Sunday, May 29, 2016


Nature Speaks to Us

Lucretius 3.931-962 (tr. C.H. Sisson):
If nature found a voice and began to scold
This is the sort of thing she might say to any of us:
'What is all this fuss about because you are mortal?
Have you got to burst into tears? What is wrong with death?
If the life you have had so far has been quite pleasant
And everything has not gone down the drain with a rush,
Why not depart like a guest who has had enough?
And, you fool, take your simple rest with a quiet mind?
But if all the pleasures of life have turned to nothing
And life is offensive, why do you want to add to it
Days which will end as badly as those you have had?
Better to make an end of life and effort
For there is nothing new I can devise for you
That is likely to please you: the rest of life is the same.
If your body is not worn out and there is still some movement
In your arms and legs, still, nothing will ever change
Although you should go on living for several centuries
Or even supposing you did not die at all.'
What could we reply but that nature has a good case
And that as she presents it every word is true?
If some poor wretch should complain of death more than he should
It serves him right if nature speaks even more sharply:
'No more blubbering, you moron; forget your complaints.'
And if it is a man of considerable age:
'You have gone feeble after having your life?
You want what you haven't got and despise the present
And that is how your life has slipped away.
Now death stands at your pillow before you are ready,
You cannot leave because you've not had enough!
You are too old for everything; give it up!
Give way gracefully; you have to, anyway.'

denique si vocem rerum natura repente
mittat et hoc alicui nostrum sic increpet ipsa:
"quid tibi tanto operest, mortalis, quod nimis aegris
luctibus indulges? quid mortem congemis ac fles?
nam si grata fuit tibi vita anteacta priorque        935
et non omnia pertusum congesta quasi in vas
commoda perfiuxere atque ingrata interiere,
cur non ut plenus vitae conviva recedis
aequo animoque capis securam, stulte, quietem?
sin ea quae fructus cumque es periere profusa        940
vitaque in offensost, cur amplius addere quaeris,
rursum quod pereat male et ingratum occidat omne,
non potius vitae finem facis atque laboris?
nam tibi praeterea quod machiner inveniamque,
quod placeat, nil est: eadem sunt omnia semper.        945
si tibi non annis corpus iam marcet et artus
confecti languent, eadem tamen omnia restant,
omnia si perges vivendo vincere saecla,
atque etiam potius, si numquam sis moriturus";
quid respondemus, nisi iustam intendere litem        950
naturam et veram verbis exponere causam?
atque obitum lamentetur miser amplius aequo,
non merito inclamet magis et voce increpet acri:
"aufer abhinc lacrimas, baratre, et compesce querellas!"
grandior hic vero si iam seniorque queratur:        955
"omnia perfunctus vitai praemia marces;
sed quia semper aves quod abest, praesentia temnis,
inperfecta tibi elapsast ingrataque vita,
et nec opinanti mors ad caput adstitit ante
quam satur ac plenus possis discedere rerum.        960
nunc aliena tua tamen aetate omnia mitte
aequo animoque agedum iam annis concede: necessest."
Most modern editors follow Lachmann and transpose 952-954 after 955, but Sisson's translation retains the original order, and so I've kept it in the Latin text above.

See Tobias Reinhardt, "The Speech of Nature in Lucretius' 'De Rerum Natura' 3.931-71," Classical Quarterly 52.1 (2002) 291-304.

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