De Rerum Natura: Book V

Translated by Christopher Kelk

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Who can create prodigious poetry

On all these findings and the majesty

Of Nature? Who can speak praise that is worth

His intellect and to such gems give birth

And pass them on to us? Well, certainly

No mortal! For as this known majesty

Demands, he was a god, great Memmius –

O yes, a god, the first of all of us

To find the reasoned plan of life we call

Wisdom and out of such tempestuous squall 10

And darkness settled it in light so clear.

Compare discoveries of yesteryear:

Ceres, they say, invented corn, Bacchus

Pioneered the liquor of the vine for us;

And yet without these things we could endure,

As they say others do. But when impure,

A mind can’t live a good life. Therefore we

Can credit this man with divinity

With better reason, for he has supplied

Great states with solace that has mollified 20

Men’s minds. But if you think you can compare

The deeds of Hercules with him, it’s fair

To say you’re wrong. For why would we have cause

To fear the great Nemean lion’s jaws

Or yet the bristling boar of Arcady?

How could the Cretan bull cause misery?

The pest of Lerna? Or what suffering

Can poisonous Hydra cause? What of the king

With triple breasts? What of those birds of prey

That hunted the Strymphian lake? Or, say, 30

The steeds of Diomedes, breathing fire?

The beast of the Hesperides, fierce, dire,

Guarding the golden apples, piercingly

Glaring, coiled tightly round the trunk of a tree –

By the Atlantic shore beside the grim

Regions of ocean, what mischief from him

Can we expect? For nobody goes there,

Neither the Romans nor those from elsewhere.

How can such monsters, now they have been slain,

Cause such distress? They cannot, I maintain - 40

The earth now teems with wild beasts, but our dread

Is mostly of the lands we never tread

Upon, the forests, peaks, woods that lie deep

Below us. If, however, we don’t sweep

The evil from our minds, what feuds shall we

Incite, what menaces, whether it be

Our will or no? Lust brings anxiety

To mortals: great is their timidity.

But what of pride and smut and biliousness?

The pain they cause is so calamitous. 50

Lasciviousness and sloth? The man who’s cast

Them from his mind into the icy blast

Of winds by words, and not by swords – should he

Not be included in the panoply

Of gods? – especially since in godlike fashion

He spoke about the gods themselves with passion

And told us of the cause of everything.

His steps I trace, his doctrines following: 60

How everything abides by the decree

By which they’ re made you’re learning now from me,

And how Time’s solid laws they can’t recall.

The nature of the mind is, first of all,

A body that is born but cannot keep

Intact for long, but images, in sleep,

Alone mislead it when we seem to see

A man who’s died. My reason, finally,

Is that the world, though mortal, also came

To be created, for it’s just the same 70

With earth, sky, sea, stars, sun and moon; I’ll show

What animals arose from earth, although

Some were not born at all; and I will teach

How humans used multiple kinds of speech

By giving names to things, and how the fear

Crept in the hearts of mortals, so that here

On earth their groves and altars we maintain,

Their pools and images; and I’ll explain

How Nature steers the motions of the sun

And moon lest it occur to anyone 80

That they move of their own accord to aid

Increase of crops and beasts or that they’re made

To do their work by some divinity.

If those who have been taught appropriately

That gods are carefree, though they’re mystified

That life goes on, especially since they’ve spied

Celestial incidents, they will return

To ancient fallacies and hope to learn

From harsh taskmasters, thinking wretchedly

That they’re omniscient, though what can be 90

Or what cannot be they themselves don’t know,

In other words how everything can show

Scant strength and a boundary-stone that’s been set deep.

Well then, I’ll make no promises to keep

You longer. Firstly, look at every sea,

The earth and sky. They, Memmius, have three

Masses and three foundations, all discrete,

And yet in just one day they’re bound to meet

Their end: the great, meshed system of the world,

Upheld through many eons, will be hurled 100

To ruin. Yet I find it strange to be

Aware of heaven and earth’s fatality

And how hard it will be by argument

To prove. This happens when your ears are bent

To something you have not heard hitherto

And cannot hold nor bring into your view

(For this you’ll find the truth). Yet I will be

Forthright. The very facts themselves maybe

Will earn belief and shortly there’ll arise

Destructive earthquakes right before your eyes. 110

May fortune spare us this, and may insight,

Not the event, teach us the world just might

Collapse with a dreadful crash. Initially,

Before I start to speak, more solemnly

And with more reasoning than at Delphi

Apollo’s oracle was spoken, I

Will comfort you with perspicuity

Lest, curbed by superstition, you maybe

Think earth, sun, sky, stars, moon and ocean’s tide

Are heavenly bodies and thus must abide 120

Forever and believe a penalty

Should be imposed for their iniquity

(Just like the Giants) since with reasoning

They shook the world to quench the glimmering

Of heaven’s sun, while also bringing low

Immortal things with mortal speech, although

They’re far from holy and don’t rate a place

Among the gods, but rather, in their case,

We should believe that they are motionless,

Possessing not a whit of consciousness. 130

For mind and understanding can’t reside

In everything, just as the ocean’s tide

Contains no clouds, the upper air can’t yield

A single tree, no fish live in a field,

Wood holds no blood, no sap is in a stone:

It’s firmly fixed where each thing must be grown

And live. Without a frame mentality

Cannot arise, nor can it ever be

Far from sinews and blood. But if it could

Perform these things, more easily it would 140

Do so in head, heels, shoulders, anywhere

In the same man, but since within us there

Is seen a hard-and-fast rule and decree

That tells where mind and spirit have to be

To grow apart – thus must it be denied

That it cannot completely live inside

The body’s structure, and it cannot fare

In crumbling clods of earth or in the air

Or water or the fires of the sun.

No god-made feeling, then, in anyone 150

Of them exists, since they aren’t animated.

Another thing must be repudiated –

The gods have no abode in any part

Of the world since their thin nature’s far apart

From all our senses – thus we cannot see

It in our mind; nor can it possibly

Touch what we touch, because it keeps away

From being touched by us, for nothing may

Touch when it can’t be touched itself. And hence

Their homes can’t be like ours, for evidence 160

Shows that they’re thin. I will expatiate

Upon this later on. Further, to state

That for the sake of man the gods devised

The great world and should thus be eulogized

And think that it can live forevermore

And that something established long before

In heaven should not live eternally

To aid mankind and not be radically

Forevermore from top to bottom thrust

And be by argument consigned to dust 170

Is but a foolish act, dear Memmius.

For how could mankind be so generous

As to deserve the gods’ philanthropy?

After they’ve lived long in tranquillity

What novelty entices them to make

A change? For clearly one will have to take

Pleasure in new things once he’s been harassed

By old ones. If, however, in times past

He’s lived a life of pure serenity,

What then could spark a love of novelty? 180

What injury, had we not been created,

Was there for us to suffer? Were we fated

To wallow in our gloomy misery

Till light on our creation shone? For he

Who has been born must have a lasting care

To carry on as long as he’s kept there

By soothing happiness. However, he

Who’s never tasted life would equally

Remain unhurt. Again, whence was the thought

That was the start of all creation brought 190

To the gods, even an idea of mankind

In order that they might bring to their mind

What they should make? How could they ever see

The power of germs? What, through variety,

May they not do if Nature had not made

A model for creation? A parade

Of many first-beginnings, frequently

Smitten and borne by their own energy,

Have moved and met together and combined

In many structures so that they might find 200

Something they could produce. No wonder they

Made such designs, displaying an array

Of movements, as this sum of things now shows

As by eternal scrutiny it grows.

