Lucretius

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Life is one long struggle in the dark.
So potent was Religion in persuading to do wrong.
Nothing can be created out of nothing.

Titus Lucretius Carus (c. 99 BC55 BC) was a Roman poet and philosopher. His major work is De Rerum Natura, On the Nature of Things, which is considered by some to be the greatest masterpiece of Latin verse.

Quotes[edit]

De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things)[edit]

  • Ergo vivida vis animi pervicit et extra
    processit longe flamentia moenia mundi
    atque omne immensum peragravit mente animoque.
    • The living force of his soul gained the day: on he passed far beyond the flaming walls of the world and traversed throughout in mind and spirit the immeasurable universe.
    • Book I, lines 72–74 (tr. H. A. J. Munro); of Epicurus.
  • Quare religio pedibus subiecta vicissim
    opteritur, nos exaequat victoria caelo.
    • Superstition is now in her turn cast down and trampled underfoot, whilst we by the victory are exalted high as heaven.
    • Book I, lines 78–79 (tr. W. H. D. Rouse)
  • Saepius illa
    religio peperit scelerosa atque impia facta.
    • Again and again our foe, religion, has given birth to deeds sinful and unholy.
    • Book I, lines 82–83 (tr. C. Bailey)
  • Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum.
    • So potent was Religion in persuading to do wrong.
    • Book I, line 101 (tr. Alicia Stallings)
    • H. A. J. Munro's translation:
      • So great the evils to which religion could prompt!
    • W. H. D. Rouse's translation:
      • So potent was Superstition in persuading to evil deeds.
  • Nullam rem e nihilo gigni divinitus umquam.
    • Nothing is ever gotten out of nothing by divine power.
    • Book I, line 150 (tr. Munro)
  • Nil posse creari
    de nihilo.
    • Nothing can be produced from nothing.
    • Book I, lines 156–157 (tr. Munro)
    • Variant translations:
      • Nothing can be created from nothing.
      • Nothing can be created out of nothing.
  • Haud igitur redit ad nihilum res ulla.
    • A thing therefore never returns to nothing.
    • Book I, line 248 (tr. Munro)
  • Stilicidi casus lapidem cavat.
    • The steady drip of water causes stone to hollow and yield.
    • Book I, line 313 (tr. Stallings)
    • Variant translation: Continual dropping wears away a stone.
    • Compare: "The soft droppes of rain perce the hard marble; many strokes overthrow the tallest oaks", John Lyly, Euphues, 1579 (Arber's reprint), p. 81
  • Etsi difficiile esse videtur credere quicquam
    in rebus solido reperiri corpore posse.
    transit enim fulmen caeli per saepta domorum,
    clamor ut ad voces; flamen candescit in igni
    dissiliuntque ferre ferventi saxa vapore.
    tum labefactatus rigor auri solvitur aestu;
    tum glacies aeris flamma devicta liquescit;
    permanat calor argentum penetraleque frigus
    quando utrumque manu retinentes pocula rite
    sensimus infuso lympharum rore superne.
    • And yet it is hard to believe that anything
      in nature could stand revealed as solid matter.
      The lightning of heaven goes through the walls of houses,
      like shouts and speech; iron glows white in fire;
      red-hot rocks are shattered by savage steam;
      hard gold is softened and melted down by heat;
      chilly brass, defeated by heat, turns liquid;
      heat seeps through silver, so does piercing cold;
