Of the Nature of Things, by Titus Lucretius Carus

Book IV


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

Song so pellucid, touching all throughout

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

Is not without a reasonable ground:

For 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 dost learn the nature of all things

And understandest their utility.

Existence and Character of the Images

But since I’ve taught already of what sort

The seeds of all things are, and how distinct

In divers forms they flit of own accord,

Stirred with a motion everlasting on,

And in what mode things be from them create,

And since I’ve taught what the mind’s nature is,

And of what things ’tis with the body knit

And thrives in strength, and by what mode uptorn

That mind returns to its primordials,

Now will I undertake an argument —

One for these matters of supreme concern —

That there exist those somewhats which we call

The images of things: these, like to films

Scaled off the utmost outside of the things,

Flit hither and thither through the atmosphere,

And the same terrify our intellects,

Coming upon us waking or in sleep,

When oft we peer at wonderful strange shapes

And images of people lorn of light,

Which oft have horribly roused us when we lay

In slumber — that haply nevermore may we

Suppose that souls get loose from Acheron,

Or shades go floating in among the living,

Or aught of us is left behind at death,

When body and mind, destroyed together, each

Back to its own primordials goes away.

And thus I say that effigies of things,

And tenuous shapes from off the things are sent,

From off the utmost outside of the things,

Which are like films or may be named a rind,

Because the image bears like look and form

With whatso body has shed it fluttering forth —

A fact thou mayst, however dull thy wits,

Well learn from this: mainly, because we see

Even ‘mongst visible objects many be

That send forth bodies, loosely some diffused —

Like smoke from oaken logs and heat from fires —

And some more interwoven and condensed —

As when the locusts in the summertime

Put off their glossy tunics, or when calves

At birth drop membranes from their body’s surface,

Or when, again, the slippery serpent doffs

Its vestments ‘mongst the thorns — for oft we see

The breres augmented with their flying spoils:

Since such takes place, ’tis likewise certain too

That tenuous images from things are sent,

From off the utmost outside of the things.

For why those kinds should drop and part from things,

Rather than others tenuous and thin,

No power has man to open mouth to tell;

Especially, since on outsides of things

Are bodies many and minute which could,

In the same order which they had before,

And with the figure of their form preserved,

Be thrown abroad, and much more swiftly too,

Being less subject to impediments,

As few in number and placed along the front.

For truly many things we see discharge

Their stuff at large, not only from their cores

Deep-set within, as we have said above,

But from their surfaces at times no less —

Their very colours too. And commonly

The awnings, saffron, red and dusky blue,

Stretched overhead in mighty theatres,

Upon their poles and cross-beams fluttering,

Have such an action quite; for there they dye

And make to undulate with their every hue

The circled throng below, and all the stage,

And rich attire in the patrician seats.

And ever the more the theatre’s dark walls

Around them shut, the more all things within

Laugh in the bright suffusion of strange glints,

The daylight being withdrawn. And therefore, since

The canvas hangings thus discharge their dye

From off their surface, things in general must

Likewise their tenuous effigies discharge,

Because in either case they are off-thrown

From off the surface. So there are indeed

Such certain prints and vestiges of forms

Which flit around, of subtlest texture made,

Invisible, when separate, each and one.

Again, all odour, smoke, and heat, and such

Streams out of things diffusedly, because,

Whilst coming from the deeps of body forth

And rising out, along their bending path

They’re torn asunder, nor have gateways straight

Wherethrough to mass themselves and struggle abroad.

But contrariwise, when such a tenuous film

Of outside colour is thrown off, there’s naught

Can rend it, since ’tis placed along the front

Ready to hand. Lastly those images

Which to our eyes in mirrors do appear,

In water, or in any shining surface,

Must be, since furnished with like look of things,

Fashioned from images of things sent out.

There are, then, tenuous effigies of forms,

Like unto them, which no one can divine

When taken singly, which do yet give back,

When by continued and recurrent discharge

Expelled, a picture from the mirrors’ plane.

Nor otherwise, it seems, can they be kept

So well conserved that thus be given back

Figures so like each object.

    Now then, learn

How tenuous is the nature of an image.

And in the first place, since primordials be

So far beneath our senses, and much less

E’en than those objects which begin to grow

Too small for eyes to note, learn now in few

How nice are the beginnings of all things —

That this, too, I may yet confirm in proof:

First, living creatures are sometimes so small

That even their third part can nowise be seen;

Judge, then, the size of any inward organ —

What of their sphered heart, their eyes, their limbs,

The skeleton? — How tiny thus they are!

And what besides of those first particles

Whence soul and mind must fashioned be? — Seest not

How nice and how minute? Besides, whatever

Exhales from out its body a sharp smell —

The nauseous absinth, or the panacea,

Strong southernwood, or bitter centaury —

If never so lightly with thy [fingers] twain

Perchance [thou touch] a one of them

. . . . . .

Then why not rather know that images

Flit hither and thither, many, in many modes,

Bodiless and invisible?

    But lest

Haply thou holdest that those images

Which come from objects are the sole that flit,

Others indeed there be of own accord

Begot, self-formed in earth’s aery skies,

Which, moulded to innumerable shapes,

Are borne aloft, and, fluid as they are,

Cease not to change appearance and to turn

Into new outlines of all sorts of forms;

As we behold the clouds grow thick on high

And smirch the serene vision of the world,

Stroking the air with motions. For oft are seen

The giants’ faces flying far along

And trailing a spread of shadow; and at times

The mighty mountains and mountain-sundered rocks

Going before and crossing on the sun,

Whereafter a monstrous beast dragging amain

And leading in the other thunderheads.

Now [hear] how easy and how swift they be

Engendered, and perpetually flow off

From things and gliding pass away. . . .

. . . . . .

For ever every outside streams away

From off all objects, since discharge they may;

And when this outside reaches other things,

As chiefly glass, it passes through; but where

It reaches the rough rocks or stuff of wood,

There ’tis so rent that it cannot give back

An image. But when gleaming objects dense,

As chiefly mirrors, have been set before it,

Nothing of this sort happens. For it can’t

Go, as through glass, nor yet be rent — its safety,

By virtue of that smoothness, being sure.

’Tis therefore that from them the images

Stream back to us; and howso suddenly

Thou place, at any instant, anything

Before a mirror, there an image shows;

Proving that ever from a body’s surface

Flow off thin textures and thin shapes of things.

Thus many images in little time

Are gendered; so their origin is named

Rightly a speedy. And even as the sun

Must send below, in little time, to earth

So many beams to keep all things so full

Of light incessant; thus, on grounds the same,

From things there must be borne, in many modes,

To every quarter round, upon the moment,

The many images of things; because

Unto whatever face of things we turn

The mirror, things of form and hue the same

Respond. Besides, though but a moment since

Serenest was the weather of the sky,

So fiercely sudden is it foully thick

That ye might think that round about all murk

Had parted forth from Acheron and filled

The mighty vaults of sky — so grievously,

As gathers thus the storm-clouds’ gruesome night,

Do faces of black horror hang on high —

Of which how small a part an image is

There’s none to tell or reckon out in words.

Now come; with what swift motion they are borne,

These images, and what the speed assigned

To them across the breezes swimming on —

So that o’er lengths of space a little hour

Alone is wasted, toward whatever region

Each with its divers impulse tends — I’ll tell

In verses sweeter than they many are;

Even as the swan’s slight note is better far

Than that dispersed clamour of the cranes

Among the southwind’s aery clouds. And first,

One oft may see that objects which are light

And made of tiny bodies are the swift;

In which class is the sun’s light and his heat,

Since made from small primordial elements

Which, as it were, are forward knocked along

And through the interspaces of the air

To pass delay not, urged by blows behind;

For light by light is instantly supplied

And gleam by following gleam is spurred and driven.