Yet granting that I did not even know

About the first beginnings, I would go

So far as, from the ways of heaven, to state

And, from a mass of facts, elaborate

That the nature of all things has not been made

By godly power, for it has been betrayed 210

By many faults. All that the canopy

Of heaven covers is extensively

Filled up with forests where wild animals roam,

As well as mountains and the sea, whose foam

Parts shores, and rocks and swamps. Two-thirds of these,

Almost, have weather that would make men freeze

To death or die of heatstroke, and therefore

They have been robbed from mortals. Furthermore,

Brambles envelop all the land that’s left,

Though men fight back, wont to apply their heft 220

With mattocks out of sheer necessity.

However, if with all this industry

We could not give them life, no growth could fly

Spontaneously into the lambent sky;

And sometimes, once procured with diligent toil,

When they’re already covering the soil

With leafage, all in bloom, the sun will beat

Upon them with a monumental heat

Or they’re cut off by sudden rain or frost

Or by grim blasts of winds and tempest tossed. 230

And why does Nature feed and help to grow

The frightful tribes of savage beasts although

They’re mankind’s foes across all lands and seas?

And why do certain seasons bring disease?

Why does untimely death stalk us? Besides,

Just like a sailor cast in cruel tides,

A naked child lies speechless on the earth

In need of vital aid since at its birth,

Cast forth to face the regions of daylight,

It fills the air with cries – as well it might 240

Considering the miseries that lie

Ahead. Those flocks and herds, though, multiply,

As do the savage beasts: they don’t possess

The need to hear a nurse’s tenderness

Or baby-talk or rattles, nor do they

Need different clothes depending on the day,

High walls to guard their own or weaponry –

From earth they have a superfluity

Of all that they require, for Nature brings

Her ingenuity to fashion things. 250

Since earth and water and torridity

And wind’s light breezes, which we all may see

Compose this sum of everything, possess

A mortal body, we may also guess

The world is likewise built. For when we see

That beasts have mortal bodies, naturally

They must be mortal too and therefore, when

I see the world consumed and born again,

I may be certain that once in the past

Both heaven and earth were born but will not last

Forever. But you must not have presumed 260

I begged the question there when I assumed

That earth and fire are both subject to death

When I was quick to say in the same breath

That air and water are reborn and start

To grow again; in the first place, a part

Of Earth, much blackened by eternal heat

And trampled by a multitude of feet,

Exhales a cloud of dust and flying spray

Which by strong blasts of wind are blown away. 270

Rains wash away some soil, and rivers gnaw

And nibble at the banks and, furthermore,

What Earth feeds and increases then will be

Returned with due proportionality.

Since Nature is the universal womb,

It’s just as certain that she is the tomb:

You see the earth diminishes therefore,

Expands and grows again and, furthermore,

There is no need to say that rivers, sea

And springs always well up abundantly. 280

But what streams up at first is moved away,

And so the moisture’s volume still will stay

The same, in part because strong winds then hit

The surface of the sea and lessen it

And by the sun’s rays it is decomposed,

In part because deep down it gets disposed

Through all the earth beneath. The pungency

Is strained off and the moisture oozingly

Returns and everything meets at the source

Of every river, whence it may then course 290

Along the paths cut for it. Now to you

I’ll speak about the air which changes through

Its entire body all the time in ways

So different, for everything that strays

From things is borne into that massive tract

Of air; and if this air did not react

And send back particles to them again,

Renewing them as they fly off, well then

All is dissolved in air, which thus must be

Produced from things and fall back constantly 300

Into things. The generous fountain of clear light,

The sun, diligently shines in heaven so bright,

Ever renewing beams which, when they fall,

Are lost. When in between that fiery ball

And mortals clouds appear and in the skies

Break up its rays, you now must realize

Its lower part is gone immediately

And Earth’s blacked out wherever clouds may be:

Things always need new light, as you now know,

And one by one we lose each dazzling glow, 310

And we can’t see things in the sun unless

The source of light gives us a limitless

Supply. Again, you see on earth at night

Light’s sources – hanging lamps, all shining bright

With flickering flashes, thick with smoke and fed

With fire in similar manner, keen to spread

Their light around, unbroken (it would seem)

And not departing, for with each new beam

They stop their own extinction speedily

From all those fires. And so, accordingly, 320

By sun and moon and stars a light’s sent out

That’s always new, and this we must not doubt,

And the first fire is lost once it is sent,

So do not think their force is permanent.

And even stones are conquered gradually,

Towers fall, rocks crumble and eventually

Gods’ temples and their images wear away

And crack so that gods’ powers can’t delay

The fates and strive against the laws decreed

By Nature. We see statues go to seed 330

And lumps of rock roll down a mountainside

Summarily, unable to abide

The finite tides of time while safe and sound.

Do but observe what holds its arms around

The earth: if everything by them is made,

As some folk say, and, once it has decayed,

Is taken back by them, then you may see

That all is subject to mortality;

For what increases with its nourishment

Other things out of itself must then be meant 340

To be diminished and revivified

When it takes back those very things. Beside

All this, if there had been one primal birth

That caused creation of both heaven and earth,

Why have not other poets sung before

Events foreshadowing the Theban War

Or Troy’s destruction? And into what place

Have so many exploits, lacking bardic grace,

Fallen? The world’s young, for not long ago

Was its beginning, I believe. And so 350

Improvement’s being brought to every kind

Of art at different rates; and we may find

That ships are stronger built, while recently

Musicians learned to fashion melody,

While Nature’s system of the world has been

Found recently, and I myself am seen

To be the first who’s able to report

It in our tongue. But if you are the sort

To think that all of this is just the same

And many folk have died in scorching flame 360

Or by some universal tragedy

Cities have fallen or incessantly

Torrents have swept across the earth and brought

Destruction on the towns, your very thought

 Betrays you, and you’ll think that earth and sky

Will be destroyed – when they’re bombarded by

Great dangers, if a worse calamity

Then came upon them, there would surely be

Widespread destruction. If someone’s unwell

With just the same infection that befell 370

A man who died of it, we must be known

As mortal. Any body that has shown

Its immortality must be compact,

Thus able to reject each harsh impact,

Keeping its close-joined parts unseparated,

For matter’s particles, as I’ve related,

Are close-joined; maybe it’s because it’s free

Of blows, just as the void is, similarly

Untouched; or maybe it’s because there’s no

Space round it whither entities may go 380

And vanish (since the sum of all of us,

The universe, is ever limitless),

And there’s no place where elements may spring

Apart, no bodies, either, that may fling

Themselves upon it and with one strong blow

Dissolve it. But, as I was keen to show,

The world’s not solid, since the void is blent

With certain things, and yet one can’t assent

That it is like the void; but there is no

Shortage of bodies which may meet and go 390

Beyond the infinite and overcome

With volleys of destructiveness this sum

Of things; moreover, there’s no scarcity

Of space whence it through its profundity

May scatter out the ramparts of the world,

Against which other forces may be hurled.

