Of The Nature of Things by Lucretius

OF THE NATURE OF THINGS BY TITUS LUCRETIUS CARUS A METRICAL TRANSLATION BY WILLIAM ELLERY LEONARD BOOK I PROEM 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
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  • 99 BC-55 BC
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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.

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.

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.


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.


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.


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 triped 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.


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.



‘Tis sweet, when, down the mighty main, the winds Roll up its waste of waters, from the land To watch another’s labouring anguish far, Not that we joyously delight that man
Should thus be smitten, but because ’tis sweet To mark what evils we ourselves be spared; ‘Tis sweet, again, to view the mighty strife Of armies embattled yonder o’er the plains, Ourselves no sharers in the peril; but naught There is more goodly than to hold the high Serene plateaus, well fortressed by the wise, Whence thou may’st look below on other men And see them ev’rywhere wand’ring, all dispersed In their lone seeking for the road of life; Rivals in genius, or emulous in rank,
Pressing through days and nights with hugest toil For summits of power and mastery of the world. O wretched minds of men! O blinded hearts! In how great perils, in what darks of life Are spent the human years, however brief!- O not to see that nature for herself
Barks after nothing, save that pain keep off, Disjoined from the body, and that mind enjoy Delightsome feeling, far from care and fear! Therefore we see that our corporeal life Needs little, altogether, and only such
As takes the pain away, and can besides Strew underneath some number of delights. More grateful ’tis at times (for nature craves No artifice nor luxury), if forsooth
There be no golden images of boys
Along the halls, with right hands holding out The lamps ablaze, the lights for evening feasts, And if the house doth glitter not with gold Nor gleam with silver, and to the lyre resound No fretted and gilded ceilings overhead, Yet still to lounge with friends in the soft grass Beside a river of water, underneath
A big tree’s boughs, and merrily to refresh Our frames, with no vast outlay- most of all If the weather is laughing and the times of the year Besprinkle the green of the grass around with flowers. Nor yet the quicker will hot fevers go,
If on a pictured tapestry thou toss, Or purple robe, than if ’tis thine to lie Upon the poor man’s bedding. Wherefore, since Treasure, nor rank, nor glory of a reign Avail us naught for this our body, thus
Reckon them likewise nothing for the mind: Save then perchance, when thou beholdest forth Thy legions swarming round the Field of Mars, Rousing a mimic warfare- either side
Strengthened with large auxiliaries and horse, Alike equipped with arms, alike inspired; Or save when also thou beholdest forth
Thy fleets to swarm, deploying down the sea: For then, by such bright circumstance abashed, Religion pales and flees thy mind; O then The fears of death leave heart so free of care. But if we note how all this pomp at last Is but a drollery and a mocking sport,
And of a truth man’s dread, with cares at heels, Dreads not these sounds of arms, these savage swords But among kings and lords of all the world Mingles undaunted, nor is overawed
By gleam of gold nor by the splendour bright Of purple robe, canst thou then doubt that this Is aught, but power of thinking?- when, besides The whole of life but labours in the dark. For just as children tremble and fear all In the viewless dark, so even we at times Dread in the light so many things that be No whit more fearsome than what children feign, Shuddering, will be upon them in the dark. 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.


