Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 2.1-16
“It is comforting to watch someone else’s hardship from land,
when the wind churns the waves on the great sea.
This is not because there is a special pleasure in any man’s pain
but because to know what suffering you are avoiding is a comfort.
It is also pleasant to gaze upon the great contests of war
spaced out over the field when you have no part of the danger.
but nothing is sweeter than to hold fast well-fortified temples–
the serene teachings prepared by wise men–
a place from where you may look down on others and so often see
wow they wander and search for the path of life
either competing with their wits or contending by birth,
straining night and day in such exceptional labor
to discover the highest riches and gain control of the state.
How miserable are the minds of men! And how blind their hearts.
Whatever portion of living we have is committed to such shadows of a life
And to so many dangers!”
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 suavest.
suave etiam belli certamina magna tueri 6
per campos instructa tua sine parte pericli; 5
sed nihil dulcius est, bene quam munita tenere 7
edita doctrina sapientum templa serena,
despicere unde queas alios passimque videre
errare atque viam palantis quaerere vitae, 10
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 15
degitur hoc aevi quod cumquest!
I probably owe the universe an apology for the title to this post. But first, let’s give one to Naughty by Nature, Epicurean philosophers if I ever knew any…
5 thoughts on “Lucretius is Down With O.P.P (Other People’s Pain): DRN 2.1-16”
By coincidence I recently visited Highcliffe castle which is a sort of Victorian pseudo-castle overlooking the sea. And the first two lines of the extract above are displayed on top of the building. My brother-in-law and I spent some time trying to work out the meaning not realising that a couple of words at the end of each line couldn’t be seen from where we were.
This is a picture of the inscription
Sites (and sights!) like this are why touring around in the UK can be so much better than the US!
That is fantastic. One of the perks that comes with having been conquered by Rome. I’m sure it would make Lucretius smile from ear to ear. Not many poets get to see their words displayed in so august a manner as that.
Colder comfort than this I cannot imagine, and I seriously doubt that comparing suffering is likely to reduce suffering or that competing in wisdom is likely to increase wisdom (more likely, the contrary); on the other hand, watching some poor devil drown from the safety of the shore is the stuff great poetry is made of, a fact which Lucretius aptly exploits.
I really do agree a bit. I have always found Lucretius’ poetry and philosophy intellectually attractive but emotionally worse than empty–barren in a more metaphorical sense.