Death, then, may greet the sun, the earth, the sky,

The sea, for it is ever standing by

With its large, hideous maw: you must confess

They’re mortal, and all those things which possess 400

Mortality cannot feel enmity

For Time’s great strength through all eternity.

Fire, water, air, earth, all of which include

Most of the world, battled feud after feud

In godless war: therefore can you not see

An end may come to their hostility?

Maybe all water by the scorching sun

May be consumed: they try to get this done,

So far without success; the rivers bring

A huge supply while further threatening 410

To flood us all – in vain, it’s found to be,

Because winds sweep the surface of the sea,

Thus loosening the liquid, while on high

The sun unpicks them with its rays; to dry

Them up they hope with confidence, that they

May win before the waters have their way.

Their warlike spirit’s fierce as they collide

In well-matched contest that they may decide

About a mighty cause successfully;

At one time fire had the mastery; 420

At one time, too, water, as people say,

Was king across the fields. Fire held sway

And burned up many things, when, very far

From his own bailiwick, Phaethon’s car,

Pulled by the sun’s strong horses, mightily

Was whirled through sky and earth. But angrily

Great Jove flung down a sudden thunderbolt,

And the ambitious Phaethon with a jolt

Crashed to the earth; the sun then, at his fall,

Took up from him the lamp that lights us all 430

And, bringing back the steeds that trembled so,

Yoked them again (this Greek tale well you know)

And placed them on their proper path. This song,

However, proves to be completely wrong,

Removed from reason – fire can succeed

When, gathered up, its particles exceed

The average number; but it then, somehow

Thrust back, falls down, or else we all would now

Be thoroughly scorched. Once water, as they say,

Gathered up as well and started to hold sway, 440

Whose waves destroyed much of humanity,

But in some way it lost its energy:

The rains stopped and the rivers lost a deal

Of force. But next in order I’ll reveal

How matter forms the earth, the sky, the sea,

The sun, the moon. For there was certainly

No plan that led their first seeds to array

Themselves in order and they had no say

In how each one of them should fabricate

Its movements; but each seed, by its own weight, 450

Is borne forever through eternity

Up to our present time and regularly

Is struck and tries out every combination

Of movement, summoning this explanation:

Once they are brought together suddenly

They often start great things through land and sea

And sky, creating the first generation

Of living creatures. In that situation

One could not see the sun’s wheel soaring high

Nor the great constellations nor the sky 460

Or sea or earth or anything that we

Might know of but an abnormality –

An alien storm, a mass of seeds that wrought

Disharmony among them all and brought

Chaos to intervals, connections, tracks,

As well as meetings, motions and attacks,

Because their shapes and forms differed in kind

And therefore all of them were not combined

For long and could not move appropriately

Together. Parts began subsequently 470

To separate, as like with like would blend,

And parcel out the universe and lend

A shape to things – that is to say, divide

Heaven from Earth and set a place aside

To house the sea alone that it might be

Apart from, in their own locality,

Heavens’ pure fires. The bodies of the earth,

Heavy and meshed, merged and took as their berth

The bottom, and the more that they combined,

The more they squeezed out particles confined 480

Within them so that they could make the sea,

The mighty walls that shield humanity,

The stars, the sun, the moon – their seeds display

More roundness and more smoothness and are way

Smaller than are the earth’s. So as it sped

Through the loose-knit interstices to spread

Out of parts of the earth, the flaming air

Rose up and lightly drew away a fair

Amount of fire. Thus, too, we often view

The radiant sun tinting the morning dew 490

And all the lakes and ever-running streams,

Exuding mist, while Earth occasionally seems

To smoke; and when these join together on high,

Clouds knit a concrete weave beneath the sky.

Thus with coherent body the light air

Bent all around, diffusing everywhere

And fenced in all the rest voraciously.

The sun and moon began sequentially,

Alternatively turning in the air;

But neither Earth nor ether took a share 500

Of them – with insufficient heaviness

They could not sink and settle: nonetheless

They weren’t so lightweight that they could not flow

About the upper air, remaining, though,

Revolving like live bodies In between

Both regions, just as some of us are seen

At rest, some on the move. Accordingly,

When these had been retraced, suddenly

The earth sank down to where the sea spreads wide

And drowned its hollows in the salty tide. 510

And, blow by frequent blow through countless days,

The earth solidified from the sun’s rays

And ether’s tide, retreating to its core,

And so the salt and sweat would all the more,

Squeezed from its body, ooze out to the sea

And lakes, extending their capacity,

And so much more those particles of heat

And air flew off and, high above, would meet

And pack the heaven’s regions, the plateaus

Were settled down, the lofty mountains rose 520

In height, whose rocks lost their ability

To sink, nor could all sides to the same degree

Subside. The heavy earth with compact frame

Solidified, and Earth’s detritus came

To settle in the depths, and then the sea,

Air, ether, made up of liquidity,

Were all left pure, with some of them more light

Than others, although ether reached the height,

Above the rest, in both consistencies,

And hovers far above the airy breeze 530

And does not mingle its consistency

With storms, allowing everything to be

Disturbed by violent tempests and harassed

By wayward squalls while sailing safely past

With its own fires. Indeed the Black Sea shows

Ether with just one current gently flows.

How heavenly bodies move now let me sing:

First, if great heaven’s ever circling,

The air must press the pole at either end

And hold it from without to keep it penned 540

From both directions, while another air

Above moves in the same direction where

The world’s stars shine, or else another flows

Below and lifts the orb so that it goes

The other way, just as the rivers turn

Their wheels and buckets. Also, we may learn

That it is possible the heavens stay

At rest while all the stars go on their way,

Whether because the ether is confined

And, searching for an exit, has to wind 550

Around and roll the fires everywhere

Through the night-thundering regions of the air,

Or else the fires are driven from a place

Outside by air, or, with a stealthy pace,

They creep where food invites them to partake

Of nourishment as through the sky they make

Their way. For it is difficult to say

Which cause prevails for certain: for what may

Be done and is indeed done variously

In various worlds is what you’ll hear from me: 560

More causes I’ll draw up to clarify

The movements of the stars throughout the sky;

One cause, though, must hold true for us also,

Making the movements of the stars, although

A step-by-step approach can’t indicate

Which one. It’s proper that the world’s whole weight,

In order that the earth may occupy

Its very core, should gradually fly

Away, diminishing; and there should be

Beneath the earth another entity, 570

United with it since the very start

Of life, tied also to each airy part.