Now come: I will untangle for thy steps Now by what motions the begetting bodies Of the world-stuff beget the varied world, And then forever resolve it when begot,
And by what force they are constrained to this, And what the speed appointed unto them
Wherewith to travel down the vast inane: Do thou remember to yield thee to my words. For truly matter coheres not, crowds not tight, Since we behold each thing to wane away, And we observe how all flows on and off, As ’twere, with age-old time, and from our eyes How eld withdraws each object at the end, Albeit the sum is seen to bide the same, Unharmed, because these motes that leave each thing Diminish what they part from, but endow
With increase those to which in turn they come, Constraining these to wither in old age, And those to flower at the prime (and yet Biding not long among them). Thus the sum Forever is replenished, and we live
As mortals by eternal give and take. The nations wax, the nations wane away;
In a brief space the generations pass, And like to runners hand the lamp of life One unto other.
But if thou believe
That the primordial germs of things can stop, And in their stopping give new motions birth, Afar thou wanderest from the road of truth. For since they wander through the void inane, All the primordial germs of things must needs Be borne along, either by weight their own, Or haply by another’s blow without.
For, when, in their incessancy so oft They meet and clash, it comes to pass amain They leap asunder, face to face: not strange- Being most hard, and solid in their weights, And naught opposing motion, from behind. And that more clearly thou perceive how all These mites of matter are darted round about, Recall to mind how nowhere in the sum
Of All exists a bottom,- nowhere is A realm of rest for primal bodies; since (As amply shown and proved by reason sure) Space has no bound nor measure, and extends Unmetered forth in all directions round. Since this stands certain, thus ’tis out of doubt No rest is rendered to the primal bodies Along the unfathomable inane; but rather, Inveterately plied by motions mixed,
Some, at their jamming, bound aback and leave Huge gaps between, and some from off the blow Are hurried about with spaces small between. And all which, brought together with slight gaps, In more condensed union bound aback,
Linked by their own all inter-tangled shapes,- These form the irrefragable roots of rocks And the brute bulks of iron, and what else Is of their kind…
The rest leap far asunder, far recoil, Leaving huge gaps between: and these supply For us thin air and splendour-lights of the sun. And many besides wander the mighty void- Cast back from unions of existing things, Nowhere accepted in the universe,
And nowise linked in motions to the rest. And of this fact (as I record it here)
An image, a type goes on before our eyes Present each moment; for behold whenever The sun’s light and the rays, let in, pour down Across dark halls of houses: thou wilt see The many mites in many a manner mixed
Amid a void in the very light of the rays, And battling on, as in eternal strife,
And in battalions contending without halt, In meetings, partings, harried up and down. From this thou mayest conjecture of what sort The ceaseless tossing of primordial seeds Amid the mightier void- at least so far
As small affair can for a vaster serve, And by example put thee on the spoor
Of knowledge. For this reason too ’tis fit Thou turn thy mind the more unto these bodies Which here are witnessed tumbling in the light: Namely, because such tumblings are a sign That motions also of the primal stuff
Secret and viewless lurk beneath, behind. For thou wilt mark here many a speck, impelled By viewless blows, to change its little course, And beaten backwards to return again,
Hither and thither in all directions round. Lo, all their shifting movement is of old, From the primeval atoms; for the same
Primordial seeds of things first move of self, And then those bodies built of unions small And nearest, as it were, unto the powers Of the primeval atoms, are stirred up
By impulse of those atoms’ unseen blows, And these thereafter goad the next in size: Thus motion ascends from the primevals on, And stage by stage emerges to our sense, Until those objects also move which we
Can mark in sunbeams, though it not appears What blows do urge them.
Herein wonder not
How ’tis that, while the seeds of things are all Moving forever, the sum yet seems to stand Supremely still, except in cases where
A thing shows motion of its frame as whole. For far beneath the ken of senses lies
The nature of those ultimates of the world; And so, since those themselves thou canst not see, Their motion also must they veil from men- For mark, indeed, how things we can see, oft Yet hide their motions, when afar from us Along the distant landscape. Often thus, Upon a hillside will the woolly flocks