      by custom raising the cup, we feel them both
      as water is poured in, drop by drop, above.
    • Book I, lines 487–496 (Frank O. Copley)
  • Ita res accendent lumina rebus.
    • So clearly will truths kindle light for truths.
    • Book I, line 1117 (tr. W. H. D. Rouse and M. F. Smith)
  • Suave mari magno turbantibus aequora ventis
    e terra magnum alterius spectare laborem;
    non quia vexari quemquamst jucunda voluptas,
    sed quibus ipse malis careas quia cernere suave est.
    • Pleasant it is, when over a great sea the winds trouble the waters, to gaze from shore upon another's great tribulation: not because any man's troubles are a delectable joy, but because to perceive from what ills you are free yourself is pleasant.
    • Book II, lines 1–4 (tr. Rouse)
  • Sed nihil dulcius est, bene quam munita tenere
    edita doctrina sapientum templa serena,
    despicere unde queas alios passimque videre
    errare atque viam palantis quaerere vitae,
    certare ingenio, contendere nobilitate,
    noctes atque dies niti praestante labore
    ad summas emergere opes rerumque potiri.
    • But there is nothing sweeter than to dwell in towers that rise
      On high, serene and fortified with teachings of the wise,
      From which you may peer down upon the others as they stray
      This way and that, seeking the path of life, losing their way:
      The skirmishing of wits, the scramble for renown, the fight,
      Each striving harder than the next, and struggling day and night,
      To climb atop a heap of riches and lay claim to might.
    • Book II, lines 7–13 (tr. Stallings)
  • O miseras hominum mentes, o pectora caeca!
    qualibus in tenebris vitae quantisque periclis
    degitur hoc aevi quod cumquest! nonne videre
    nihil aliud sibi naturam latrare, nisi ut qui
    corpore seiunctus dolor absit, mente fruatur
    iucundo sensu cura semota metuque?
    • O pitiable minds of men, O blind intelligences! In what gloom of life, in how great perils is passed all your poor span of time! not to see that all nature barks for is this, that pain be removed away out of the body, and that the mind, kept away from care and fear, enjoy a feeling of delight!
    • Book II, lines 14–19 (tr. Rouse)
  • Omnis cum in tenebris praesertim vita laboret.
    • Life is one long struggle in the dark.
    • Book II, line 54 (tr. Rouse)
  • Nam veluti pueri trepidant atque omnia caecis
    in tenebris metuunt, sic nos in luce timemus
    interdum, nilo quae sunt metuenda magis quam
    quae pueri in tenebris pavitant finguntque futura.
    hunc igitur terrorem animi tenebrasque necessest
    non radii solis neque lucida tela diei
    discutiant sed naturae species ratioque.
    • For as children tremble and fear everything in the blind darkness, so we in the light sometimes fear what is no more to be feared than the things that children in the dark hold in terror and imagine will come true. This terror, therefore, and darkness of mind must be dispelled not by the rays of the sun and glittering shafts of daylight, but by the aspect and law of nature.
    • Book II, lines 55–61 (tr. Rouse)
  • Sic rerum summa novatur
    semper, et inter se mortales mutua vivunt.
    augescunt aliae gentes, aliae minuuntur,
    inque brevi spatio mutantur saecla animantum
    et quasi cursores vitai lampada tradiunt.
