Fulgit item, nubes ignis cum semina multa
excussere suo concursu, ceu lapidem si
percutiat lapis aut ferrum; nam tum quoque lumen
exsilit et claras scintillas dissipat ignis.
sed tonitrum fit uti post auribus accipiamus,
fulgere quam cernant oculi, quia semper ad aures
tardius adveniunt quam visum quae moveant res.
id licet hinc etiam cognoscere: caedere si quem
ancipiti videas ferro procul arboris auctum,
ante fit ut cernas ictum quam plaga per aures
det sonitum; sic fulgorem quoque cernimus ante
quam tonitrum accipimus, pariter qui mittitur igni
e simili causa, concursu natus eodem.
(Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 6.160-172)

It lightens also, when clouds by their collision have struck out many seeds of fire; as if stone or steel should strike stone, for then also a light leaps forth scattering abroad bright sparks of fire. But the reason why we hear the thunder after the eyes see the lightning is that things always take longer to reach the ears than to produce vision. The truth of this you may understand from another experience: if you should see someone at a distance cutting down a well-grown tree with a double-headed axe, you see the stroke before its thud sounds in your ears; so also we see lightning before we hear the thunder, which is produced at the same time and by the same cause as the fire and born of the same collision. (tr. William Henry Denham Rouse, revised by Martin F. Smith)


Louis Billotey, Le sacrifice d'Iphigénie, 1935
Louis Billotey, Le sacrifice d’Iphigénie (1935)

Illud in his rebus vereor, ne forte rearis
impia te rationis inire elementa viamque
indugredi sceleris. quod contra saepius illa
religio peperit scelerosa atque impia facta;
Aulide quo pacto Triviai virginis aram
Iphianassai turparunt sanguine foede
ductores Danaum delecti, prima virorum.
cui simul infula virgineos circumdata comptus
ex utraque pari malarum parte profusast,
et maestum simul ante aras adstare parentem
sensit et hunc propter ferrum celare ministros
aspectuque suo lacrimas effundere cives,
muta metu terram genibus submissa petebat.
nec miserae prodesse in tali tempore quibat,
quod patrio princeps donarat nomine regem;
nam sublata virum manibus tremibundaque ad aras
deductast, non ut sollemni more sacrorum
perfecto posset claro comitari Hymenaeo,
sed casta inceste nubendi tempore in ipso
hostia concideret mactatu maesta parentis—
exitus ut classi felix faustusque daretur.
tantum religio potuit suadere malorum.
(Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 1.80-101)

One thing I fear in this matter, that in this your apprenticeship to philosophy you may perhaps see impiety, and the entering on a path of crime; whereas on the contrary more often it is that very Superstition which has brought forth criminal and impious deeds: as when at Aulis the altar of our Lady of the Crossways was foully defiled by the blood of Iphianassa, shed by chosen leaders of the Danai, chieftains of the host. So soon as the ribbon has bound her maiden tresses falling in equal lengths down either cheek, so soon as she saw her father standing sorrowful before the altar, and by his side attendants hiding the knife, and the people shedding tears at the sight of her, dumb with dread, she sank to the ground upon her knees. Alas, poor girl! no help could it be to her at such a time that the name of father had been bestowed on the king first by her; for uplifted by the hands of men, all trembling she was brought to the altar, not that amidst solemn and sacred ritual she might be escorted by loud hymeneal song, but a clean maiden to fall by unclean hands at the very age of wedlock, a victim sorrowful slain by a father’s hand: all in order that a fair and fortunate release might be given to the fleet. So potent was Superstition in persuading to evil deeds. (tr. William Henry Denham Rouse, revised by Martin F. Smith)



Cerberus et Furiae iam vero et lucis egestas,
Tartarus horriferos eructans faucibus aestus!
* * *
qui neque sunt usquam nec possunt esse profecto.
sed metus in vita poenarum pro male factis
est insignibus insignis, scelerisque luella,
carcer et horribilis de saxo iactu’ deorsum,
verbera carnifices robur pix lammina taedae;
quae tamen etsi absunt, at mens sibi conscia factis
praemetuens adhibet stimulos torretque flagellis,
nec videt interea qui terminus esse malorum
possit nec quae sit poenarum denique finis,
atque eadem metuit magis haec ne in morte gravescant.
hic Acherusia fit stultorum denique vita.
(Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 3.1011-1023)

Cerberus*, too, the Furies, the Dearth of Light,
Tartarus** retching and vomiting tides of terror
* * *
which nowhere exist, which simply cannot be.
But in life, the fear of penalty for our sins
is great in the greatest: crime and crime’s atonement,
prison, the terrible hurling from the Rock***,
the lash, the hangman, stake, pitch, iron and brand.
And take these away: the heart knows what we’ve done
and plies the goad and lash to make us cowards,
yet never sees where stands the stone that marks
the end of pain, the bounds of punishment,
but fears these may grow heavier still in death.
Hell is right here, the work of foolish men!