Be cropping their goodly food and creeping about Whither the summons of the grass, begemmed With the fresh dew, is calling, and the lambs, Well filled, are frisking, locking horns in sport: Yet all for us seem blurred and blent afar- A glint of white at rest on a green hill. Again, when mighty legions, marching round, Fill all the quarters of the plains below, Rousing a mimic warfare, there the sheen Shoots up the sky, and all the fields about Glitter with brass, and from beneath, a sound Goes forth from feet of stalwart soldiery, And mountain walls, smote by the shouting, send The voices onward to the stars of heaven, And hither and thither darts the cavalry, And of a sudden down the midmost fields
Charges with onset stout enough to rock The solid earth: and yet some post there is Up the high mountains, viewed from which they seem To stand- a gleam at rest along the plains. Now what the speed to matter’s atoms given Thou mayest in few, my Memmius, learn from this: When first the dawn is sprinkling with new light The lands, and all the breed of birds abroad Flit round the trackless forests, with liquid notes Filling the regions along the mellow air, We see ’tis forthwith manifest to man
How suddenly the risen sun is wont
At such an hour to overspread and clothe The whole with its own splendour; but the sun’s Warm exhalations and this serene light
Travel not down an empty void; and thus They are compelled more slowly to advance, Whilst, as it were, they cleave the waves of air; Nor one by one travel these particles
Of the warm exhalations, but are all Entangled and enmassed, whereby at once
Each is restrained by each, and from without Checked, till compelled more slowly to advance. But the primordial atoms with their old
Simple solidity, when forth they travel Along the empty void, all undelayed
By aught outside them there, and they, each one Being one unit from nature of its parts, Are borne to that one place on which they strive Still to lay hold, must then, beyond a doubt, Outstrip in speed, and be more swiftly borne Than light of sun, and over regions rush, Of space much vaster, in the self-same time The sun’s effulgence widens round the sky. . . . . . .
Nor to pursue the atoms one by one, To see the law whereby each thing goes on. But some men, ignorant of matter, think, Opposing this, that not without the gods, In such adjustment to our human ways,
Can nature change the seasons of the years, And bring to birth the grains and all of else To which divine Delight, the guide of life, Persuades mortality and leads it on,
That, through her artful blandishments of love, It propagate the generations still,
Lest humankind should perish. When they feign That gods have stablished all things but for man, They seem in all ways mightily to lapse
From reason’s truth: for ev’n if ne’er I knew What seeds primordial are, yet would I dare This to affirm, ev’n from deep judgment based Upon the ways and conduct of the skies-
This to maintain by many a fact besides- That in no wise the nature of the world
For us was builded by a power divine- So great the faults it stands encumbered with: The which, my Memmius, later on, for thee We will clear up. Now as to what remains Concerning motions we’ll unfold our thought. Now is the place, meseems, in these affairs To prove for thee this too: nothing corporeal Of its own force can e’er be upward borne, Or upward go- nor let the bodies of flames Deceive thee here: for they engendered are With urge to upwards, taking thus increase, Whereby grow upwards shining grains and trees, Though all the weight within them downward bears. Nor, when the fires will leap from under round The roofs of houses, and swift flame laps up Timber and beam, ’tis then to be supposed They act of own accord, no force beneath To urge them up. ‘Tis thus that blood, discharged From out our bodies, spurts its jets aloft And spatters gore. And hast thou never marked With what a force the water will disgorge Timber and beam? The deeper, straight and down, We push them in, and, many though we be, The more we press with main and toil, the more The water vomits up and flings them back, That, more than half their length, they there emerge, Rebounding. Yet we never doubt, meseems, That all the weight within them downward bears Through empty void. Well, in like manner, flames Ought also to be able, when pressed out, Through winds of air to rise aloft, even though The weight within them strive to draw them down. Hast thou not seen, sweeping so far and high, The meteors, midnight flambeaus of the sky, How after them they draw long trails of flame Wherever Nature gives a thoroughfare?
How stars and constellations drop to earth, Seest not? Nay, too, the sun from peak of heaven Sheds round to every quarter its large heat, And sows the new-ploughed intervales with light: Thus also sun’s heat downward tends to earth. Athwart the rain thou seest the lightning fly; Now here, now there, bursting from out the clouds, The fires dash zig-zag- and that flaming power Falls likewise down to earth.
In these affairs