Thus it’s no burden and does not depress

The airy breezes, as the limbs no less

Aren’t burdensome, and as the human head

Won’t tax the neck: as well, let it be said,

We do not feel the body’s weight to be

A burden on the feet. Contrarily,

All weights that come from outside and are set

On us annoy, often much smaller yet, 580

However. What each thing can do is key

In nature, then. The earth, similarly,

Is not something brought suddenly from elsewhere

And cast upon us in an alien air –

It was created from the very start

Of the whole world and is a rooted part

Of it, just like our limbs are. Furthermore,

Earth, shaken suddenly with a thunderous roar,

Shakes everything above itself, a thing

Which it could never do did it not cling 590

Securely to the airy parts. For they

Have been united since the world’s first day

By common roots. Do you not also see

Our body, in spite of its density,

Is held up by our spirit’s flimsiness,

Only because its parts all coalesce?

Again, what’s able, leaping vigorously,

To raise the body? What else could it be

Except the powerful spirit shepherding

The limbs? Thus something flimsy, mingling 600

With a heavy body, shows how vigorous

It is, as the mind’s strength is joined with us,

And air with Earth? The sun’s heat and its wheel

Can’t be much greater than the heat we feel

And wheel we see. However far from here

Come rays of fiery light to bring us cheer

By warming us, they lessen not a thing

Throughout this span, not ever narrowing

In our perception. Heat and flooding light

We feel and see, the whole world shining bright 610

With all its rays: the sun’s size and its figure

We then can see, no smaller and no bigger.

The moon, whether she makes the world so bright

As on she travels with her bastard light

Or casts her own light, nonetheless her size

Is just the same as that which meets our eyes.

For things we see afar through lots of air

Become dimmed in appearance before they’re

Lessened in size. The moon, whose shape is clear,

Must be perceived on high as we down here 620

Perceive it. All fires that on earth we see,

While they’re quite visible, occasionally

Appear to change but little either way

In size, according to how far away

They are, and so the fires that meet our eyes

Up in the sky must hardly change their size.

Nor should we wonder how the sun, so slight

In size, can radiate sufficient light

To fill the lands, oceans and skies and spread

Its heat upon them all – it can be said 630

That hence there was created one huge spring

To splash its flood on all of us and fling

Its light, since there are elements of heat

That congregate from everywhere and meet,

Having one single source. Do you not see

How sometimes one whole spring will plenteously

Flood fields and meadows? It is true also

That with but little heat the sun may glow

Profoundly, if by chance the air should be

Apt to be struck by a small quantity 640

Of heat, as someone may at times remark

A mighty conflagration from one spark

Destroy some corn and straw. And we may guess

The sun, while shining brightly, may possess

Some hidden heat which makes the sun’s rays swell.

There’s no one explanation that can tell

How from its summer home the sun may go

To Capricorn amid the winter’s snow

And then to Cancer’s solstice, how indeed

The moon is able, with twelve times the speed 650

Of the sun, traverse the same space. As I say,

To solve all this there is no single way.

A likely cause is what Democritus

Has with his splendid wisdom left to us:

While different bodies in the sky progress,

The closer to the earth they are, the less

They’re carried by the whirling of the skies;

The rapid energy of their movement dies

Away, the sun is gradually dropped back,

In rear of all the signs of the zodiac, 660

Because it is much lower than they are;

The moon is lower still and very far

From the sky, closer to earth, and therefore she

Can less vie with the signs: proportionately,

As she is borne with less velocity,

Being lower from the sun, the sooner she

Is outrun by the signs: she seems to go

Back to the signs more rapidly, although

The signs return to her. Quite possibly

From various parts two airs alternately 670

At certain times could flow, one strong enough

That from the signs of summer it could puff

The sun to winter’s solstice and the blast

Of stiffening cold: another one would cast

Him back again to areas replete

With zodiacal signs and burning heat.

With similar reasoning we must resolve

That moon and stars, which constantly revolve

Through countless periods extensively,

Are blown about quite unpredictably. 680

Do you not see that clouds scud, driven by

Opposing winds in layers, low and high?

Could not the constellations equally

Be carried through the air’s trajectory?

But night obscures the earth with murkiness,

Either because the sun in weariness,

At journey’s end, has breathed his fires out,

Or else since he’s been forced to turn about

Beneath the earth by the same force that bore

His orb above the earth the day before. 690

At a fixed time Matuta spreads around

Her rosy dawn to make the world abound

With light, either because the sun on high,

The earth now left behind, reaches the sky

And tries to kindle it, or else maybe

The fires establish a confederacy,

While many seeds of heat are wont to flow

Together at a certain time, and so

A new light from the sun appears each day,

As at sunrise on Ida, so they say, 700

Are scattered fires seen which then cohere

Into one globe and form a single sphere.

No wonder, though, that this is so, for we

Have seen so many things that come to be

At certain times: at certain times the trees

Will bloom, and when the time arrives for these

To shed their flowers, they do so. Years decree

That teeth fall out, and young lads equally

Will be mature in time, and a beard will grow;

At certain seasons lightning, rain, wind, snow 710

Occur. For causes thus have ever been

Since the beginning, and all of us have seen

Things happening in this way, and now in turn

And in established order they return.

Days also may increase and nights may wane.

Or days may lessen while the nights may gain

Increase, either because the sun, which glides

Above and underneath the earth, divides

The sky into unequal arcs, and when

He takes a piece from one part he will then 720

Allot it to the other till he’s got

Up to the heaven’s sign where stands the knot

That matches day with night. For in between

The North Wind and the South heaven is seen

To hold her turning-points with equal space

Between them, corresponding to the place

Where sits the zodiac, where the sun, as he

Creeps through the earth and heaven annually

In sideways mode and shines, as has been stated

By men of science who have formulated 730

The regions of the sky and set in place

The signs; or else because the air in space

Is closer here and there, and thus his light

Can easily pass through and scale the height

Of heaven: thus winter nights are lingering

And long until the gleam of day can bring

Us light; or maybe since for the same reason

There tends to be at every different season

A slower and a quicker fiery pace

To make the sun rise in a certain place. 740

The moon may shine struck by the sun’s bright rays

And through the steady progress of the days

Induce that light piecemeal slowly to veer

Towards us as she quits that solar sphere

Until she faces him with fullest light

And sees him setting as she scales the height:

Then step by step, that light she has to hide,

The nearer to the sun we see her glide

From the opposing reason where exist

The zodiacal signs, as they insist 750

Who claim the moon is round and keeps below

The sun as on she travels. It’s also

Possible she possesses her own light

As she revolves, while variably bright.

Another body, too, may move beside

The moon, in many ways as on they glide,

Obstructing and impeding her, although

It can’t be seen because it has no glow.

It’s possible that like a ball she might

Revolve, one half of her suffused with light, 760

And turn so that her phases are disclosed

In turn in order that we are exposed

To the part endowed with fire, then by degrees

She turns it to her back till no-one sees

That part (a Babylonian theory

With which other astronomers disagree,

As if another’s doctrine can’t be true

Or there’s no decent rationale that you

Should choose this over that). And finally,

The reason a new moon can’t always be 770

Created, shapes and phases newly set

Each day, the old cast off, another yet

Replacing it is hard to prove when we

See many things created fixedly.