* The three-headed dog who guarded the entrance to the underworld. Furies: the goddesses of vengeance, who punish men for their acts of violence. Dearth of Light: the Underworld itself, which is perennially dark and shadowy.
** The Underworld, Hades. After this line, some lines have been lost. They must have embodied a connective clause of some kind,
*** The reference is to the Tarpeian Rock, a cliff at one corner of the Capitoline Hill in Rome, from which convicted traitors were hurled to their death.

(tr. Frank O. Copley, with his notes)



Et genus humanum multo fuit illud in arvis
durius, ut decuit, tellus quod dura creasset,
et maioribus et solidis magis ossibus intus
fundatum, validis aptum per viscera nervis,
nec facile ex aestu nec frigore quod caperetur
nec novitate cibi nec labi corporis ulla.
multaque per caelum solis volventia lustra
volgivago vitam tractabant more ferarum.
nec robustus erat curvi moderator aratri
quisquam, nec scibat ferro molirier arva
nec nova defodere in terram virgulta neque altis
arboribus veteres decidere falcibus ramos.
quod sol atque imbres dederant, quod terra crearat
sponte sua, satis id placabat pectora donum.
glandiferas inter curabant corpora quercus
plerumque; et quae nunc hiberno tempore cernis
arbita puniceo fieri matura colore,
plurima tum tellus etiam maiora ferebat.
multaque praeterea novitas tum florida mundi
pabula dura tulit, miseris mortalibus ampla.
at sedare sitim fluvii fontesque vocabant,
ut nunc montibus e magnis decursus aquai
claricitat late sitientia saecla ferarum.
denique nota vagis silvestria templa tenebant
nympharum, quibus e scibant umore fluenta
lubrica proluvie larga lavere umida saxa,
umida saxa, super viridi stillantia musco,
et partim plano scatere atque erumpere campo.
(Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 5.925-952)

Man lived in the open then, a harsher breed
by far, of course, for a harsh earth gave him birth.
The bones of his frame were heavier far, and longer;
the muscles, fast to his inner parts, were strong.
He didn’t succumb with ease to heat or cold
or to strange foods or physical weaknesses.
Through many a cycle the sun made through the heavens,
he lived like a wild beast, wandering far and wide.
There was no sturdy guider of the plow,
and no one knew to soften the soil with steel,
or to plant young saplings in the earth, or cut
dead branches from the trees with pruning hooks.
What sun and rain produced, what earth created
naturally, man took, to his heart’s content.
With oak and acorn he cared for creature needs,
mostly; the arbutes that in wintertime
we now see ripen and turn bright scarlet red,
the earth then bore abundantly, and larger.
Besides, the world, then fresh and green, produced
much coarse foodstuffs, ample for sorry souls.
But springs and rivers bade men slake their thirst,
as now bright waters, racing down the mountains,
call clear and far to the thirsting animal-kinds.
And men in their ramblings found the sylvan haunts
of nymphs, from which they learned that streams of water
flowed smooth and abundant, with cool, wet stones awash
(cool, wet stones, green-curtained with dripping moss)
learned, too, where they bubbled and burst from open fields.
(tr. Frank O. Copley)



Si possent homines, proinde ac sentire videntur
pondus inesse animo quod se gravitate fatiget,
e quibus id fiat causis quoque noscere et unde
tanta mali tamquam moles in pectore constet,
haud ita vitam agerent, ut nunc plerumque videmus
quid sibi quisque velit nescire et quaerere semper
commutare locum, quasi onus deponere possit.
exit saepe foras magnis ex aedibus ille,
esse domi quem pertaesumst, subitoque revertit,
quippe foris nilo melius qui sentiat esse.
currit agens mannos ad villam praecipitanter,
auxilium tectis quasi ferre ardentibus instans;
oscitat extemplo, tetigit cum limina villae,
aut abit in somnum gravis atque oblivia quaerit,
aut etiam properans urbem petit atque revisit.
hoc se quisque modo fugit, at quem scilicet, ut fit,
effugere haud potis est, ingratis haeret et odit,
propterea morbi quia causam non tenet aeger;
quam bene si videat, iam rebus quisque relictis
naturam primum studeat cognoscere rerum,
temporis aeterni quoniam, non unius horae,
ambigitur status, in quo sit mortalibus omnis
aetas, post mortem quae restat cumque, manenda.
(Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 3.1053-1075)