We wish thee also well aware of this: The atoms, as their own weight bears them down Plumb through the void, at scarce determined times, In scarce determined places, from their course Decline a little- call it, so to speak,
Mere changed trend. For were it not their wont Thuswise to swerve, down would they fall, each one, Like drops of rain, through the unbottomed void; And then collisions ne’er could be nor blows Among the primal elements; and thus
Nature would never have created aught. But, if perchance be any that believe
The heavier bodies, as more swiftly borne Plumb down the void, are able from above To strike the lighter, thus engendering blows Able to cause those procreant motions, far From highways of true reason they retire. For whatsoever through the waters fall,
Or through thin air, must quicken their descent, Each after its weight- on this account, because Both bulk of water and the subtle air
By no means can retard each thing alike, But give more quick before the heavier weight; But contrariwise the empty void cannot,
On any side, at any time, to aught
Oppose resistance, but will ever yield, True to its bent of nature. Wherefore all, With equal speed, though equal not in weight, Must rush, borne downward through the still inane. Thus ne’er at all have heavier from above Been swift to strike the lighter, gendering strokes Which cause those divers motions, by whose means Nature transacts her work. And so I say, The atoms must a little swerve at times- But only the least, lest we should seem to feign Motions oblique, and fact refute us there. For this we see forthwith is manifest:
Whatever the weight, it can’t obliquely go, Down on its headlong journey from above, At least so far as thou canst mark; but who Is there can mark by sense that naught can swerve At all aside from off its road’s straight line? Again, if ev’r all motions are co-linked, And from the old ever arise the new
In fixed order, and primordial seeds Produce not by their swerving some new start Of motion to sunder the covenants of fate, That cause succeed not cause from everlasting, Whence this free will for creatures o’er the lands, Whence is it wrested from the fates,- this will Whereby we step right forward where desire Leads each man on, whereby the same we swerve In motions, not as at some fixed time,
Nor at some fixed line of space, but where The mind itself has urged? For out of doubt In these affairs ’tis each man’s will itself That gives the start, and hence throughout our limbs Incipient motions are diffused. Again,
Dost thou not see, when, at a point of time, The bars are opened, how the eager strength Of horses cannot forward break as soon
As pants their mind to do? For it behooves That all the stock of matter, through the frame, Be roused, in order that, through every joint, Aroused, it press and follow mind’s desire; So thus thou seest initial motion’s gendered From out the heart, aye, verily, proceeds First from the spirit’s will, whence at the last ‘Tis given forth through joints and body entire. Quite otherwise it is, when forth we move, Impelled by a blow of another’s mighty powers And mighty urge; for then ’tis clear enough All matter of our total body goes,
Hurried along, against our own desire- Until the will has pulled upon the reins And checked it back, throughout our members all; At whose arbitrament indeed sometimes
The stock of matter’s forced to change its path, Throughout our members and throughout our joints, And, after being forward cast, to be
Reined up, whereat it settles back again. So seest thou not, how, though external force Drive men before, and often make them move, Onward against desire, and headlong snatched, Yet is there something in these breasts of ours Strong to combat, strong to withstand the same?- Wherefore no less within the primal seeds Thou must admit, besides all blows and weight, Some other cause of motion, whence derives This power in us inborn, of some free act.- Since naught from nothing can become, we see. For weight prevents all things should come to pass Through blows, as ’twere, by some external force; But that man’s mind itself in all it does Hath not a fixed necessity within,
Nor is not, like a conquered thing, compelled To bear and suffer,- this state comes to man From that slight swervement of the elements In no fixed line of space, in no fixed time. Nor ever was the stock of stuff more crammed, Nor ever, again, sundered by bigger gaps: For naught gives increase and naught takes away; On which account, just as they move to-day, The elemental bodies moved of old
And shall the same hereafter evermore. And what was wont to be begot of old
Shall be begotten under selfsame terms And grow and thrive in power, so far as given To each by Nature’s changeless, old decrees. The sum of things there is no power can change, For naught exists outside, to which can flee Out of the world matter of any kind,
Nor forth from which a fresh supply can spring, Break in upon the founded world, and change Whole nature of things, and turn their motions about.


