shapes of things: grim final discords

….at last the signs of death in the hollowed cheeks and nostrils and bared teeth. Enough? No. Lucretius does not stop there; he goes on, still with the same febrile, fascinated attention, to describe the disintegration of society, the sick dying in the streets, the many corpses lying unburied, and the sad rites of burial thus perverted.

… For now no longer men
Did mightily esteem the old Divine,
The worship of the gods: the woe at hand
Did over-master. Nor in the city then
Remained those rites of sepulture, with which
That pious folk had evermore been wont
To buried be. For it was wildered all
In wild alarms, and each and every one
With sullen sorrow would bury his own dead,
As present shift allowed. And sudden stress
And poverty to many an awful act
Impelled; and with a monstrous screaming they
Would, on the frames of alien funeral pyres,
Place their own kin, and thrust the torch beneath
Oft brawling with much bloodshed round about
Rather than quit dead bodies loved in life. Read More:

These are the last words. This is the end of a poem designed to free mankind from fear, to teach that life can be understood and lived out in a state of tranquil happiness.

Sonnenstern. —End of Book II:Have fallen out in vain, and, as he thinks How present times are not as times of old, Often he praises the fortunes of his sire, And crackles, prating, how the ancient race, Fulfilled with piety, supported life With simple comfort in a narrow plot, Since, man for man, the measure of each field Was smaller far i’ the old days. And, again, The gloomy planter of the withered vine Rails at the season’s change and wearies heaven, Nor grasps that all of things by sure degrees Are wasting away and going to the tomb, Outworn by venerable length of life.—- Image:

Thus, in reading Lucretius’s poem The Nature of Things, as a series of emotional experiences, we can see that it is profoundly pessimistic. Lucretius seemed to affirm that reason and logic could solve all of man’s problems, but his verses are charged with tormented, agonizing doubt, leaving the conclusion in a kind of purgatory itself, dwarfing some of the circularity of the aetheistic conjecture on the relationship between fear and death.

Epicurus’s teaching is, on the whole, optimistic. Life, it holds, is easy to enjoy if you are sensible about it: a few friends, a retired garden, simple food, a tranquil mind, these are the sum of human welfare. Excitement-sexual passion, the intoxication of wine, or any emotional outburst- is highly dangerous; gloomy forebodings and dismal sights should naturally be shunned and quite the contrast with Lucretius’s ending of death infested somber and morbid poetry.

Jean-Marc Scanreigh art—For most scientists, philosophers of science, and historians of science, the greatest discovery of the last 100 years was the recognition that all of the matter, energy, space, and time of the universe had a beginning a finite time ago. The universe began–it is finite with regard to both space and time. Lucretius and Epicurus were wrong on this basic score, as were Kant and Darwin. I am left wondering whether Hitchens and Dawkins fail to realize the implications (for metaphysical naturalism) or are simply in denial of the evidence. —Read More: image:

Lucretius seemed to die leaving the poem incomplete. There remains, unresolved, the hideous discord between the opening of the poem, a magnificent full-chorded paean to Venus which inspired Botticelli to paint Mars and Venus, and its present close like the gates of Auschwitz slamming shut. Between the Epicurean doctrine of tranquil pleasure enjoyed by individuals and this overattentive description of the physical and moral collapse of a civilization.

The same dissonance exists elsewhere. Te poem is set out in six books and each opens with grand confidence that extolls the freedom from fear given by true philosophy; but of these six only one closes optimistically. One is neutral and the other four end in thoughts of gloom, dissolution and death. In Book II, there is a fade out with a picture of a despairing farmer trying to wring crops out of aging and exhausted earth; a picture that makes an irreconcilable antithesis to Book I, with its glorification of Nature ever young and fresh. Book III, after calmly explaining that, since the soul is mortal, death is nothing to be feared, moves into this grim final chord:

That chance may bring, or what the issue next
Awaiting us. Nor by prolonging life
Take we the least away from death’s own time,
Nor can we pluck one moment off, whereby
To minish the aeons of our state of death.
Therefore, O man, by living on, fulfil
As many generations as thou may:
Eternal death shall there be waiting still;
And he who died with light of yesterday
Shall be no briefer time in death’s No-more
Than he who perished months or years before.

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