If men, who clearly sense the weight that rests
upon their souls and drags them weary down,
could also know what causes this, and whence
this pain that lies like lead upon their hearts,
they would not live as commonly now we see them,
not knowing what they want, in endless quest
of change, as if by this to slough their burden.
Day after day, the great man leaves his palace,
bored sick with home, yet comes right back again
because he finds no better world outside.
He drives his nags top-speed out to his villa,
as if it were burning, and he to put out the fire;
he’s yawning before his foot has passed the door;
in weary search for oblivion, he sleeps,
or turns and gallops away to town again.
Thus each man runs from himself—the self, of course,
he can’t escape but must hold close; he hates it
because, being sick, he can’t know why he’s sick.
If he could see this clear, he’d drop all else
and plunge into learning the nature of the world,
for through eternity, not one hour, extends
the state we’re questioning in which all men,
once they have died, must be, time without end.
(tr. Frank O. Copley)



Nunc tibi quo pacto ferri natura reperta
sit facilest ipsi per te cognoscere, Memmi.
arma antiqua manus ungues dentesque fuerunt
et lapides et item silvarum fragmina rami
et flamma atque ignes, post quam sunt cognita primum.
posterius ferri vis est aerisque reperta.
et prior aeris erat quam ferri cognitus usus,
quo facilis magis est natura et copia maior.
aere solum terrae tractabant, aereque belli
miscebant fluctus et vulnera vasta serebant
et pecus atque agros adimebant; nam facile ollis
omnia cedebant armatis nuda et inerma.
inde minutatim processit ferreus ensis
versaque in opprobrium species est falcis ahenae,
et ferro coepere solum proscindere terrae
exaequataque sunt creperi certamina belli.
(Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 5.1281-1296)

Now, how the nature of iron was discovered,
you may learn easily, Memmius, for yourself.
In ancient times, weapons were teeth and nails
and stones and branches broken from the trees,
flame, too, and fire, once men had come to know them.
Later, men learned the power of iron and bronze.
And bronze they learned to use sooner than iron,
for bronze is simpler to work and more abundant.
With bronze they tilled the soil, with bronze they roiled
the waters of war, and harrowed a waste of wounds,
and seized both herds and lands: no task for them,
thus armed, to conquer the naked and unarmed.
Then little by little the iron sword came in,
and brazen tools became a mockery;
with iron alone men started to plow the soil
and balance the ever uncertain clash of battle.
(tr. Frank O. Copley)



Suave, mari magno turbantibus aequora ventis,
e terra magnum alterius spectare laborem;
non quia vexari quemquamst iucunda voluptas,
sed quibus ipse malis careas quia cernere suave est.
suave etiam belli certamina magna tueri
per campos instructa tua sine parte pericli.
sed nil duclius 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.
o miseras hominum mentes, o pectora caeca!
qualibus in tenebris vitae quantisque periclis
degitur hoc aevi quodcumquest! nonne videre
nil aliud sibi naturam latrare, nisi utqui
corpore seiunctus dolor absit, mensque fruatur
iucundo sensu cura semota metuque?
(Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 2.1-19)

It is comforting, when winds are whipping up the waters of the vast sea, to watch from land the severe trials of another person: not that anyone’s distress is a cause of agreeable pleasure; but it is comforting to see from what troubles you yourself are exempt. It is comforting also to witness mighty clashes of warriors embattled on the plains, when you have no share in the danger. But nothing is more blissful than to occupy the heights effectively fortified by the teaching of the wise, tranquil sanctuaries from which you can look down upon others and see them wandering everywhere in their random search for the way of life, competing for intellectual eminence, disputing about rank, and striving night and day with prodigious effort to scale the summit of wealth and to secure power. O minds of mortals, blighted by your blindness! Amid what deep darkness and daunting dangers life’s little day is passed! To think that you should fail to see that nature importunately demands only that the body may be rid of pain, and that the mind, divorced from anxiety and fear, may enjoy a feeling of contentment! (tr. Martin Ferguson Smith)