The Spring, Venus, and Venus’ harbinger,

Winged Cupid, marching on ahead of her,

Then Zephyr, and then Flora, scattering

The path before them all and covering

It all with brilliant hues and scents, next Heat

And dusty Ceres and the winds that beat 780

From northern lands and Autumn alongside

Bacchus, and then ensues a windy tide

And seasons, first Vertumnus, thundering high,

Then Auster, lord of lightning. By and by

The shortest day brings snows and numbing chill,

Then winter, chattering with cold. It will

Seem less surprising if the moon should be

Born and once more destroyed specifically

At some fixed time because that is the case

With many other things. Now you must face 790

The fact eclipses of the sun also,

And hidings of the moon, can let us know

A number of causes. For why should it be

That Moon can block the luminosity

Of the sun from earth, thrusting her head up high

With her dark orb and yet, as it glides by,

Another body also without light

Is thought incapable of this, too? And might

The sun at some fixed time be able, too,

To get rid of his fires and then renew 800

His light once through the heavens he has crossed

Places that hate his flames and thus has lost

Them for a while? Why can the earth deny

The moon her light while she is passing high

Above the sun, applying all her force

Upon him, while upon her monthly course

Through the clear-cut and conical shadows she

Glides on, while there’s another entity

That cannot pas beneath the moon and stream

Above the sun and interrupt his gleam? 810

But if the moon shines with her own bright face,

Why should she not grow faint in some fixed place

Up in the heavenly skies while passing through

Regions that hate her light? To continue:

How all things might occur in the firmament

I’ve dealt with that we may be competent

In understanding how the sun can be

Moved on its course and though what energy

And cause, and how the moon goes on its course,

And how their light’s obstructed and what force 820

Plunges us all in darkness as they seem

To wink and then with open eye to gleam

Once more, and therefore the world’s infancy

And fields of tender earth again will be

My theme, what was thought fit to be created

In lands of light and to be delegated

To wayward winds. At first the grasses grew

About the hills and plains with their green hue

And all the blooming meadows shone out green,

And in some trees a great contest was seen, 830

As with full speed they raced to reach the air.

As on four-footed creatures feathers, hair

And bristles grow, so then the new-born earth

To undergrowth and herbage first gave birth,

And then, to implement her propagation,

She, generation after generation,

Made many mortal creatures differently

Depending on the breed. For obviously

No animal has fallen from the sky

While land-beasts did not ever occupy 840

Salt pools. It’s right that Earth received the name

Of mother because out of her there came

All creatures. Even in our time the earth

To many living animals gives birth,

Fashioned by rain or warm rays that arise

From the sun. Thus it is less of a surprise

That there more and larger ones which grew

Back in the time when Earth and Air were new.

The winged beasts then hatched their young in spring,

Just as cicadas, hoping thus to bring 850

Life to their brood, in summer presently

Leave their neat husks. The earth, as you may see,

Bred mortals then for fields were very hot

And moist, and when was found a likely spot,

Then, rooted to the earth, many a womb

Would grow, and when in time the young would bloom

And break those roots, the moisture they would flee

And seek the air, and then, quite naturally,

Discharged through all the pores inside the earth,

Came milky liquid as, after a birth, 860

A woman will produce, because the flurry

Of nourishment is always in a hurry

To reach the breasts. The progeny was fed

By Earth, warmth gave them clothes, grass gave a bed,

Downy and soft. The infant world, we know,

Brought no intensive heat nor freezing snow

And there was no excessive windy weather;

For everything gains strength and grows together.

Again, it’s right that Earth received the name

Of mother, for I’ve said all creatures came 870

From her, for every animal everywhere

In the great mountains and birds of the air

At fixed times she produced. But finally,

Worn out with age, she reached the boundary

Of giving birth, for nature’s changed by age,

One stage emerging to another stage.

For nothing stays the same: all things migrate

And are compelled by Nature to mutate.

For one thing rots, becoming powerless

With age, another grows contemptuous. 880

So Earth can’t bear what in the past she bore

But can bear what she could not bear before

And many were the monsters that the earth

Attempted to create, which at their birth

Sprang up prodigiously, and one of these

Had neither male nor female qualities

Completely, some sans feet, some handless, some

Produced without a mouth, totally dumb,

Some blind, some with their limbs all tightly stuck

Together, so that they had the ill luck 890

Of being constrained from going anywhere

Or doing anything, quite unaware

Of how to sidestep trouble or partake

Of what they needed. Such a huge mistake

In Nature! For she banned their growth, and so

They could not reach maturity and grow,

Find food or know of sexual intimacy,

For we see that we need society

So that we might together procreate

And future generations fabricate. 900

There must be food, and, next, a way for seeds

To go throughout the frame and serve its needs.

Both male and female must unite so they

May please each other in their sexual play.

So many breeds of animals must have died

Back then because those beasts had been denied

The power to provide posterity

With one more generation: what you see

Feeding upon life’s breath must from the start

Have been protected by some cunning art910

Or speed or courage. Many still remain

Among us and contribute to our gain

In our protection. Lions primarily

Have been protected by their bravery,

The fox by cunning and the stag by speed.

Those creatures that were sprung, though, from the seed

Of beasts of burden and the clever hound

That’s ever watchful with a heart that’s sound

In duty, sheep and oxen, Memmius,

Have been produced to be preserved by us. 920

For they have fled wild creatures eagerly,

Attaining peace and nourishment which we

Gave them for their responsibilities.

But those possessing no such qualities,

Who cannot live alone by their own will

Nor be of use to us that we might fill

Their bellies, keeping them unthreatened, lay

At the mercy of so many men for prey

And profit, hampered by the chains they wore

Till they became extinct. But no Centaur 930

Ever existed, and there cannot be

At any time among humanity

Two-bodied beasts with limbs that did not fit

Their bodies. Here is proof the dullest wit

May grasp. A horse is strongest when he’s three

Years old; a boy, though, categorically,

Is not, for even then, when he’s at rest

Asleep, he seeks his mother’s milky breast.

But when a horse’s power begins to wane

And life recedes, then boyhood starts to reign 940

And clothes his cheeks with down. So don’t allow

That there were Centaurs that were made somehow

Of seeds of man and horse, or that a swarm

Of ravening hounds of hell could help to form

A half-fish Scylla or monstrosities

That are as incompatible as these;

Nor is it ever at the self-same time

They lose their bodily strength or reach their prime

Or fade with age or burn with ardency 

Alike nor in their practices agree. 950

A goat on hemlock may grow fat despite

The fact that it could kill a man outright.

Since fire can scorch a lion and every kind

Of being made from flesh and blood combined,

How could it be that there’s a prodigy

On earth, a triple-framed monstrosity,

A lion In front, a snake behind, a goat

In the middle, breathing fire out of its throat?

So he who thinks that when the sky and earth

Were new such creatures underwent their birth , 960

Depending on that empty ‘novelty’,

Could babble out his nonsense endlessly 

With equal reason, saying that long ago

Across the earth gold rivers used to flow

And trees grew jewels and that every man

Had limbs so large that he could easily span

The seas on foot and turn the sky around

With his own hands. Many seeds indeed were found

When beasts were first created on the earth,

But there’s no proof that anything gave birth 970

To creatures of mixed growth, their limbs combined

With limbs of creatures of a different kind.