    • Thus the sum of things is ever being renewed, and mortal creatures live dependent one upon another. Some species increase, others diminish, and in a short space the generations of living creatures are changed and, like runners, pass on the torch of life.
    • Book II, line 75 (tr. Rouse)
  • Dum taxat, rerum magnarum parva potest res
    exemplare dare et vestigia notitiai.
    • So far as it goes, a small thing may give an analogy of great things, and show the tracks of knowledge.
    • Book II, lines 123–124 (tr. Rouse)
  • Omnia qua propter debent per inane quietum
    aeque ponderibus non aequis concita ferri.
    • All things must needs be borne on through the calm void moving at equal rate with unequal weights.
    • Book II, lines 238–239 (tr. Bailey)
  • Infidi maris insidis virisque dolumque
    ut vitare velint, neve ullo tempore credant
    subdola cum ridet placidi pellacia ponti.
    • Never trust her at any time, when the calm sea shows her false alluring smile.
    • Book II, lines 557–559 (tr. Rouse)
  • Caelesti sumus omnes semine oriundi.
    • We are all sprung from a heavenly seed.
    • Book II, line 991 (tr. Munro)
  • Cedit item retro, de terra quod fuit ante,
    in terras.
    • What once sprung from earth sinks back into the earth.
    • Book II, lines 999–1000 (tr. Bailey)
  • Sed neque tam facilis res ulla est, quin ea primum
    difficilis magis ad credendum constet, itemque
    nil adeo magnum neque tam mirabile quicquam,
    quod non paulatim minuant mirarier omnes.
    • For no fact is so simple we believe it at first sight,
      And there is nothing that exists so great or marvellous
      That over time mankind does not admire it less and less.
    • Book II, lines 1026–1029 (tr. Stallings)
  • Desine qua propter novitate exterritus ipsa
    expuere ex animo rationem, sed magis acri
    iudicio perpende, et si tibi vera videntur,
    dede manus, aut, si falsum est, accingere contra.
    • Cease therefore to be dismayed by the mere novelty and so to reject reason from your mind with loathing: weigh the questions rather with keen judgment and if they seem to you to be true, surrender, or if the thing is false, gird yourself to the encounter.
    • Book II, lines 1040–1043 (tr. Munro)
  • Quo magis in dubiis hominem spectare periclis
    convenit adversisque in rebus noscere qui sit;
    nam verae voces tum demum pectore ab imo
    eliciuntur et eripitur persona, manet res.
    • So it is more useful to watch a man in times of peril, and in adversity to discern what kind of man he is; for then at last words of truth are drawn from the depths of his heart, and the mask is torn off, reality remains.
    • Book III, lines 55–58 (reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations)
  • Praeterea gigni pariter cum corpore et una
    crescere sentimus pariterque senescere mentem.
    nam vel ut infirmo pueri teneroque vagantur
    corpore, sic animi sequitur sententia tenvis.
    inde ubi robustis adolevit viribus aetas,
    consilium quoque maius et auctior est animi vis.
    post ubi iam validis quassatum est viribus aevi
    corpus et obtusis ceciderunt viribus artus,
    claudicat ingenium, delirat lingua labat mens,
    omnia deficiunt atque uno tempore desunt.
    ergo dissolui quoque convenit omnem animai
    naturam, ceu fumus, in altas aëris auras;
    quando quidem gigni pariter pariterque videmus
    crescere et, ut docui, simul aevo fessa fatisci.
    • Besides we feel that mind to being comes
      Along with body, with body grows and ages.