Thus likewise must the images have power

Through unimaginable space to speed

Within a point of time — first, since a cause

Exceeding small there is, which at their back

Far forward drives them and propels, where, too,

They’re carried with such winged lightness on;

And, secondly, since furnished, when sent off,

With texture of such rareness that they can

Through objects whatsoever penetrate

And ooze, as ’twere, through intervening air.

Besides, if those fine particles of things

Which from so deep within are sent abroad,

As light and heat of sun, are seen to glide

And spread themselves through all the space of heaven

Upon one instant of the day, and fly

O’er sea and lands and flood the heaven, what then

Of those which on the outside stand prepared,

When they’re hurled off with not a thing to check

Their going out? Dost thou not see indeed

How swifter and how farther must they go

And speed through manifold the length of space

In time the same that from the sun the rays

O’erspread the heaven? This also seems to be

Example chief and true with what swift speed

The images of things are borne about:

That soon as ever under open skies

Is spread the shining water, all at once,

If stars be out in heaven, upgleam from earth,

Serene and radiant in the water there,

The constellations of the universe —

Now seest thou not in what a point of time

An image from the shores of ether falls

Unto the shores of earth? Wherefore, again,

And yet again, ’tis needful to confess

With wondrous . . .

. . . . . .

The Senses and Mental Pictures

Bodies that strike the eyes, awaking sight.

From certain things flow odours evermore,

As cold from rivers, heat from sun, and spray

From waves of ocean, eater-out of walls

Around the coasts. Nor ever cease to flit

The varied voices, sounds athrough the air.

Then too there comes into the mouth at times

The wet of a salt taste, when by the sea

We roam about; and so, whene’er we watch

The wormword being mixed, its bitter stings.

To such degree from all things is each thing

Borne streamingly along, and sent about

To every region round; and nature grants

Nor rest nor respite of the onward flow,

Since ’tis incessantly we feeling have,

And all the time are suffered to descry

And smell all things at hand, and hear them sound.

Besides, since shape examined by our hands

Within the dark is known to be the same

As that by eyes perceived within the light

And lustrous day, both touch and sight must be

By one like cause aroused. So, if we test

A square and get its stimulus on us

Within the dark, within the light what square

Can fall upon our sight, except a square

That images the things? Wherefore it seems

The source of seeing is in images,

Nor without these can anything be viewed.

Now these same films I name are borne about

And tossed and scattered into regions all.

But since we do perceive alone through eyes,

It follows hence that whitherso we turn

Our sight, all things do strike against it there

With form and hue. And just how far from us

Each thing may be away, the image yields

To us the power to see and chance to tell:

For when ’tis sent, at once it shoves ahead

And drives along the air that’s in the space

Betwixt it and our eyes. And thus this air

All glides athrough our eyeballs, and, as ’twere,

Brushes athrough our pupils and thuswise

Passes across. Therefore it comes we see

How far from us each thing may be away,

And the more air there be that’s driven before,

And too the longer be the brushing breeze

Against our eyes, the farther off removed

Each thing is seen to be: forsooth, this work

With mightily swift order all goes on,

So that upon one instant we may see

What kind the object and how far away.

Nor over-marvellous must this be deemed

In these affairs that, though the films which strike

Upon the eyes cannot be singly seen,

The things themselves may be perceived. For thus

When the wind beats upon us stroke by stroke

And when the sharp cold streams, ’tis not our wont

To feel each private particle of wind

Or of that cold, but rather all at once;

And so we see how blows affect our body,

As if one thing were beating on the same

And giving us the feel of its own body

Outside of us. Again, whene’er we thump

With finger-tip upon a stone, we touch

But the rock’s surface and the outer hue,

Nor feel that hue by contact — rather feel

The very hardness deep within the rock.

Now come, and why beyond a looking-glass

An image may be seen, perceive. For seen

It soothly is, removed far within.

’Tis the same sort as objects peered upon

Outside in their true shape, whene’er a door

Yields through itself an open peering-place,

And lets us see so many things outside

Beyond the house. Also that sight is made

By a twofold twin air: for first is seen

The air inside the door-posts; next the doors,

The twain to left and right; and afterwards

A light beyond comes brushing through our eyes,

Then other air, then objects peered upon

Outside in their true shape. And thus, when first

The image of the glass projects itself,

As to our gaze it comes, it shoves ahead

And drives along the air that’s in the space

Betwixt it and our eyes, and brings to pass

That we perceive the air ere yet the glass.

But when we’ve also seen the glass itself,

Forthwith that image which from us is borne

Reaches the glass, and there thrown back again

Comes back unto our eyes, and driving rolls

Ahead of itself another air, that then

’Tis this we see before itself, and thus

It looks so far removed behind the glass.

Wherefore again, again, there’s naught for wonder

. . . . . .

In those which render from the mirror’s plane

A vision back, since each thing comes to pass

By means of the two airs. Now, in the glass

The right part of our members is observed

Upon the left, because, when comes the image

Hitting against the level of the glass,

’Tis not returned unshifted; but forced off

Backwards in line direct and not oblique —

Exactly as whoso his plaster-mask

Should dash, before ’twere dry, on post or beam,

And it should straightway keep, at clinging there,

Its shape, reversed, facing him who threw,

And so remould the features it gives back:

It comes that now the right eye is the left,

The left the right. An image too may be

From mirror into mirror handed on,

Until of idol-films even five or six

Have thus been gendered. For whatever things

Shall hide back yonder in the house, the same,

However far removed in twisting ways,

May still be all brought forth through bending paths

And by these several mirrors seen to be

Within the house, since nature so compels

All things to be borne backward and spring off

At equal angles from all other things.

To such degree the image gleams across

From mirror unto mirror; where ’twas left

It comes to be the right, and then again

Returns and changes round unto the left.

Again, those little sides of mirrors curved

Proportionate to the bulge of our own flank

Send back to us their idols with the right

Upon the right; and this is so because

Either the image is passed on along

From mirror unto mirror, and thereafter,

When twice dashed off, flies back unto ourselves;

Or else the image wheels itself around,

When once unto the mirror it has come,

Since the curved surface teaches it to turn

To usward. Further, thou might’st well believe

That these film-idols step along with us

And set their feet in unison with ours

And imitate our carriage, since from that

Part of a mirror whence thou hast withdrawn

Straightway no images can be returned.

Further, our eye-balls tend to flee the bright

And shun to gaze thereon; the sun even blinds,

If thou goest on to strain them unto him,

Because his strength is mighty, and the films

Heavily downward from on high are borne

Through the pure ether and the viewless winds,

And strike the eyes, disordering their joints.

So piecing lustre often burns the eyes,

Because it holdeth many seeds of fire

Which, working into eyes, engender pain.

Again, whatever jaundiced people view

Becomes wan-yellow, since from out their bodies

Flow many seeds wan-yellow forth to meet

The films of things, and many too are mixed

Within their eye, which by contagion paint

All things with sallowness. Again, we view

From dark recesses things that stand in light,

Because, when first has entered and possessed

The open eyes this nearer darkling air,

Swiftly the shining air and luminous

Followeth in, which purges then the eyes

And scatters asunder of that other air

The sable shadows, for in large degrees

This air is nimbler, nicer, and more strong.

And soon as ever ‘thas filled and oped with light

The pathways of the eyeballs, which before

Black air had blocked, there follow straightaway

Those films of things out-standing in the light,

Provoking vision — what we cannot do

From out the light with objects in the dark,

Because that denser darkling air behind

Followeth in, and fills each aperture

And thus blockades the pathways of the eyes

That there no images of any things

Can be thrown in and agitate the eyes.