Although so many plants and grains and trees

Abound, nevertheless not one of these

Is joined to something else, for everything

Evolves in its own way, surrendering

To Nature’s laws. Besides, the race of men

Was so much hardier on the land back then,

Because the hard earth made it; for the race

Had larger and more solid bones to grace 980

The sinews that they might not be oppressed

By heat, cold or strange food or be distressed

By illness. So they passed their lives throughout

Millennia like all wandering beasts. No stout

Ploughman was there, none worked upon the land

Or sowed new seeds or, sickle in one hand,

Lopped branches from tall trees. They were content

With what the sun and showers of rain had sent

And what the earth produced. Primarily

They feasted from the acorn-laden tree; 990

And arbute-cherries, which, when winter’s due,

We now see ripen with a crimson hue,

Were even more abundant than we see

In present times. The flowering infancy

Of the world produced more kinds of nourishment:

Though they were hard to chew, they caused content:

Rivers and springs called out to quench one’s thirst,

Just as today torrents of water burst

Down from great mountains, calling far and wide

To wild beasts that they might be satisfied. 1000

The woodland haunts where the Nymphs were wont to dwell

(Which, in their wanderings, everyone knew well)

They made their home, where rivulets would cross

The wet rocks as they dripped upon the moss

And welled and bubbled through the level land.

Making a fire they did not understand

Nor wearing animal skins, thus to evade

The elements; and mountain-caves they made

Their homes as well and woods; they hid away

In undergrowth to dodge the winds and stay 1010

Untouched by rain. Nor could they mediate

About the common good or regulate

Their intercourse with laws. What fortune brought

Each man would carry off, for he’d been taught

To be strong in himself. And lovers mated

In the woods, either since she was captivated

By joint desire or taken forcefully

With vehement lust or bribed (that bribe could be

Pears, berries or acorns). Supported by

Their powerful physiques, they would let fly 1020

Their stones and clubs at beasts: they overpowered

Many of them, for from but few they cowered

In hideaways. And at the close of day

Like hogs, quite naked, on the ground they lay,

Rolled up in leafage. Nor did they in fright

Cry out in yearning for the morning light

But, wrapped in sleep, they waited silently

Until the rosy face of dawn they’d see –

From childhood they had known that day and night

Take turns and therefore felt no awe or fright 1030

That light would be removed and night would last

Forevermore. No. something else would cast

A pall on them – wild beasts disturbed their rest:

For they would leave their rocky homes, distressed

To see a lion or foaming bear appear

At night, and leave their leaf-strewn beds in fear.

Yet not much more than now did men, with rue,

Depart from life’s sweet light, although it’s true

That one man or another would be trapped

By some wild beast as on his flesh it snapped: 1040

The forests, woods and mountains would resound

With groans as in those vicious jaws he found

A living tomb, while those who got away,

Though mangled, held their hands in their dismay

Over their ghastly wounds and prayed for death

With dreadful cries till they were reft of breath,

Not knowing medicines that could mend

Their wounds. One single day, though, would not send

Thousands of men to die on the battleground

And violent billows didn’t blow around 1050

Vessels and mariners to make them split

Upon the rocks. For back then all of it

Was pointless that such storms rose on the sea,

So all its empty threats it easily

Dismissed, and so nobody met his end

Through witchcraft since the sea was now his friend.

So navigation’s wicked artistry

Lay hidden. In those days the scarcity

Of food caused death. But now its opposite

Is true – we’re dying from excess of it. 1060

Back then men killed themselves unwittingly

With poison, but that poison skilfully

We give to others. Once folk had possessed

Huts, skins and fire and mankind had been blessed

With wedlock and had raised a family,

They fell into a pampered luxury:

Having discovered fire, they complained

About the cold more often; Venus drained

Their strength; the children used cajolery

To coax their parents; and eventually 1070

Neighbours grew friendly in their eagerness

To shun wrongdoing and ferociousness,

Seeking protection for all progeny

And women, signifying haltingly

By word and gesture that it is but fair

To pity fragile people everywhere.

But peace could not be made in every way,

Although a good part (most of it, I’d say)

Remained unblemished, otherwise the earth

Would have been emptied of mankind and birth 1080

Eradicated. Many sounds were brought

To people’s tongues; later convenience wrought

The names of things, as infants’ speechlessness

Makes them rely on gestures to express

Themselves, using a finger possibly

To point out something they’d like one to see

Each in his own way. Calves, before one sees

Their horns stand out upon their heads, with these

Will butt in anger, pushing viciously.

Panthers’ and lions’ young similarly 1090

Will use their feet and teeth when in a fight,

Although they yet can barely kick or bite.

All winged fledglings also we may see

Try out their pinions’ strength unsteadily.

To think that someone gave out names, therefore,

To things and people learned from him, what’s more,

Their first words is but muddle-headedness.

For why should he give tongue to various

Sounds and name everything, while equally

Others could not? While in their colloquy 1100

Folk used these titles, whence did they attain

The knowledge of their use? Whence did they gain

The power to learn their purposes and see

Them all in their mind’s eye? For certainly

He hadn’t got the influence to show

To them that these things they wanted to know.

Nor can one easily teach in any way

To men what should be carried out when they

Won’t hear, unwilling to endure what he

Keeps dinning in their ears continually 1110

To no avail? What’s so amazing, then,

That, having active sounds and tongues, all men

Distinguished everything by varying

Sounds that will suit what they’re experiencing?

For all dumb beasts use different sounds to show

What they are feeling, be it fear or woe

Or joy. Molossian hounds growl angrily,

Teeth bared, when they’re provoked, quite differently

Than when they loudly bark. But when their young

They lick affectionately with their tongue, 1120

Tossing or nipping them, as though intent

On gently swallowing them, their yelps are meant

Quite differently from when they loudly bay

When left alone at home or cringe away

From a blow. A horse is different when he neighs

Amid the mares while in his lusty days,

Struck with the spurs of love and snorting out

Through his wide nostrils just before a bout

Of wantonness, than when senility

Causes a neigh that quivers. Finally, 1130

Ospreys and hawks and divers, every race

Of birds that seek a life above the face

Of salt-sea waves cry in a different way

When, fighting for some food, they find their prey

Fights back, than other times. Their harsh-toned song

Some birds change with the weather, like the throng

Of ancient crows and rooks when, as they say,

They cry for wind or call for rain to spray.

Therefore, if animals, though they are mute,

Are made to give out different cries to suit 1140

Their moods, how much more natural would it be

That they, too, showed each feeling differently

Through sounds! If you should quietly wonder, then,

Lightning was first to send down fire to men,

Whence blazing flames spread out across the world.

For we see flames from high above us hurled,

Igniting many things whenever a blow

From heaven brought them heat. And yet, also,

If a tree with many branches happens to rest

Against another tree, fire is pressed 1150

From it by friction: sometimes there’s a flash

Of burning flame as trunks and branches clash.