      For just as children totter round about
      With frames infirm and tender, so there follows
      A weakling wisdom in their minds; and then,
      Where years have ripened into robust powers,
      Counsel is also greater, more increased
      The power of mind; thereafter, where already
      The body's shattered by master-powers of eld,
      And fallen the frame with its enfeebled powers,
      Thought hobbles, tongue wanders, and the mind gives way;
      All fails, all's lacking at the selfsame time.
      Therefore it suits that even the soul's dissolved,
      Like smoke, into the lofty winds of air;
      Since we behold the same to being come
      Along with body and grow, and, as I've taught,
      Crumble and crack, therewith outworn by eld.
    • Book III, lines 445–458 (tr. W. E. Leonard)
  • Nil igitur mors est ad nos neque pertinet hilum,
    quandoquidem natura animi mortalis habetur.
    • Therefore death is nothing to us, it matters not one jot, since the nature of the mind is understood to be mortal.
    • Book III, lines 830–831 (tr. Rouse)
  • Et si iam nostro sentit de corpore postquam
    distractast animi natura animaeque potestas,
    tamen est ad nos, qui comptu coniugioque
    corporis atque animae consistimus uniter apti.
    nec, si materiem nostram collegerit aetas
    post obitum rursumque redegerit ut sita nunc est,
    atque iterum nobis fuerint data lumina vitae,
    quicquam tamen ad nos id quoque factum,
    interrupta semel cum sit repetentia nostri.
    et nunc nil ad nos de nobis attinet, ante
    qui fuimus, [neque] iam de illis nos adficit angor.
    nam cum respicias inmensi temporis omne
    praeteritum spatium, tum motus materiai
    quam sint, facile hoc adcredere possis,
    saepe in eodem, ut nunc sunt, ordine posta
    haec eadem, quibus e nunc nos sumus, ante fuisse.
    nec memori tamen id quimus reprehendere mente;
    inter enim iectast vitai pausa vageque
    deerrarunt passim motus ab sensibus omnes.
    • Nay, even suppose when we have suffered fate,
      The soul could feel in her divided state,
      What's that to us? for we are only we,
      While souls and bodies in one frame agree.
      Nay, though our atoms should revolve by chance,
      And matter leap into the former dance;
      Though time our life and motion could restore,
      And make our bodies what they were before,
      What gain to us would all this bustle bring?
      The new-made man would be another thing;
      When once an interrupting pause is made,
      That individual being is decayed.
      We, who are dead and gone, shall bear no part
      In all the pleasures, nor shall feel the smart,
      Which to that other mortal shall accrue,
      Whom of our matter, time shall mould anew.
      For backward if you look, on that long space
      Of ages past, and view the changing face
      Of matter, tossed and variously combined
      In sundry shapes, ’tis easy for the mind
      From thence t' infer that seeds of things have been
      In the same order as they now are seen:
      Which yet our dark remembrance cannot trace,
      Because a pause of life, a gaping space
      Has come betwixt, where memory lies dead,
      And all the wandering motions from the sense are fled.
    • Book III, lines 843–860 (tr. John Dryden)
  • Cur non ut plenus vitae conviva recedis
    aequo animoque capis securam, stulte, quietem?
    • Why dost thou not retire like a guest sated with the banquet of life, and with calm mind embrace, thou fool, a rest that knows no care?
    • Book III, lines 938–939 (tr. Bailey)
  • Vitaque mancipio, nulli datur, omnibus usu.
    • To none is life given in freehold; to all on lease.
    • Book III, line 971 (tr. R. E. Latham)
  • Nam petere imperium quod inanest nec datur umquam,
    atque in eo semper durum sufferre laborem,
    hoc est adverso nixantem trudere monte
    saxa quod tamen e summo iam vertice rursum
    volvitur et plani raptim petit aequora campi.
    • Yes, to seek power that's vain and never granted
      and for it to suffer hardship and endless pain:
      this is to heave and strain to push uphill
      a boulder, that still from the very top rolls back
      and bounds and bounces down to the bare, broad field.
    • Book III, lines 998–1002 (tr. Frank O. Copley)
  • Nec prorsum vitam ducendo demimus hilum
    tempore de mortis nec delibare valemus.
    • By protracting life, we do not deduct one jot from the duration of death.
    • Book III, lines 1087–1088 (tr. Rouse)
  • Ut quod ali cibus est aliis fuat acre venenum.
    • What is food to one, is to others bitter poison.
    • Book IV, line 637 (reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations)
    • Compare: "What's one man's poison, signor, / Is another's meat or drink", Beaumont and Fletcher, Love's Cure (1647), Act III, scene 2
  • Medio de fonte leporum
    surgit amari aliquid quod in ipsis floribus angat.
    • In the midst of the fountain of wit there arises something bitter, which stings in the very flowers.
    • Book IV, lines 1133–1134 (reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations)
    • Variant translation: From the midst of the fountain of delights rises something bitter that chokes them all amongst the flowers.
    • Compare: "Still from the fount of joy's delicious springs / Some bitter o'er the flowers its bubbling venom flings", Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Canto I, stanza 82
  • Vitare, plagas in amoris ne iaciamur,
    non ita difficile est quam captum retibus ipsis
    exire et validos Veneris perrumpere nodos.
    • To avoid falling into the toils of love is not so hard as, after you are caught, to get out of the nets you are in and to break through the strong meshes of Venus.
    • Book IV, lines 1146–1148 (tr. Munro)
  • Consuetudo concinnat amorem;
    nam leviter quamvis quod crebro tunditur ictu,
    vincitur in longo spatio tamen atque labascit.
    Nonne vides etiam guttas in saxa cadentis
    umoris longo in spatio pertundere saxa?
    • Custom renders love attractive; for that which is struck by oft-repeated blows however lightly, yet after long course of time is overpowered and gives way. See you not too that drops of water falling on rocks after long course of time scoop a hole through these rocks?
    • Book IV, lines 1283–1287 (tr. Munro)
  • Sentit enim vis quisque suas quoad possit abuti.
    cornua nata prius vitulo quam frontibus extent,
    illis iratus petit atque infestus inurget.
    • For every one feels to what purpose he can use his own powers. Before the horns of a calf appear and sprout from his forehead, he butts with them when angry, and pushes passionately.
    • Book V, lines 1033–1035 (tr. Bailey)
  • Quod siquis vera vitam ratione gubernet,
    divitiae grandes homini sunt vivere parvo
    aequo animo; neque enim est umquam penuria parvi.
    • But if one should guide his life by true principles, man's greatest riches is to live on a little with contented mind; for a little is never lacking.
    • Book V, lines 1117–1119 (tr. Rouse)
  • Nam cupide conculcatur nimis ante metutum.
    • Men are eager to tread underfoot what they have once too much feared.
    • Book V, line 1140 (tr. Rouse)
  • Circumretit enim vis atque iniuria quemque,
    atque, unde exortast, at eum plerumque revertit.
    • Violence and injury enclose in their net all that do such things, and generally return upon him who began.
    • Book V, lines 1152–1153 (tr. Rouse)
  • Sic volvenda aetas commutat tempora rerum.
    Quod fuit in pretio, fit nullo denique honore.
    • So rolling time changes the seasons of things. What was of value, becomes in turn of no worth.
    • Book V, lines 1276–1277 (tr. Bailey)
  • Scilicet et fluvius qui visus maximus ei,
    Qui non ante aliquem majorem vidit; et ingens
    Arbor, homoque videtur, et omnia de genere omni
    Maxima quae vidit quisque, haec ingentia fingit.
    • A little river seems to him, who has never seen a larger river, a mighty stream; and so with other things—a tree, a man—anything appears greatest to him that never knew a greater.
    • Book VI, lines 674–677 (quoted in The Essays of Michel de Montaigne, tr. W. C. Hazlitt)


