the manner of the winged flames,

The ramparts of the world should flee away,

Dissolved amain throughout the mighty void,

And lest all else should likewise follow after,

Aye, lest the thundering vaults of heaven should burst

And splinter upward, and the earth forthwith

Withdraw from under our feet, and all its bulk,

Among its mingled wrecks and those of heaven,

With slipping asunder of the primal seeds,

Should pass, along the immeasurable inane,

Away forever, and, that instant, naught

Of wrack and remnant would be left, beside

The desolate space, and germs invisible.

For on whatever side thou deemest first

The primal bodies lacking, lo, that side

Will be for things the very door of death:

Wherethrough the throng of matter all will dash,

Out and abroad.

    These points, if thou wilt ponder,

Then, with but paltry trouble led along . . .

. . . . . .

For one thing after other will grow clear,

Nor shall the blind night rob thee of the road,

To hinder thy gaze on nature’s Farthest-forth.

Thus things for things shall kindle torches new.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57