Either of these two causes could have brought

Fire to all mankind; the sun then taught

Us how to cook and soften food with flame

Since people saw that many things became

Mellow, defeated by the blazing rays

Of heat amid the fields. Then, as the days

Advanced, wise men taught people how to change

Their style of living and to rearrange 1160

Their ways. Kings founded cities and erected

Towers that their subjects might be protected;

Cattle and lands were, in conformity

With beauty, strength and ingenuity,

Divided up, for strength and beauty then

Were most important. Afterwards, by men

Was gold discovered, and wealth took from these

Strong, handsome folk their decency with ease;

No matter, in that case, how fair and strong

A man may be, a richer man he’ll long 1170

To follow. But to live honourably,

A man possesses great prosperity

If he’s content with little – that indeed

Is never lacking. People, though, felt need

Of fame and power that their fortune could

Be firmly set and being wealthy would

Give them a quiet life – but all in vain,

For in the upward struggle to attain

The peak of honour, they have made their way

A dangerous one, and even after they 1180

Came down, a thunderbolt would sometimes cast

Them into Tartarus and, like that blast,

Envy would scorch the summits frequently

And those above the rest, Accordingly,

It is much better to obey in peace

Than to desire to make your wealth increase

And govern kingdoms. Therefore let them sweat

In blood upon the narrow path to get

Their wealth and struggle wearily in vain,

Since from the lips of others they’ll attain 1190

Their wisdom, chasing things from mere hearsay,

Not what they feel. This folly, though, today

Does not succeed, nor will it ever be

Successful any more than previously.

Kings, then, were slain; the pomp of yesterday

And those proud sceptres in the dust now lay.

Fine crowns beneath the feet of peasants, stained

With blood, now lay and bitterly complained

Of their lost honour: folk were keen to tread

On that for which they used to have such dread, 1200

So all things reached the dregs of disarray

As every man struggled to take away

The prize of high command. Then they were taught

To set up magistrates, and then they brought

In laws. Mankind then, weary of the taint

Of all the violence that they bore, grew faint

With feuding and were ready to agree

To strict statutes. For when men angrily

Set on revenge more keenly than was right

By law, mankind was weary of the sight 1210

Of violence. The fear of penalty

Taints life’s rewards; bloodshed and injury

Ensnare each person and, for the most part,

Recoil upon the one who caused their start.

It is not easy for a man to glide

Straight through a peaceful life when he’s defied

The bonds of common peace. Yet even though

He hides his deeds from all, he cannot know

That they will stay unseen. For it’s been said

That many often, as they lie in bed, 1220

Will speak out loud or else, delirious

With fever, rave, their secret actions thus

Revealed. Now it is easy to explain

Why in great lands the gods have come to reign,

The cities filled with altars while great care

Was taken with the rites which everywhere

Flourish in mighty states, and every man

Feels awe and helps to raise new shrines to span

The world and bring to every celebration

His fellow-Romans. Every generation 1230

Of men in those days saw in their minds’ eye,

And more in sleep, gods made conspicuous by

Their form and beauty. So they had no doubt

That they could feel, seeming to move about

And say fine things in keeping with the way

They looked and showed how strong they were. So they

Gave them eternal life, since they would see

A slew of like-shaped forms, especially,

However, since their power was so great

That they would be too hard to dominate. 1240

They guessed that they were steeped in happiness

Because their thoughts of death brought no distress,

And in their slumbers they would also see

Them doing wondrous things, all scathelessly.

They saw each sequence of the sky appear

And all the various seasons of the year

In strictest order, though they could not see

Their causes. So they found security

In leaving all to the gods. Up in the sky

They placed the gods’ abode because on high 1250

The moon, the sky, the solemn stars, the night,

The torches and the flames, all shining bright,

Clouds, sun, rain, lightnings, hail and winds and snow,

Swift roars and rumbling thunderbolts all go,

Revolving. O unhappy humankind

That to the gods these actions they’ve assigned,

Yet bitter wrath as well! What groans did they

Give out, what wounds they left for us today,

Tears for the future! It’s no piety

To cover up one’s head regularly, 1260

Approach a stone and every shrine, descend

Upon the ground and to the gods extend

One’s palms over an altar or to flood

That altar with the sacrificial blood

Of beasts while linking vow to vow; for he

Is pious who with pure tranquillity

Surveys all things. For when we look up high

Across the shining temples of the sky

And all its stars, when we think of the sun

And moon, and how they move, then every one 1270

Of us, already crushed by misery,

Discovers now one more anxiety

That the gods’ immeasurable strength embraces us,

A strength that moves the stars in various

Motions – the question causes anxious care:

For was the world created? And is there

A limit that will let the world remain

Until it can no longer bear the strain

Of restless motion? Did the gods decree

Its walls, though, should live on eternally, 1280

Despising time’s strong power? Is there a mind

That does not fear the gods in all mankind?

Whose limbs don’t crawl with terror when a bolt

Of thunder shakes the earth with a shocking jolt

And rumblings run across the mighty sky?

Don’t nations tremble, don’t proud monarchs shy

Away in fear of the gods lest through some sin

Or haughty word grave time may usher in

Their punishment? When winds blow violently

And sweep an admiral into the sea, 1290

With troops and elephants, does he not crave

The gods’ concord with vows thereby to save

Himself and pray that all the winds may cease

And favouring breezes bring him back to peace? –

In vain, for often in a furious gale

He gets entangled and is doomed to sail

Into the shoals of death. Humanity

Is ground down by some hidden energy

Which on the rods and axes of success

Appears to trample with derisiveness. 1300

When the whole earth trembles beneath us, when

Cities collapse or barely stand, why then

Men feel self-hate – and this is no surprise –

And leave it to the gods to supervise

All things, acknowledging their potency.

Now I will speak of the discovery

Of silver, copper, gold, iron and lead

When fire from the mountains came and spread

And scorched the forests, whether some lightning flashed

From heaven or else because in war men clashed, 1310

Burning them, thus to full the foe with fear,

Or, since the soil was rich, some wished to clear

The fat fields for their pasture, or that they

Might kill the wild beasts and enjoy their prey;

For there were hunts with springes and with flame

Before men fenced their glades and put up game

With packs of hounds. However that may be,

Whatever, with its grim cacophony,

Had brought about the blazing heat and burned

The forests to their very roots and turned 1320

The land to ash, the hollows of the earth

And her hot veins proceeded to give birth

To those five elements I named before,

Which oozed out and collected from her core.

When people saw their hues, coagulated

And radiating, they were captivated

By their smooth grace and saw they had the same

Contours as did the hollows whence they came,

And then they noted that each element

Could be dissolved by heat and thus be bent 1330

In different shapes and beaten, furthermore,

Into the finest edge and laid in store

As tools that they might cut down trees or hew

Timber or plane planks smooth, or puncture, too.

They tried to make these things initially

Of silver, gold and bronze (which they could see

Was just as tough), but it was all in vain

Because, though strong, they could not take the strain:

They found the work was all too rigorous.

Unlike the bronze, the gold was valueless, 1340

They thought, because its edge was far from keen,

But now bronze is disdained while gold is seen

As quite the best. Things change as seasons glide

On by: what once was prized will be denied

Its worth one day. Something that people flout

Will one day lose that taint and be sought out

As time goes by and, once discovered, thrive

And be extolled by every man alive.