Misattributed[edit]

  • All religions are equally sublime to the ignorant, useful to the politician, and ridiculous to the philosopher.
    • As quoted in What Great Men Think of Religion (1972 [1945]) by Ira D. Cardiff, p. 245. Actually said by Edward Gibbonː "The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful." (The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 1776, Vol. I, Ch. II).

Quotes about Lucretius[edit]

Sublime Lucretius' poetry will pass away
Only when Earth has seen its final day.

Ovid, Am. 1.15.23
  • The poem of Lucretius in six books, entitled "De Rerum Natura," was the first accurate statement of the Epicurean philosophy in the Latin language... no writer has in stronger terms controverted all the popular notions of heathenism, and even those fundamental points in all religions, the existence of a creative power, a providence, and the immortality of the soul. His language and versification partake of the rudeness of an early period of literature; and, in the argumentative parts of his works the poet is frequently scarce discernible. But where the subject admits of elevated sentiment or descriptive beauty, no poet, at least nо Roman poet, has taken a loftier flight, or exhibited more spirit and sublimity. Nor is it only in detached passages that he has displayed the genius of a true poet: the same animated strain is supported almost throughout entire books, when he gets free from the trammels of his system.
    • John Aikin, William Enfield, General Biography; or, Lives, Critical and Historical, of the most eminent Persons of all Ages, Countries, Conditions, and Professions, Vol. VI (1807), p. 378
  • If Lucretius had not been spoiled by the Epicurean system, we should have had a far superior poem to any now in existence. As mere poetry, it is the first of Latin poems.
    • Lord Byron, letter to J. Murray on Bowles' Strictures on Pope (7 February 1821), in The Works of Lord Byron, Complete in One Volume (1826), p. 689
  • If I am not mistaken, the distinguishing character of Lucretius (I mean of his soul and genius) is a certain kind of noble pride, and positive assertion of his opinions. He is every where confident of his own reason, and assuming an absolute command, not only over his vulgar reader, but even his patron Memmius. For he is always bidding him attend, as if he had the rod over him, and using a magisterial authority, while he instructs him. [...] He seems to disdain all manner of replies, and is so confident of his cause, that he is beforehand with his antagonists; urging for them whatever he imagined they could say, and leaving them, as he supposes, without an objection for the future; all this too, with so much scorn and indignation, as if he were assured of the triumph, before he entered into the lists. From this sublime and daring genius of his, it must of necessity come to pass, that his thoughts must be masculine, full of argumentation, and that sufficiently warm. From the same fiery temper proceeds the loftiness of his expressions, and the perpetual torrent of his verse, where the barrenness of his subject does not too much constrain the quickness of his fancy. For there is no doubt to be made, but that he could have been every where as poetical, as he is in his descriptions, and in the moral part of his philosophy, if he had not aimed more to instruct, in his system of nature, than to delight.
  • Titus Lucretius poeta nascitur: qui postea amatorio poculo in furorem versus, cum aliquot libros per intervalla insaniae conscripsisset, quos postea Cicero emendavit, propria se manu interfecit anno aetatis XLIV.
    • The poet Titus Lucretius is born. Later, having become insane by drinking a love potion, after writing during periods of remission several books, which Cicero later edited, he committed suicide at the age of forty-four.
    • Jerome, translation of Eusebius's Chronicon, Ol. 171.3 (94 BC), as reported in "Lucretius and the Symptomatology of Modernism" by Joseph Farrell, published in Lucretius and Modernity (2016), eds. J. Lezra and ‎L. Blake, p. 53
  • [The Roman philosopher Lucretius] thought it a mistake to find the prospect of my death upsetting. Yes, as the deprivation account points out, after death we can't enjoy life's pleasures. But wait a minute, says Lucretius. The time after I die isn't the only period during which I won't exist. What about the period before my birth? If nonexistence is so bad, shouldn't I be upset by the eternity of nonexistence before I was born? But that's silly, right? Nobody is upset about that. So, he concludes, it doesn't make any sense to be upset about the eternity of nonexistence after you die, either.
  • Carmina sublimis tune sunt peritura Lucreti,
    Exitio terras cum dahit una dies.
    • Sublime Lucretius' poetry will pass away
      Only when Earth has seen its final day.
    • Ovid, Amores, Book I, xv, lines 23–24 (tr. Len Krisak)
  • Lucretius, who follows [Epicurus] in denouncing love, sees no harm in sexual intercourse provided it is divorced from passion.
  • Lucretius was passionate, and much more in need of exhortations to prudence than Epicurus was. He committed suicide, and appears to have suffered from periodic insanity – brought on, so some averred, by the pains of love or the unintended effects of a love philtre.
  • Docti furor arduus Lucreti.
    • The high frenzy of skilled Lucretius.
    • Statius, Silvae, Book II, vii, line 76 (tr. D. R. Shackleton Bailey)
  • Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas.
    • Blessed is he who has been able to win knowledge of the causes of things.
    • Virgil, Georgics, Book II, line 490 (tr. H. Rushton Fairclough); possibly a reference to Lucretius.
  • The noblest descriptive poem extant.
    • Joseph Warton, of the Nature of Things, in An Essay on the Writings and Genius of Pope, Vol. I (1756), p. 51
  • The Persians, it is said, distinguish the different degrees of the strength of fancy in different poets, by calling them, painters or sculptors. Lucretius, from the force of his images, should be ranked among the latter. He is, in truth, a sculptor-poet. His images have a bold relief.
    • Joseph Warton, An Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope, Vol. II (1782), p. 165

External links[edit]