Saturday, November 26, 2022


All That Is Needed

Lucretius 2.14–36 (tr. A.E. Stallings):
O miserable minds of men! O hearts that cannot see!
Beset by such great dangers and in such obscurity
You spend your little lot of life! Don't you know it's plain
That all your nature yelps for is a body free from pain,
And, to enjoy pleasure, a mind removed from fear and care?
And so we see the body's needs are altogether spare —
Only the bare minimum to keep suffering at bay,
Yet which can furnish pleasures for us in a wide array.
Nature has no need of more, not golden figurines
Throughout the house, with lamps in their right hands to light the scenes
Of nightly feasts and revelry, nor does nature require
A palace whose enamelled ceiling echoes to the lyre,
Glinting silver and gold, when people can as pleasantly pass
Their hours al fresco, sprawling out in groups on the soft grass
Beside a babbling brook, beneath a tall and shady tree,
Where they can merrily unwind, and practically for free —
Especially on spring days when the weather smiles serene
And when the season sprinkles flowers all across the green.
Nor do raging fevers any faster cease to burn
If you have fancy tapestries on which to toss and turn
And royal-purple sheets to wrap in, than if you are broke
And all you have to huddle under is a peasant's cloak.

o miseras hominum mentes, o pectora caeca!
qualibus in tenebris vitae quantisque periclis        15
degitur hoc aevi quodcumquest! nonne videre
nihil aliud sibi naturam latrare, nisi ut qui
corpore seiunctus dolor absit, mensque fruatur
iucundo sensu cura semota metuque?
ergo corpoream ad naturam pauca videmus        20
esse opus omnino, quae demant cumque dolorem.
delicias quoque uti multas substernere possint
gratius interdum, neque natura ipsa requirit,
si non aurea sunt iuvenum simulacra per aedes
lampadas igniferas manibus retinentia dextris,        25
lumina nocturnis epulis ut suppeditentur,
nec domus argento fulget auroque renidet
nec citharae reboant laqueata aurataque templa,
cum tamen inter se prostrati in gramine molli
propter aquae rivum sub ramis arboris altae        30
non magnis opibus iucunde corpora curant,
praesertim cum tempestas arridet et anni
tempora conspergunt viridantis floribus herbas.
nec calidae citius decedunt corpore febres,
textilibus si in picturis ostroque rubenti        35
iacteris, quam si in plebeia veste cubandum est.

18 mensque Marullus: mente codd.: menti' Lachmann
28 templa codd.: tecta Macrobius 6.4.21
See the brilliant exposition of these lines in Don Fowler, Lucretius on Atomic Motion: A Commentary on De Rerum Natura, Book Two, Lines 1-332 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 66-110.

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