And when from far away we do behold

The squared towers of a city, oft

Rounded they seem — on this account because

Each distant angle is perceived obtuse,

Or rather it is not perceived at all;

And perishes its blow nor to our gaze

Arrives its stroke, since through such length of air

Are borne along the idols that the air

Makes blunt the idol of the angle’s point

By numerous collidings. When thuswise

The angles of the tower each and all

Have quite escaped the sense, the stones appear

As rubbed and rounded on a turner’s wheel —

Yet not like objects near and truly round,

But with a semblance to them, shadowily.

Likewise, our shadow in the sun appears

To move along and follow our own steps

And imitate our carriage — if thou thinkest

Air that is thus bereft of light can walk,

Following the gait and motion of mankind.

For what we use to name a shadow, sure

Is naught but air deprived of light. No marvel:

Because the earth from spot to spot is reft

Progressively of light of sun, whenever

In moving round we get within its way,

While any spot of earth by us abandoned

Is filled with light again, on this account

It comes to pass that what was body’s shadow

Seems still the same to follow after us

In one straight course. Since, evermore pour in

New lights of rays, and perish then the old,

Just like the wool that’s drawn into the flame.

Therefore the earth is easily spoiled of light

And easily refilled and from herself

Washeth the black shadows quite away.

And yet in this we don’t at all concede

That eyes be cheated. For their task it is

To note in whatsoever place be light,

In what be shadow: whether or no the gleams

Be still the same, and whether the shadow which

Just now was here is that one passing thither,

Or whether the facts be what we said above,

’Tis after all the reasoning of mind

That must decide; nor can our eyeballs know

The nature of reality. And so

Attach thou not this fault of mind to eyes,

Nor lightly think our senses everywhere

Are tottering. The ship in which we sail

Is borne along, although it seems to stand;

The ship that bides in roadstead is supposed

There to be passing by. And hills and fields

Seem fleeing fast astern, past which we urge

The ship and fly under the bellying sails.

The stars, each one, do seem to pause, affixed

To the ethereal caverns, though they all

Forever are in motion, rising out

And thence revisiting their far descents

When they have measured with their bodies bright

The span of heaven. And likewise sun and moon

Seem biding in a roadstead — objects which,

As plain fact proves, are really borne along.

Between two mountains far away aloft

From midst the whirl of waters open lies

A gaping exit for the fleet, and yet

They seem conjoined in a single isle.

When boys themselves have stopped their spinning round,

The halls still seem to whirl and posts to reel,

Until they now must almost think the roofs

Threaten to ruin down upon their heads.

And now, when nature begins to lift on high

The sun’s red splendour and the tremulous fires,

And raise him o’er the mountain-tops, those mountains —

O’er which he seemeth then to thee to be,

His glowing self hard by atingeing them

With his own fire — are yet away from us

Scarcely two thousand arrow-shots, indeed

Oft scarce five hundred courses of a dart;

Although between those mountains and the sun

Lie the huge plains of ocean spread beneath

The vasty shores of ether, and intervene

A thousand lands, possessed by many a folk

And generations of wild beasts. Again,

A pool of water of but a finger’s depth,

Which lies between the stones along the pave,

Offers a vision downward into earth

As far, as from the earth o’erspread on high

The gulfs of heaven; that thus thou seemest to view

Clouds down below and heavenly bodies plunged

Wondrously in heaven under earth.

Then too, when in the middle of the stream

Sticks fast our dashing horse, and down we gaze

Into the river’s rapid waves, some force

Seems then to bear the body of the horse,

Though standing still, reversely from his course,

And swiftly push up-stream. And wheresoe’er

We cast our eyes across, all objects seem

Thus to be onward borne and flow along

In the same way as we. A portico,

Albeit it stands well propped from end to end

On equal columns, parallel and big,

Contracts by stages in a narrow cone,

When from one end the long, long whole is seen —

Until, conjoining ceiling with the floor,

And the whole right side with the left, it draws

Together to a cone’s nigh-viewless point.

To sailors on the main the sun he seems

From out the waves to rise, and in the waves

To set and bury his light — because indeed

They gaze on naught but water and the sky.

Again, to gazers ignorant of the sea,

Vessels in port seem, as with broken poops,

To lean upon the water, quite agog;

For any portion of the oars that’s raised

Above the briny spray is straight, and straight

The rudders from above. But other parts,

Those sunk, immersed below the water-line,

Seem broken all and bended and inclined

Sloping to upwards, and turned back to float

Almost atop the water. And when the winds

Carry the scattered drifts along the sky

In the night-time, then seem to glide along

The radiant constellations ‘gainst the clouds

And there on high to take far other course

From that whereon in truth they’re borne. And then,

If haply our hand be set beneath one eye

And press below thereon, then to our gaze

Each object which we gaze on seems to be,

By some sensation twain — then twain the lights

Of lampions burgeoning in flowers of flame,

And twain the furniture in all the house,

Two-fold the visages of fellow-men,

And twain their bodies. And again, when sleep

Has bound our members down in slumber soft

And all the body lies in deep repose,

Yet then we seem to self to be awake

And move our members; and in night’s blind gloom

We think to mark the daylight and the sun;

And, shut within a room, yet still we seem

To change our skies, our oceans, rivers, hills,

To cross the plains afoot, and hear new sounds,

Though still the austere silence of the night

Abides around us, and to speak replies,

Though voiceless. Other cases of the sort

Wondrously many do we see, which all

Seek, so to say, to injure faith in sense —

In vain, because the largest part of these

Deceives through mere opinions of the mind,

Which we do add ourselves, feigning to see

What by the senses are not seen at all.

For naught is harder than to separate

Plain facts from dubious, which the mind forthwith

Adds by itself.

    Again, if one suppose

That naught is known, he knows not whether this

Itself is able to be known, since he

Confesses naught to know. Therefore with him

I waive discussion — who has set his head

Even where his feet should be. But let me grant

That this he knows — I question: whence he knows

What ’tis to know and not-to-know in turn,

And what created concept of the truth,

And what device has proved the dubious

To differ from the certain? — since in things

He’s heretofore seen naught of true. Thou’lt find

That from the senses first hath been create

Concept of truth, nor can the senses be

Rebutted. For criterion must be found

Worthy of greater trust, which shall defeat

Through own authority the false by true;

What, then, than these our senses must there be

Worthy a greater trust? Shall reason, sprung

From some false sense, prevail to contradict

Those senses, sprung as reason wholly is

From out the senses? — For lest these be true,

All reason also then is falsified.

Or shall the ears have power to blame the eyes,

Or yet the touch the ears? Again, shall taste

Accuse this touch or shall the nose confute

Or eyes defeat it? Methinks not so it is:

For unto each has been divided off

Its function quite apart, its power to each;

And thus we’re still constrained to perceive

The soft, the cold, the hot apart, apart

All divers hues and whatso things there be

Conjoined with hues. Likewise the tasting tongue

Has its own power apart, and smells apart

And sounds apart are known. And thus it is

That no one sense can e’er convict another.

Nor shall one sense have power to blame itself,

Because it always must be deemed the same,

Worthy of equal trust. And therefore what

At any time unto these senses showed,

The same is true. And if the reason be

Unable to unravel us the cause

Why objects, which at hand were square, afar

Seemed rounded, yet it more availeth us,

Lacking the reason, to pretend a cause

For each configuration, than to let

From out our hands escape the obvious things

And injure primal faith in sense, and wreck

All those foundations upon which do rest

Our life and safety. For not only reason

Would topple down; but even our very life

Would straightaway collapse, unless we dared

To trust our senses and to keep away

From headlong heights and places to be shunned

Of a like peril, and to seek with speed

Their opposites! Again, as in a building,

If the first plumb-line be askew, and if

The square deceiving swerve from lines exact,

And if the level waver but the least

In any part, the whole construction then

Must turn out faulty — shelving and askew,

Leaning to back and front, incongruous,

That now some portions seem about to fall,

And falls the whole ere long — betrayed indeed

By first deceiving estimates: so too

Thy calculations in affairs of life

Must be askew and false, if sprung for thee

From senses false. So all that troop of words

Marshalled against the senses is quite vain.

