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Lucretius 237  Lucretius (ca. 99 b.c.–55 b.c.) From The Nature of Things From Book 1: Against the evils of religion One thing I am concerned about: you might, as you commence Philosophy, decide you see impiety therein, And that the path you enter is the avenue to sin. More often, on the contrary, it is Religion breeds Wickedness and that has given rise to wrongful deeds, As when the leaders of the Greeks, those peerless peers, defiled The Virgin’s altar with the blood of Agamemnon’s child, Iphigenia. As soon as they bound the fillet round her hair So that its ends streamed down her cheeks, the girl became aware That waiting at the temple for her there would be no groom— Instead she saw her father with a countenance of gloom Attended by the priests who kept the blade well hid. The sight Of people shedding tears to see her froze her tongue with fright. She sank to the ground upon her knees. It did not mean a thing For the princess now, that she had been the first to give the king The name of Father. No, for shaking, the poor girl was carried By the hands of men up to the altar, not that she be married With solemn ceremony, to the accompanying strain Of loud-sung bridal hymns, but as a maiden, pure of stain, To be impurely slaughtered, at the age when she should wed, Sorrowful sacrifice slain at her father’s hand instead. All this for fair and favorable winds to sail the fleet along!— So potent was Religion in persuading to do wrong. From Book 3: Against the fear of death You might, from time to time, give yourself this to recite: “Even Ancus the Good has looked his last upon the light, Who was a better man than you by far, you reprobate, And since his day, the sun of many a king and potentate 238 Latin Who held sway over mighty peoples has set. Yes, even he1 Who for his legions paved a road across the great blue sea And taught them how to stride the salty main, he who held cheap The ocean’s roar and with his horses trampled on the deep— Robbed of light, his spirit fled, he too went to the grave. And Scipio, firebrand of war, the Scourge of Carthage, gave His bones unto the earth like any slave of humble duty. Add to these the pioneers of Wisdom and of Beauty, Add the companions of the Muses, poets of renown. Even Homer, the one and only who deserves the crown, Even he now sleeps one sleep with all the rest. The sage Democritus, when he was warned by his advanced old age That the motions of his mind—his very memory—were fading, He himself gave his own head to Death, unhesitating! Even great Epicurus, once the light of life had run Its course, perished, the very man whose brilliance outshone The human race, eclipsing all, just as the burning sun, Risen, snuffs out all the stars. So who are you to balk And whine at death? You’re almost dead in life, although you walk And breathe. You fritter away most of your time asleep. You snore With your eyes open; you never leave off dreaming, and a score Of empty nightmares fills your mind and shakes it to the core. Often, addled and dizzy, you don’t even know what’s wrong— You find yourself besieged at every turn by a whole throng Of cares, and drift on shifting currents of uncertainty.” Men feel a heaviness upon their minds, it’s plain to see, That weighs them down. If they could grasp the cause of this ennui, This heap of misery and care that hunkers on the heart, They would not lead the lives we see they do for the most part, 1. Xerxes, king of Persia, who built a pontoon bridge over the Hellespont in 480 b.c., on his way to invade Greece. Lucretius 239  None knowing what he wants, each ever seeking a change of place— As if he could lay his burden down by traveling through space. Often a man who’s sick and tired of his own hearth will roam From his roomy mansion, only in a trice to come back home Because he feels no better when he’s somewhere else. He heads For his country villa, driving his imported thoroughbreds Hell-for...


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