Now come, and next hereafter apprehend What sorts, how vastly different in form, How varied in multitudinous shapes they are- These old beginnings of the universe;
Not in the sense that only few are furnished With one like form, but rather not at all In general have they likeness each with each, No marvel: since the stock of them’s so great That there’s no end (as I have taught) nor sum, They must indeed not one and all be marked By equal outline and by shape the same.
. . . . . .
Moreover, humankind, and the mute flocks Of scaly creatures swimming in the streams, And joyous herds around, and all the wild, And all the breeds of birds- both those that teem In gladsome regions of the water-haunts, About the river-banks and springs and pools, And those that throng, flitting from tree to tree, Through trackless woods- Go, take which one thou wilt, In any kind: thou wilt discover still
Each from the other still unlike in shape. Nor in no other wise could offspring know Mother, nor mother offspring- which we see They yet can do, distinguished one from other, No less than human beings, by clear signs. Thus oft before fair temples of the gods, Beside the incense-burning altars slain, Drops down the yearling calf, from out its breast Breathing warm streams of blood; the orphaned mother, Ranging meanwhile green woodland pastures round, Knows well the footprints, pressed by cloven hoofs, With eyes regarding every spot about,
For sight somewhere of youngling gone from her; And, stopping short, filleth the leafy lanes With her complaints; and oft she seeks again Within the stall, pierced by her yearning still. Nor tender willows, nor dew-quickened grass, Nor the loved streams that glide along low banks, Can lure her mind and turn the sudden pain; Nor other shapes of calves that graze thereby Distract her mind or lighten pain the least- So keen her search for something known and hers. Moreover, tender kids with bleating throats Do know their horned dams, and butting lambs The flocks of sheep, and thus they patter on, Unfailingly each to its proper teat,
As nature intends. Lastly, with any grain, Thou’lt see that no one kernel in one kind Is so far like another, that there still Is not in shapes some difference running through. By a like law we see how earth is pied
With shells and conchs, where, with soft waves, the sea Beats on the thirsty sands of curving shores. Wherefore again, again, since seeds of things Exist by nature, nor were wrought with hands After a fixed pattern of one other,
They needs must flitter to and fro with shapes In types dissimilar to one another.
. . . . . .
Easy enough by thought of mind to solve Why fires of lightning more can penetrate Than these of ours from pitch-pine born on earth. For thou canst say lightning’s celestial fire, So subtle, is formed of figures finer far, And passes thus through holes which this our fire, Born from the wood, created from the pine, Cannot. Again, light passes through the horn On the lantern’s side, while rain is dashed away. And why?- unless those bodies of light should be Finer than those of water’s genial showers. We see how quickly through a colander
The wines will flow; how, on the other hand, The sluggish olive-oil delays: no doubt, Because ’tis wrought of elements more large, Or else more crook’d and intertangled. Thus It comes that the primordials cannot be
So suddenly sundered one from other, and seep, One through each several hole of anything. And note, besides, that liquor of honey or milk Yields in the mouth agreeable taste to tongue, Whilst nauseous wormwood, pungent centaury, With their foul flavour set the lips awry; Thus simple ’tis to see that whatsoever
Can touch the senses pleasingly are made Of smooth and rounded elements, whilst those Which seem the bitter and the sharp, are held Entwined by elements more crook’d, and so Are wont to tear their ways into our senses, And rend our body as they enter in.
In short all good to sense, all bad to touch, Being up-built of figures so unlike,
Are mutually at strife- lest thou suppose That the shrill rasping of a squeaking saw Consists of elements as smooth as song
Which, waked by nimble fingers, on the strings The sweet musicians fashion; or suppose
That same-shaped atoms through men’s nostrils pierce When foul cadavers burn, as when the stage Is with Cilician saffron sprinkled fresh, And the altar near exhales Panchaean scent; Or hold as of like seed the goodly hues
Of things which feast our eyes, as those which sting Against the smarting pupil and draw tears, Or show, with gruesome aspect, grim and vile. For never a shape which charms our sense was made Without some elemental smoothness; whilst Whate’er is harsh and irksome has been framed Still with some roughness in its elements. Some, too, there are which justly are supposed To be nor smooth nor altogether hooked,
With bended barbs, but slightly angled-out, To tickle rather than to wound the sense- And of which sort is the salt tartar of wine And flavours of the gummed elecampane.
Again, that glowing fire and icy rime Are fanged with teeth unlike whereby to sting Our body’s sense, the touch of each gives proof. For touch- by sacred majesties of Gods!- Touch is indeed the body’s only sense-
Be’t that something in-from-outward works, Be’t that something in the body born
Wounds, or delighteth as it passes out Along the procreant paths of Aphrodite;
Or be’t the seeds by some collision whirl Disordered in the body and confound
By tumult and confusion all the sense- As thou mayst find, if haply with the hand Thyself thou strike thy body’s any part. On which account, the elemental forms
Must differ widely, as enabled thus To cause diverse sensations.
And, again,
What seems to us the hardened and condensed Must be of atoms among themselves more hooked, Be held compacted deep within, as ’twere By branch-like atoms- of which sort the chief Are diamond stones, despisers of all blows, And stalwart flint and strength of solid iron, And brazen bars, which, budging hard in locks, Do grate and scream. But what are liquid, formed Of fluid body, they indeed must be
Of elements more smooth and round- because Their globules severally will not cohere: To suck the poppy-seeds from palm of hand Is quite as easy as drinking water down, And they, once struck, roll like unto the same. But that thou seest among the things that flow Some bitter, as the brine of ocean is,
Is not the least a marvel…
For since ’tis fluid, smooth its atoms are And round, with painful rough ones mixed therein; Yet need not these be held together hooked: In fact, though rough, they’re globular besides, Able at once to roll, and rasp the sense. And that the more thou mayst believe me here, That with smooth elements are mixed the rough (Whence Neptune’s salt astringent body comes), There is a means to separate the twain,
And thereupon dividedly to see
How the sweet water, after filtering through So often underground, flows freshened forth Into some hollow; for it leaves above
The primal germs of nauseating brine, Since cling the rough more readily in earth. Lastly, whatso thou markest to disperse
Upon the instant- smoke, and cloud, and flame- Must not (even though not all of smooth and round) Be yet co-linked with atoms intertwined, That thus they can, without together cleaving, So pierce our body and so bore the rocks. Whatever we see…
Given to senses, that thou must perceive They’re not from linked but pointed elements. The which now having taught, I will go on To bind thereto a fact to this allied
And drawing from this its proof: these primal germs Vary, yet only with finite tale of shapes. For were these shapes quite infinite, some seeds