And now remains to demonstrate with ease

How other senses each their things perceive.

Firstly, a sound and every voice is heard,

When, getting into ears, they strike the sense

With their own body. For confess we must

Even voice and sound to be corporeal,

Because they’re able on the sense to strike.

Besides voice often scrapes against the throat,

And screams in going out do make more rough

The wind-pipe — naturally enough, methinks,

When, through the narrow exit rising up

In larger throng, these primal germs of voice

Have thus begun to issue forth. In sooth,

Also the door of the mouth is scraped against

[By air blown outward] from distended [cheeks].

. . . . . .

And thus no doubt there is, that voice and words

Consist of elements corporeal,

With power to pain. Nor art thou unaware

Likewise how much of body’s ta’en away,

How much from very thews and powers of men

May be withdrawn by steady talk, prolonged

Even from the rising splendour of the morn

To shadows of black evening — above all

If ‘t be outpoured with most exceeding shouts.

Therefore the voice must be corporeal,

Since the long talker loses from his frame

A part.

    Moreover, roughness in the sound

Comes from the roughness in the primal germs,

As a smooth sound from smooth ones is create;

Nor have these elements a form the same

When the trump rumbles with a hollow roar,

As when barbaric Berecynthian pipe

Buzzes with raucous boomings, or when swans

By night from icy shores of Helicon

With wailing voices raise their liquid dirge.

Thus, when from deep within our frame we force

These voices, and at mouth expel them forth,

The mobile tongue, artificer of words,

Makes them articulate, and too the lips

By their formations share in shaping them.

Hence when the space is short from starting-point

To where that voice arrives, the very words

Must too be plainly heard, distinctly marked.

For then the voice conserves its own formation,

Conserves its shape. But if the space between

Be longer than is fit, the words must be

Through the much air confounded, and the voice

Disordered in its flight across the winds —

And so it haps, that thou canst sound perceive,

Yet not determine what the words may mean;

To such degree confounded and encumbered

The voice approaches us. Again, one word,

Sent from the crier’s mouth, may rouse all ears

Among the populace. And thus one voice

Scatters asunder into many voices,

Since it divides itself for separate ears,

Imprinting form of word and a clear tone.

But whatso part of voices fails to hit

The ears themselves perishes, borne beyond,

Idly diffused among the winds. A part,

Beating on solid porticoes, tossed back

Returns a sound; and sometimes mocks the ear

With a mere phantom of a word. When this

Thou well hast noted, thou canst render count

Unto thyself and others why it is

Along the lonely places that the rocks

Give back like shapes of words in order like,

When search we after comrades wandering

Among the shady mountains, and aloud

Call unto them, the scattered. I have seen

Spots that gave back even voices six or seven

For one thrown forth — for so the very hills,

Dashing them back against the hills, kept on

With their reverberations. And these spots

The neighbouring country-side doth feign to be

Haunts of the goat-foot satyrs and the nymphs;

And tells ye there be fauns, by whose night noise

And antic revels yonder they declare

The voiceless silences are broken oft,

And tones of strings are made and wailings sweet

Which the pipe, beat by players’ finger-tips,

Pours out; and far and wide the farmer-race

Begins to hear, when, shaking the garmentings

Of pine upon his half-beast head, god-Pan

With puckered lip oft runneth o’er and o’er

The open reeds — lest flute should cease to pour

The woodland music! Other prodigies

And wonders of this ilk they love to tell,

Lest they be thought to dwell in lonely spots

And even by gods deserted. This is why

They boast of marvels in their story-tellings;

Or by some other reason are led on —

Greedy, as all mankind hath ever been,

To prattle fables into ears.


One need not wonder how it comes about

That through those places (through which eyes cannot

View objects manifest) sounds yet may pass

And assail the ears. For often we observe

People conversing, though the doors be closed;

No marvel either, since all voice unharmed

Can wind through bended apertures of things,

While idol-films decline to — for they’re rent,

Unless along straight apertures they swim,

Like those in glass, through which all images

Do fly across. And yet this voice itself,

In passing through shut chambers of a house,

Is dulled, and in a jumble enters ears,

And sound we seem to hear far more than words.

Moreover, a voice is into all directions

Divided up, since off from one another

New voices are engendered, when one voice

Hath once leapt forth, outstarting into many —

As oft a spark of fire is wont to sprinkle

Itself into its several fires. And so,

Voices do fill those places hid behind,

Which all are in a hubbub round about,

Astir with sound. But idol-films do tend,

As once sent forth, in straight directions all;

Wherefore one can inside a wall see naught,

Yet catch the voices from beyond the same.

Nor tongue and palate, whereby we flavour feel,

Present more problems for more work of thought.

Firstly, we feel a flavour in the mouth,

When forth we squeeze it, in chewing up our food —

As any one perchance begins to squeeze

With hand and dry a sponge with water soaked.

Next, all which forth we squeeze is spread about

Along the pores and intertwined paths

Of the loose-textured tongue. And so, when smooth

The bodies of the oozy flavour, then

Delightfully they touch, delightfully

They treat all spots, around the wet and trickling

Enclosures of the tongue. And contrariwise,

They sting and pain the sense with their assault,

According as with roughness they’re supplied.

Next, only up to palate is the pleasure

Coming from flavour; for in truth when down

‘Thas plunged along the throat, no pleasure is,

Whilst into all the frame it spreads around;

Nor aught it matters with what food is fed

The body, if only what thou take thou canst

Distribute well digested to the frame

And keep the stomach in a moist career.

Now, how it is we see some food for some,

Others for others. . . .

. . . . . .

I will unfold, or wherefore what to some

Is foul and bitter, yet the same to others

Can seem delectable to eat — why here

So great the distance and the difference is

That what is food to one to some becomes

Fierce poison, as a certain snake there is

Which, touched by spittle of a man, will waste

And end itself by gnawing up its coil.

Again, fierce poison is the hellebore

To us, but puts the fat on goats and quails.

That thou mayst know by what devices this

Is brought about, in chief thou must recall

What we have said before, that seeds are kept

Commixed in things in divers modes. Again,

As all the breathing creatures which take food

Are outwardly unlike, and outer cut

And contour of their members bounds them round,

Each differing kind by kind, they thus consist

Of seeds of varying shape. And furthermore,

Since seeds do differ, divers too must be

The interstices and paths (which we do call

The apertures) in all the members, even

In mouth and palate too. Thus some must be

More small or yet more large, three-cornered some

And others squared, and many others round,

And certain of them many-angled too

In many modes. For, as the combination

And motion of their divers shapes demand,

The shapes of apertures must be diverse

And paths must vary according to their walls

That bound them. Hence when what is sweet to some,

Becomes to others bitter, for him to whom

’Tis sweet, the smoothest particles must needs

Have entered caressingly the palate’s pores.

And, contrariwise, with those to whom that sweet

Is sour within the mouth, beyond a doubt

The rough and barbed particles have got

Into the narrows of the apertures.

Now easy it is from these affairs to know

Whatever . . .

. . . . . .

Indeed, where one from o’er-abundant bile

Is stricken with fever, or in other wise

Feels the roused violence of some malady,

There the whole frame is now upset, and there

All the positions of the seeds are changed —

So that the bodies which before were fit

To cause the savour, now are fit no more,

And now more apt are others which be able

To get within the pores and gender sour.

Both sorts, in sooth, are intermixed in honey —

What oft we’ve proved above to thee before.

Now come, and I will indicate what wise

Impact of odour on the nostrils touches.

And first, ’tis needful there be many things

From whence the streaming flow of varied odours

May roll along, and we’re constrained to think

They stream and dart and sprinkle themselves about

Impartially. But for some breathing creatures

One odour is more apt, to others another —

Because of differing forms of seeds and pores.