Now you will recognize with little fuss

How iron was discovered, Memmius. 1350

In ancient times the arms with which one fought

Were hands, nails, teeth, stones, branches which were sought

From forest trees and broken off, then flame,

Once it was known. Then iron and bronze both came

Into man’s ken – bronze first, since it was more

Easily worked, comprising a greater store.

Men tilled the earth with bronze, with bronze as well

Stirred up the waves of war and rushed pell-mell,

Inflicting dreadful wounds, and took away

Cattle and lands. Men readily gave way, 1360

When naked and unweaponed, to a foe

Well-armed. The iron sword would slowly grow

In stature, while the scythe of bronze would fill

Mankind with scorn, and they began to till

The earth with iron, and the odds of war

Were equal, as they had not been before.

In ancient times a man would mount his horse

In arms and with the bridle steer his course

And fight from there before he was to face

The hazards of war while his two steeds would race 1370

Before his chariot. There was a stage

Of four-horsed chariots before that age,

And chariots equipped with scythes. And then

Lucanian oxen – elephants – with men

On turrets on their backs, a hideous mob,

With snakes for hands, well taught to do the job

Of hoodwinking the foe while suffering

The wounds of war. Discord kept ushering

In further ills to fright the souls of men

And the terrors of warfare again and again 1380

Would grow. They tried to further their fierce wars

With bulls and beat the foe with vicious boars.

Some let slip lions to the enemy

With men to exercise their mastery

With arms and shackles - but in vain once more,

For, heated with the sight of blood and gore,

They ran amok, confusing everything

On either side, their fierce manes quivering.

The horses at the noise were terrified,

Nor could their riders calm them down or guide 1390

Them at the enemy, while angrily

The lionesses leapt haphazardly,

Attacking anyone they chanced to find

And, turning round, would lash at those behind

And maul them to the ground with their strong jaws

And hold them, weak with wounds, with curving claws.

Bulls tossed and trampled other bulls, and they

Ripped at the horses, for their horns would lay

Them flat, and raked the earth up threateningly.

Boars tore at other boars and furiously 1400

Splashed broken weapons with their blood and wrought

Promiscuous mayhem on whoever fought,

Riders or infantry. The steeds would swerve

Aside to dodge the wildly lunging curve

Of tusks or paw the air, but bootlessly,

For, hamstrung, they’d collapse and heavily

Cover the ground. If men before had thought

The horses amply trained, yet when they fought

They saw them growing heated with the flight,

The terror, tumult, uproar and the blight 1410

Of wounds and could not bring them back, for they

Would scatter far and wide beyond the fray,

Just like the elephants, so lacerated

With weapons after they had mutilated

So many of their kind. But did they do

All this? I barely trust it can be true

That, after such destruction fell on all,

They could not have believed this would befall;

You might maintain this happened, though, elsewhere

In different ways in any place you care 1420

To think of. Yet they didn’t go to war

In hope of conquering but wishing for

A chance to disconcert the enemy,

Though they themselves would die through paucity

Of arms and numbers. Tied clothes people wore

Before knitwear, though iron came before

The latter since they needed it to fit

Upon the loom, and smoothness, lacking it,

Could not have been achieved due to a lack

Of treadles, shuttles, spindles and the clack 1430

Of leash-rods. Men before all womankind

Plied wool (because the male sex leaves behind

The female sex in their ability),

Till dour farmers called indignity

Upon it, and the men let women ply

The wool and turned to toil to fortify

Their bodies. Nature, though, instructed men

In the art of sowing in the fields, for when

Berries and acorns fall, sequentially

A swarm of seedlings lies beneath the tree, 1440

Whence shoots into the boughs were introduced

And in the fields new slips were then produced;

And men received a certain delectation

In finding different ways of cultivation,

Wild fruits becoming pliant when they found

They welcomed friendly tillage in the ground.

As time went by, they made the forests go

Yet higher in the hills, the place below

Left for their tillage, so that there might be

Crops, meadows, pools, streams and a quantity 1450

Of fertile vineyards and that a grey-green

Region of olives burgeoning between

And over every hill and dale and plain,

As now you see upon the whole terrain

A picturesque miscellany laid out

With fruit-trees and plantations set about.

To imitate birds’ trilling notes came long

Before man could delight his ears with song.

Winds whistling through the reeds taught men to blow

Through hemlock-stalks, and slowly they would know 1460

To place their fingers on a pipe they made

From reeds which they’d found in some forest-glade

Where shepherds took their solitary ease

In the open air, and play sweet elegies.

These airs they took delight in when replete

With food, for that is when all things are sweet.

Often with friends on the soft grass hard by

A stream beneath a tall tree they would lie –

A joy with little cost – especially

When the weather smiled and floral greenery 1470

Abounded. Then the order of the day

Was peals of pleasant laughter, chat and play,

For then the rustic muse was vigorous.

Then, prompted by a joyous playfulness,

They’d put on wreaths and march, though raggedly,

And beat the earth, full of hilarity:

All things were thriving, wonderful and new,

And, when they were awake, this was their due

For when thy slept – to warble songs and play

The reed-pipe, whence the watchmen of today 1480

Keep the tradition, and they have been taught

Many tempos, although it has never brought

No more enjoyment to them than was felt

By those who came from Mother Earth and dwelt

In woodlands. For what stares us in the face,

Unless we’ve seen something with greater grace

Before, gives great delight and seems to be

The best, till what seems better usually

Spoils that which modifies our liking for

What’s ancient. Men thought acorns then a bore 1490

And left their old beds, strewn with leaves and grass;

Clothes made of wild beasts’ pelts now did not pass

Muster: great envy all those years before

Provoked, I think, the death of him who wore

It first through treachery and it was torn

Apart so it no longer could be worn.

First pelts, then gold and purple clothes, therefore,

Plagued men and wearied all of them with war.

The blame lies mostly, I believe, in us –

Though earthborn people found it torturous 1500

To wear a pelt in winter, nonetheless

Purple with gold designs brings no distress

While we can use a poor man’s covering.

In vain mankind is ever labouring,

Consumed with empty cares, obviously

Because it does not know the boundary

Of ownership and also does not know

To what extent real happiness can grow.

And by degrees man’s lived upon the seas

And stirred up billows of hostilities. 1510

Those watchful sentinels, the moon and sun,

Who gleam around the heaven’s dominion,

Taught men that all the seasons come around,

All done in order that is fixed and sound.

Now men had citadels, well fortified,

And earth was meted out and classified.

Now sailing-ships were seen upon the seas,

And friends and allies formed confederacies.

Bards glorified great deeds in poetry

(Letters had been devised just recently) 1520

So we cannot look back on yesterday

But that our reasoning will show the way.

Roads, weapons, agriculture, navigation,

Decrees, all kinds of clothes, fortification,

Life’s prizes, luxuries from first to last,

Verse, art, smooth statues dexterously cast –

All these improved as mankind gradually

Progressed through practice and capacity.

Thus by degrees time brought us everything,

Which was revealed to us by reasoning. 1530

By intellect all these things man could see

Until they had attained their apogee.

The end of De Rerum Natura: Book V