Thus on and on along the zephyrs bees

Are led by odour of honey, vultures too

By carcasses. Again, the forward power

Of scent in dogs doth lead the hunter on

Whithersoever the splay-foot of wild beast

Hath hastened its career; and the white goose,

The saviour of the Roman citadel,

Forescents afar the odour of mankind.

Thus, diversly to divers ones is given

Peculiar smell that leadeth each along

To his own food or makes him start aback

From loathsome poison, and in this wise are

The generations of the wild preserved.

Yet is this pungence not alone in odours

Or in the class of flavours; but, likewise,

The look of things and hues agree not all

So well with senses unto all, but that

Some unto some will be, to gaze upon,

More keen and painful. Lo, the raving lions,

They dare not face and gaze upon the cock

Who’s wont with wings to flap away the night

From off the stage, and call the beaming morn

With clarion voice — and lions straightway thus

Bethink themselves of flight, because, ye see,

Within the body of the cocks there be

Some certain seeds, which, into lions’ eyes

Injected, bore into the pupils deep

And yield such piercing pain they can’t hold out

Against the cocks, however fierce they be —

Whilst yet these seeds can’t hurt our gaze the least,

Either because they do not penetrate,

Or since they have free exit from the eyes

As soon as penetrating, so that thus

They cannot hurt our eyes in any part

By there remaining.

    To speak once more of odour;

Whatever assail the nostrils, some can travel

A longer way than others. None of them,

However, ‘s borne so far as sound or voice —

While I omit all mention of such things

As hit the eyesight and assail the vision.

For slowly on a wandering course it comes

And perishes sooner, by degrees absorbed

Easily into all the winds of air; —

And first, because from deep inside the thing

It is discharged with labour (for the fact

That every object, when ’tis shivered, ground,

Or crumbled by the fire, will smell the stronger

Is sign that odours flow and part away

From inner regions of the things). And next,

Thou mayest see that odour is create

Of larger primal germs than voice, because

It enters not through stony walls, wherethrough

Unfailingly the voice and sound are borne;

Wherefore, besides, thou wilt observe ’tis not

So easy to trace out in whatso place

The smelling object is. For, dallying on

Along the winds, the particles cool off,

And then the scurrying messengers of things

Arrive our senses, when no longer hot.

So dogs oft wander astray, and hunt the scent.

Now mark, and hear what objects move the mind,

And learn, in few, whence unto intellect

Do come what come. And first I tell thee this:

That many images of objects rove

In many modes to every region round —

So thin that easily the one with other,

When once they meet, uniteth in mid-air,

Like gossamer or gold-leaf. For, indeed,

Far thinner are they in their fabric than

Those images which take a hold on eyes

And smite the vision, since through body’s pores

They penetrate, and inwardly stir up

The subtle nature of mind and smite the sense.

Thus, Centaurs and the limbs of Scyllas, thus

The Cerberus-visages of dogs we see,

And images of people gone before —

Dead men whose bones earth bosomed long ago;

Because the images of every kind

Are everywhere about us borne — in part

Those which are gendered in the very air

Of own accord, in part those others which

From divers things do part away, and those

Which are compounded, made from out their shapes.

For soothly from no living Centaur is

That phantom gendered, since no breed of beast

Like him was ever; but, when images

Of horse and man by chance have come together,

They easily cohere, as aforesaid,

At once, through subtle nature and fabric thin.

In the same fashion others of this ilk

Created are. And when they’re quickly borne

In their exceeding lightness, easily

(As earlier I showed) one subtle image,

Compounded, moves by its one blow the mind,

Itself so subtle and so strangely quick.

That these things come to pass as I record,

From this thou easily canst understand:

So far as one is unto other like,

Seeing with mind as well as with the eyes

Must come to pass in fashion not unlike.

Well, now, since I have shown that I perceive

Haply a lion through those idol-films

Such as assail my eyes, ’tis thine to know

Also the mind is in like manner moved,

And sees, nor more nor less than eyes do see

(Except that it perceives more subtle films)

The lion and aught else through idol-films.

And when the sleep has overset our frame,

The mind’s intelligence is now awake,

Still for no other reason, save that these —

The self-same films as when we are awake —

Assail our minds, to such degree indeed

That we do seem to see for sure the man

Whom, void of life, now death and earth have gained

Dominion over. And nature forces this

To come to pass because the body’s senses

Are resting, thwarted through the members all,

Unable now to conquer false with true;

And memory lies prone and languishes

In slumber, nor protests that he, the man

Whom the mind feigns to see alive, long since

Hath been the gain of death and dissolution.

And further, ’tis no marvel idols move

And toss their arms and other members round

In rhythmic time — and often in men’s sleeps

It haps an image this is seen to do;

In sooth, when perishes the former image,

And other is gendered of another pose,

That former seemeth to have changed its gestures.

Of course the change must be conceived as speedy;

So great the swiftness and so great the store

Of idol-things, and (in an instant brief

As mind can mark) so great, again, the store

Of separate idol-parts to bring supplies.

It happens also that there is supplied

Sometimes an image not of kind the same;

But what before was woman, now at hand

Is seen to stand there, altered into male;

Or other visage, other age succeeds;

But slumber and oblivion take care

That we shall feel no wonder at the thing.

And much in these affairs demands inquiry,

And much, illumination — if we crave

With plainness to exhibit facts. And first,

Why doth the mind of one to whom the whim

To think has come behold forthwith that thing?

Or do the idols watch upon our will,

And doth an image unto us occur,

Directly we desire — if heart prefer

The sea, the land, or after all the sky?

Assemblies of the citizens, parades,

Banquets, and battles, these and all doth she,

Nature, create and furnish at our word? —

Maugre the fact that in same place and spot

Another’s mind is meditating things

All far unlike. And what, again, of this:

When we in sleep behold the idols step,

In measure, forward, moving supple limbs,

Whilst forth they put each supple arm in turn

With speedy motion, and with eyeing heads

Repeat the movement, as the foot keeps time?

Forsooth, the idols they are steeped in art,

And wander to and fro well taught indeed —

Thus to be able in the time of night

To make such games! Or will the truth be this:

Because in one least moment that we mark —

That is, the uttering of a single sound —

There lurk yet many moments, which the reason

Discovers to exist, therefore it comes

That, in a moment how so brief ye will,

The divers idols are hard by, and ready

Each in its place diverse? So great the swiftness,

So great, again, the store of idol-things,

And so, when perishes the former image,

And other is gendered of another pose,

The former seemeth to have changed its gestures.

And since they be so tenuous, mind can mark

Sharply alone the ones it strains to see;

And thus the rest do perish one and all,

Save those for which the mind prepares itself.

Further, it doth prepare itself indeed,

And hopes to see what follows after each —

Hence this result. For hast thou not observed

How eyes, essaying to perceive the fine,

Will strain in preparation, otherwise

Unable sharply to perceive at all?

Yet know thou canst that, even in objects plain,

If thou attendest not, ’tis just the same

As if ’twere all the time removed and far.

What marvel, then, that mind doth lose the rest,

Save those to which ‘thas given up itself?

So ’tis that we conjecture from small signs

Things wide and weighty, and involve ourselves

In snarls of self-deceit.

Some Vital Functions

    In these affairs

We crave that thou wilt passionately flee

The one offence, and anxiously wilt shun

The error of presuming the clear lights

Of eyes created were that we might see;

Or thighs and knees, aprop upon the feet,

Thuswise can bended be, that we might step

With goodly strides ahead; or forearms joined

Unto the sturdy uppers, or serving hands

On either side were given, that we might do

Life’s own demands. All such interpretation

Is aft-for-fore with inverse reasoning,

Since naught is born in body so that we

May use the same, but birth engenders use:

No seeing ere the lights of eyes were born,

No speaking ere the tongue created was;

But origin of tongue came long before

Discourse of words, and ears created were

Much earlier than any sound was heard;

And all the members, so meseems, were there

Before they got their use: and therefore, they

Could not be gendered for the sake of use.

But contrariwise, contending in the fight

With hand to hand, and rending of the joints,

And fouling of the limbs with gore, was there,

O long before the gleaming spears ere flew;

And nature prompted man to shun a wound,

Before the left arm by the aid of art

Opposed the shielding targe. And, verily,

Yielding the weary body to repose,

Far ancienter than cushions of soft beds,

And quenching thirst is earlier than cups.

These objects, therefore, which for use and life

Have been devised, can be conceived as found

For sake of using. But apart from such

Are all which first were born and afterwards

Gave knowledge of their own utility —

Chief in which sort we note the senses, limbs:

Wherefore, again, ’tis quite beyond thy power

To hold that these could thus have been create

For office of utility.


’Tis nothing strange that all the breathing creatures

Seek, even by nature of their frame, their food.

Yes, since I’ve taught thee that from off the things

Stream and depart innumerable bodies

In modes innumerable too; but most

Must be the bodies streaming from the living —

Which bodies, vexed by motion evermore,

Are through the mouth exhaled innumerable,

When weary creatures pant, or through the sweat

Squeezed forth innumerable from deep within.

Thus body rarefies, so undermined

In all its nature, and pain attends its state.

And so the food is taken to underprop

The tottering joints, and by its interfusion

To re-create their powers, and there stop up

The longing, open-mouthed through limbs and veins,

For eating. And the moist no less departs

Into all regions that demand the moist;

And many heaped-up particles of hot,

Which cause such burnings in these bellies of ours,

The liquid on arriving dissipates

And quenches like a fire, that parching heat

No longer now can scorch the frame. And so,

Thou seest how panting thirst is washed away

From off our body, how the hunger-pang

It, too, appeased.

    Now, how it comes that we,

Whene’er we wish, can step with strides ahead,

And how ’tis given to move our limbs about,

And what device is wont to push ahead

This the big load of our corporeal frame,

I’ll say to thee — do thou attend what’s said.

I say that first some idol-films of walking

Into our mind do fall and smite the mind,

As said before. Thereafter will arises;

For no one starts to do a thing, before

The intellect previsions what it wills;

And what it there pre-visioneth depends

On what that image is. When, therefore, mind

Doth so bestir itself that it doth will

To go and step along, it strikes at once

That energy of soul that’s sown about

In all the body through the limbs and frame —

And this is easy of performance, since

The soul is close conjoined with the mind.

Next, soul in turn strikes body, and by degrees

Thus the whole mass is pushed along and moved.

Then too the body rarefies, and air,

Forsooth as ever of such nimbleness,

Comes on and penetrates aboundingly

Through opened pores, and thus is sprinkled round

Unto all smallest places in our frame.

Thus then by these twain factors, severally,

Body is borne like ship with oars and wind.

Nor yet in these affairs is aught for wonder

That particles so fine can whirl around

So great a body and turn this weight of ours;

For wind, so tenuous with its subtle body,

Yet pushes, driving on the mighty ship

Of mighty bulk; one hand directs the same,

Whatever its momentum, and one helm

Whirls it around, whither ye please; and loads,

Many and huge, are moved and hoisted high

By enginery of pulley-blocks and wheels,

With but light strain.

    Now, by what modes this sleep

Pours through our members waters of repose

And frees the breast from cares of mind, I’ll tell

In verses sweeter than they many are;

Even as the swan’s slight note is better far

Than that dispersed clamour of the cranes

Among the southwind’s aery clouds. Do thou

Give me sharp ears and a sagacious mind —

That thou mayst not deny the things to be

Whereof I’m speaking, nor depart away

With bosom scorning these the spoken truths,

Thyself at fault unable to perceive.

Sleep chiefly comes when energy of soul

Hath now been scattered through the frame, and part

Expelled abroad and gone away, and part

Crammed back and settling deep within the frame —

Whereafter then our loosened members droop.

For doubt is none that by the work of soul

Exist in us this sense, and when by slumber

That sense is thwarted, we are bound to think

The soul confounded and expelled abroad —

Yet not entirely, else the frame would lie

Drenched in the everlasting cold of death.

In sooth, where no one part of soul remained

Lurking among the members, even as fire

Lurks buried under many ashes, whence

Could sense amain rekindled be in members,

As flame can rise anew from unseen fire?

By what devices this strange state and new

May be occasioned, and by what the soul

Can be confounded and the frame grow faint,

I will untangle: see to it, thou, that I

Pour forth my words not unto empty winds.

In first place, body on its outer parts —

Since these are touched by neighbouring aery gusts —

Must there be thumped and strook by blows of air

Repeatedly. And therefore almost all

Are covered either with hides, or else with shells,

Or with the horny callus, or with bark.

Yet this same air lashes their inner parts,

When creatures draw a breath or blow it out.

Wherefore, since body thus is flogged alike

Upon the inside and the out, and blows

Come in upon us through the little pores

Even inward to our body’s primal parts

And primal elements, there comes to pass

By slow degrees, along our members then,

A kind of overthrow; for then confounded

Are those arrangements of the primal germs

Of body and of mind. It comes to pass

That next a part of soul’s expelled abroad,

A part retreateth in recesses hid,

A part, too, scattered all about the frame,

Cannot become united nor engage

In interchange of motion. Nature now

So hedges off approaches and the paths;

And thus the sense, its motions all deranged,

Retires down deep within; and since there’s naught,

As ’twere, to prop the frame, the body weakens,

And all the members languish, and the arms

And eyelids fall, and, as ye lie abed,

Even there the houghs will sag and loose their powers.

Again, sleep follows after food, because

The food produces same result as air,

Whilst being scattered round through all the veins;

And much the heaviest is that slumber which,

Full or fatigued, thou takest; since ’tis then

That the most bodies disarrange themselves,

Bruised by labours hard. And in same wise,

This three-fold change: a forcing of the soul

Down deeper, more a casting-forth of it,

A moving more divided in its parts

And scattered more.

    And to whate’er pursuit

A man most clings absorbed, or what the affairs

On which we theretofore have tarried much,

And mind hath strained upon the more, we seem

In sleep not rarely to go at the same.

The lawyers seem to plead and cite decrees,

Commanders they to fight and go at frays,

Sailors to live in combat with the winds,

And we ourselves indeed to make this book,

And still to seek the nature of the world

And set it down, when once discovered, here

In these my country’s leaves. Thus all pursuits,

All arts in general seem in sleeps to mock

And master the minds of men. And whosoever

Day after day for long to games have given

Attention undivided, still they keep

(As oft we note), even when they’ve ceased to grasp

Those games with their own senses, open paths

Within the mind wherethrough the idol-films

Of just those games can come. And thus it is

For many a day thereafter those appear

Floating before the eyes, that even awake

They think they view the dancers moving round

Their supple limbs, and catch with both the ears

The liquid song of harp and speaking chords,

And view the same assembly on the seats,

And manifold bright glories of the stage —

So great the influence of pursuit and zest,

And of the affairs wherein ‘thas been the wont

Of men to be engaged-nor only men,

But soothly all the animals. Behold,

Thou’lt see the sturdy horses, though outstretched,

Yet sweating in their sleep, and panting ever,

And straining utmost strength, as if for prize,

As if, with barriers opened now . . .

And hounds of huntsmen oft in soft repose

Yet toss asudden all their legs about,

And growl and bark, and with their nostrils sniff

The winds again, again, as though indeed

They’d caught the scented foot-prints of wild beasts,

And, even when wakened, often they pursue

The phantom images of stags, as though

They did perceive them fleeing on before,

Until the illusion’s shaken off and dogs

Come to themselves again. And fawning breed

Of house-bred whelps do feel the sudden urge

To shake their bodies and start from off the ground,

As if beholding stranger-visages.

And ever the fiercer be the stock, the more

In sleep the same is ever bound to rage.

But flee the divers tribes of birds and vex

With sudden wings by night the groves of gods,

When in their gentle slumbers they have dreamed

Of hawks in chase, aswooping on for fight.

Again, the minds of mortals which perform

With mighty motions mighty enterprises,

Often in sleep will do and dare the same

In manner like. Kings take the towns by storm,

Succumb to capture, battle on the field,

Raise a wild cry as if their throats were cut

Even then and there. And many wrestle on

And groan with pains, and fill all regions round

With mighty cries and wild, as if then gnawed

By fangs of panther or of lion fierce.

Many amid their slumbers talk about

Their mighty enterprises, and have often

Enough become the proof of their own crimes.

Many meet death; many, as if headlong

From lofty mountains tumbling down to earth

With all their frame, are frenzied in their fright;

And after sleep, as if still mad in mind,

They scarce come to, confounded as they are

By ferment of their frame. The thirsty man,

Likewise, he sits beside delightful spring

Or river and gulpeth down with gaping throat

Nigh the whole stream. And oft the innocent young,

By sleep o’ermastered, think they lift their dress

By pail or public jordan and then void

The water filtered down their frame entire

And drench the Babylonian coverlets,

Magnificently bright. Again, those males

Into the surging channels of whose years

Now first has passed the seed (engendered

Within their members by the ripened days)

Are in their sleep confronted from without

By idol-images of some fair form —

Tidings of glorious face and lovely bloom,

Which stir and goad the regions turgid now

With seed abundant; so that, as it were

With all the matter acted duly out,

They pour the billows of a potent stream

And stain their garment.

    And as said before,

That seed is roused in us when once ripe age

Has made our body strong . . .

As divers causes give to divers things

Impulse and irritation, so one force

In human kind rouses the human seed

To spurt from man. As soon as ever it issues,

Forced from its first abodes, it passes down

In the whole body through the limbs and frame,

Meeting in certain regions of our thews,

And stirs amain the genitals of man.

The goaded regions swell with seed, and then

Comes the delight to dart the same at what

The mad desire so yearns, and body seeks

That object, whence the mind by love is pierced.

For well-nigh each man falleth toward his wound,

And our blood spurts even toward the spot from whence

The stroke wherewith we are strook, and if indeed

The foe be close, the red jet reaches him.

Thus, one who gets a stroke from Venus’ shafts —

Whether a boy with limbs effeminate

Assault him, or a woman darting love

From all her body — that one strains to get

Even to the thing whereby he’s hit, and longs

To join with it and cast into its frame

The fluid drawn even from within its own.

For the mute craving doth presage delight.

The Passion of Love

This craving ’tis that’s Venus unto us:

From this, engender all the lures of love,

From this, O first hath into human hearts

Trickled that drop of joyance which ere long

Is by chill care succeeded. Since, indeed,

Though she thou lovest now be far away,

Yet idol-images of her are near

And the sweet name is floating in thy ear.

But it behooves to flee those images;

And scare afar whatever feeds thy love;

And turn elsewhere thy mind; and vent the sperm,

Within thee gathered, into sundry bodies,

Nor, with thy thoughts still busied with one love,

Keep it for one delight, and so store up

Care for thyself and pain inevitable.

For, lo, the ulcer just by nourishing

Grows to more life with deep inveteracy,

And day by day the fury swells aflame,

And the woe waxes heavier day by day —

Unless thou dost destroy even by new blows

The former wounds of love, and curest them

While yet they’re fresh, by wandering freely round

After the freely-wandering Venus, or

Canst lead elsewhere the tumults of thy mind.

Nor doth that man who keeps away from love

Yet lack the fruits of Venus; rather takes

Those pleasures which are free of penalties.

For the delights of Venus, verily,

Are more unmixed for mortals sane-of-soul

Than for those sick-at-heart with love-pining.

Yea, in the very moment of possessing,

Surges the heat of lovers to and fro,

Restive, uncertain; and they cannot fix

On what to first enjoy with eyes and hands.

The parts they sought for, those they squeeze so tight,

And pain the creature’s body, close their teeth

Often against her lips, and smite with kiss

Mouth into mouth — because this same delight

Is not unmixed; and underneath are stings

Which goad a man to hurt the very thing,

Whate’er it be, from whence arise for him

Those germs of madness. But with gentle touch

Venus subdues the pangs in midst of love,

And the admixture of a fondling joy

Doth curb the bites of passion. For they hope

That by the very body whence they caught

The heats of love their flames can be put out.

But nature protests ’tis all quite otherwise;

For this same love it is the one sole thing

Of which, the more we have, the fiercer burns

The breast with fell desire. For food and drink

Are taken within our members; and, since they

Can stop up certain parts, thus, easily

Desire of water is glutted and of bread.

But, lo, from human face and lovely bloom

Naught penetrates our frame to be enjoyed

Save flimsy idol-images and vain —

A sorry hope which oft the winds disperse.

As when the thirsty man in slumber seeks

To drink, and water ne’er is granted him

Wherewith to quench the heat within his members,

But after idols of the liquids strives

And toils in vain, and thirsts even whilst he gulps

In middle of the torrent, thus in love

Venus deludes with idol-images

The lovers. Nor they cannot sate their lust

By merely gazing on the bodies, nor

They cannot with their palms and fingers rub

Aught from each tender limb, the while they stray

Uncertain over all the body. Then,

At last, with members intertwined, when they

Enjoy the flower of their age, when now

Their bodies have sweet presage of keen joys,

And Venus is about to sow the fields

Of woman, greedily their frames they lock,

And mingle the slaver of their mouths, and breathe

Into each other, pressing teeth on mouths —

Yet to no purpose, since they’re powerless

To rub off aught, or penetrate and pass

With body entire into body — for oft

They seem to strive and struggle thus to do;

So eagerly they cling in Venus’ bonds,

Whilst melt away their members, overcome

By violence of delight. But when at last

Lust, gathered in the thews, hath spent itself,

There come a brief pause in the raging heat —

But then a madness just the same returns

And that old fury visits them again,

When once again they seek and crave to reach

They know not what, all powerless to find

The artifice to subjugate the bane.

In such uncertain state they waste away

With unseen wound.

    To which be added too,

They squander powers and with the travail wane;

Be added too, they spend their futile years

Under another’s beck and call; their duties

Neglected languish and their honest name

Reeleth sick, sick; and meantime their estates

Are lost in Babylonian tapestries;

And unguents and dainty Sicyonian shoes

Laugh on her feet; and (as ye may be sure)

Big emeralds of green light are set in gold;

And rich sea-purple dress by constant wear

Grows shabby and all soaked with Venus’ sweat;

And the well-earned ancestral property

Becometh head-bands, coifs, and many a time

The cloaks, or garments Alidensian

Or of the Cean isle. And banquets, set

With rarest cloth and viands, are prepared —

And games of chance, and many a drinking cup,

And unguents, crowns and garlands. All in vain,

Since from amid the well-spring of delights

Bubbles some drop of bitter to torment

Among the very flowers — when haply mind

Gnaws into self, now stricken with remorse

For slothful years and ruin in baudels,

Or else because she’s left him all in doubt

By launching some sly word, which still like fire

Lives wildly, cleaving to his eager heart;

Or else because he thinks she darts her eyes

Too much about and gazes at another —

And in her face sees traces of a laugh.

These ills are found in prospering love and true;

But in crossed love and helpless there be such

As through shut eyelids thou canst still take in —

Uncounted ills; so that ’tis better far

To watch beforehand, in the way I’ve shown,

And guard against enticements. For to shun

A fall into the hunting-snares of love

Is not so hard, as to get out again,

When tangled in the very nets, and burst

The stoutly-knotted cords of Aphrodite.

Yet even when there enmeshed with tangled feet,

Still canst thou scape the danger-lest indeed

Thou standest in the way of thine own good,

And overlookest first all blemishes

Of mind and body of thy much preferred,

Desirable dame. For so men do,

Eyeless with passion, and assign to them

Graces not theirs in fact. And thus we see

Creatures in many a wise crooked and ugly

The prosperous sweethearts in a high esteem;

And lovers gird each other and advise

To placate Venus, since their friends are smit

With a base passion — miserable dupes

Who seldom mark their own worst bane of all.

The black-skinned girl is “tawny like the honey”;

The filthy and the fetid’s “negligee”;

The cat-eyed she’s “a little Pallas,” she;

The sinewy and wizened’s “a gazelle”;

The pudgy and the pigmy is “piquant,

One of the Graces sure”; the big and bulky

O she’s “an Admiration, imposante”;

The stuttering and tongue-tied “sweetly lisps”;

The mute girl’s “modest”; and the garrulous,

The spiteful spit-fire, is “a sparkling wit”;

And she who scarcely lives for scrawniness

Becomes “a slender darling”; “delicate”

Is she who’s nearly dead of coughing-fit;

The pursy female with protuberant breasts

She is “like Ceres when the goddess gave

Young Bacchus suck”; the pug-nosed lady-love

“A Satyress, a feminine Silenus”;

The blubber-lipped is “all one luscious kiss”—

A weary while it were to tell the whole.

But let her face possess what charm ye will,

Let Venus’ glory rise from all her limbs —

Forsooth there still are others; and forsooth

We lived before without her; and forsooth

She does the same things — and we know she does —

All, as the ugly creature, and she scents,

Yes she, her wretched self with vile perfumes;

Whom even her handmaids flee and giggle at

Behind her back. But he, the lover, in tears

Because shut out, covers her threshold o’er

Often with flowers and garlands, and anoints

Her haughty door-posts with the marjoram,

And prints, poor fellow, kisses on the doors —

Admitted at last, if haply but one whiff

Got to him on approaching, he would seek

Decent excuses to go out forthwith;

And his lament, long pondered, then would fall

Down at his heels; and there he’d damn himself

For his fatuity, observing how

He had assigned to that same lady more —

Than it is proper to concede to mortals.

And these our Venuses are ‘ware of this.

Wherefore the more are they at pains to hide

All the-behind-the-scenes of life from those

Whom they desire to keep in bonds of love —

In vain, since ne’ertheless thou canst by thought

Drag all the matter forth into the light

And well search out the cause of all these smiles;

And if of graceful mind she be and kind,

Do thou, in thy turn, overlook the same,

And thus allow for poor mortality.

Nor sighs the woman always with feigned love,

Who links her body round man’s body locked

And holds him fast, making his kisses wet

With lips sucked into lips; for oft she acts

Even from desire, and, seeking mutual joys,

Incites him there to run love’s race-course through.

Nor otherwise can cattle, birds, wild beasts,

And sheep and mares submit unto the males,

Except that their own nature is in heat,

And burns abounding and with gladness takes

Once more the Venus of the mounting males.

And seest thou not how those whom mutual pleasure

Hath bound are tortured in their common bonds?

How often in the cross-roads dogs that pant

To get apart strain eagerly asunder

With utmost might? — When all the while they’re fast

In the stout links of Venus. But they’d ne’er

So pull, except they knew those mutual joys —

So powerful to cast them unto snares

And hold them bound. Wherefore again, again,

Even as I say, there is a joint delight.

And when perchance, in mingling seed with his,

The female hath o’erpowered the force of male

And by a sudden fling hath seized it fast,

Then are the offspring, more from mothers’ seed,

More like their mothers; as, from fathers’ seed,

They’re like to fathers. But whom seest to be

Partakers of each shape, one equal blend

Of parents’ features, these are generate

From fathers’ body and from mothers’ blood,

When mutual and harmonious heat hath dashed

Together seeds, aroused along their frames

By Venus’ goads, and neither of the twain

Mastereth or is mastered. Happens too

That sometimes offspring can to being come

In likeness of their grandsires, and bring back

Often the shapes of grandsires’ sires, because

Their parents in their bodies oft retain

Concealed many primal germs, commixed

In many modes, which, starting with the stock,

Sire handeth down to son, himself a sire;

Whence Venus by a variable chance

Engenders shapes, and diversely brings back

Ancestral features, voices too, and hair.

A female generation rises forth

From seed paternal, and from mother’s body

Exist created males: since sex proceeds

No more from singleness of seed than faces

Or bodies or limbs of ours: for every birth

Is from a twofold seed; and what’s created

Hath, of that parent which it is more like,

More than its equal share; as thou canst mark —

Whether the breed be male or female stock.

Nor do the powers divine grudge any man

The fruits of his seed-sowing, so that never

He be called “father” by sweet children his,

And end his days in sterile love forever.

What many men suppose; and gloomily

They sprinkle the altars with abundant blood,

And make the high platforms odorous with burnt gifts,

To render big by plenteous seed their wives —

And plague in vain godheads and sacred lots.

For sterile are these men by seed too thick,

Or else by far too watery and thin.

Because the thin is powerless to cleave

Fast to the proper places, straightaway

It trickles from them, and, returned again,

Retires abortively. And then since seed

More gross and solid than will suit is spent

By some men, either it flies not forth amain

With spurt prolonged enough, or else it fails

To enter suitably the proper places,

Or, having entered, the seed is weakly mixed

With seed of the woman: harmonies of Venus

Are seen to matter vastly here; and some

Impregnate some more readily, and from some

Some women conceive more readily and become

Pregnant. And many women, sterile before

In several marriage-beds, have yet thereafter

Obtained the mates from whom they could conceive

The baby-boys, and with sweet progeny

Grow rich. And even for husbands (whose own wives,

Although of fertile wombs, have borne for them

No babies in the house) are also found

Concordant natures so that they at last

Can bulwark their old age with goodly sons.

A matter of great moment ’tis in truth,

That seeds may mingle readily with seeds

Suited for procreation, and that thick

Should mix with fluid seeds, with thick the fluid.

And in this business ’tis of some import

Upon what diet life is nourished:

For some foods thicken seeds within our members,

And others thin them out and waste away.

And in what modes the fond delight itself

Is carried on — this too importeth vastly.

For commonly ’tis thought that wives conceive

More readily in manner of wild-beasts,

After the custom of the four-foot breeds,

Because so postured, with the breasts beneath

And buttocks then upreared, the seeds can take

Their proper places. Nor is need the least

For wives to use the motions of blandishment;

For thus the woman hinders and resists

Her own conception, if too joyously

Herself she treats the Venus of the man

With haunches heaving, and with all her bosom

Now yielding like the billows of the sea —

Aye, from the ploughshare’s even course and track

She throws the furrow, and from proper places

Deflects the spurt of seed. And courtesans

Are thuswise wont to move for their own ends,

To keep from pregnancy and lying in,

And all the while to render Venus more

A pleasure for the men — the which meseems

Our wives have never need of.

    Sometimes too

It happens — and through no divinity

Nor arrows of Venus — that a sorry chit

Of scanty grace will be beloved by man;

For sometimes she herself by very deeds,

By her complying ways, and tidy habits,

Will easily accustom thee to pass

With her thy life-time — and, moreover, lo,

Long habitude can gender human love,

Even as an object smitten o’er and o’er

By blows, however lightly, yet at last

Is overcome and wavers. Seest thou not,

Besides, how drops of water falling down

Against the stones at last bore through the stones?


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