“Listen, put your mind now on true reason.
For a new matter rises fiercely to meet your ears
and a new image of the universe strives to show itself.
Nothing is so simple that at first sight
it is not rather difficult to believe;
and in the same way nothing is so great or miraculous
that over time we don’t slowly fail to behold it with wonder.
Consider first the clear and pure color of the sky
and everything it holds, the wandering stars
the moon and the gleam of the sun with its bright light;
If suddenly mortals now saw all these things
for the first time with no prior experience of them,
could anything possibly be said to be more wondrous
or would the races of men have dared to believe they existed?
Nothing, I believe, that is how striking the sight would be.
But now, since we are so used to seeing them,
no one thinks it worthwhile to gaze at heaven’s bright splendor.”
Nunc animum nobis adhibe veram ad rationem.
nam tibi vehementer nova res molitur ad auris
accedere et nova se species ostendere rerum. 1025
sed neque tam facilis res ulla est, quin ea primum
difficilis magis ad credendum constet, itemque
nil adeo magnum neque tam mirabile quicquam,
quod non paulatim minuant mirarier omnes,
principio caeli clarum purumque colorem 1030
quaeque in se cohibet, palantia sidera passim,
lunamque et solis praeclara luce nitorem;
omnia quae nunc si primum mortalibus essent
ex improviso si sint obiecta repente,
quid magis his rebus poterat mirabile dici, 1035
aut minus ante quod auderent fore credere gentes?
nil, ut opinor; ita haec species miranda fuisset.
quam tibi iam nemo fessus satiate videndi,
suspicere in caeli dignatur lucida templa.
[One of the greatest gifts my children have given me is the ability to see the world anew through their eyes…]
“Why does nature nourish and increase the races
of horrible beasts, enemies to humankind on land and sea?
Why do the seasons of the year bring diseases?
Why does an early death come suddenly?
So a child, just like a shipwrecked man tossed by savage waves,
lies naked and speechless on the ground needing everything required
to support life at the very moment when nature pours him
from his mother’s womb into the world of light,
he fills the room with a sorrowful wail, as if he knows
the measure of troubles that still remain for him to endure in life.”
praeterea genus horriferum natura ferarum
humanae genti infestum terraque marique
cur alit atque auget? cur anni tempora morbos
adportant? quare mors inmatura vagatur?
tum porro puer, ut saevis proiectus ab undis
navita, nudus humi iacet infans indigus omni
vitali auxilio, cum primum in luminis oras
nixibus ex alvo matris natura profudit,
vagituque locum lugubri complet, ut aequumst
cui tantum in vita restet transire malorum.
“But what if we see that these things are ridiculous and contemptible,
that, in truth, man’s fear and lurking anxiety
do not shudder at the sound of arms or fierce weapons
or when they bravely move among kings and the world’s rulers
if they do not revere the shine of gold or
turn at the bright shine of purple fabrics—
why do you doubt that real power is wholly the province of reason
especially when life labors completely in the shadows?
For just as children tremble at anything and
jump at dark shadows, so we remain afraid in the light
of things which should not be feared any more
than boys grow pale at shadows in imagining future dangers.
We must therefore dispel the mind’s fear and shadows
Not with a ray of sunshine or the clear shafts of day
But through nature’s clear vision and reason.”
quod si ridicula haec ludibriaque esse videmus,
re veraque metus hominum curaeque sequaces
nec metuunt sonitus armorum nec fera tela
audacterque inter reges rerumque potentis 50
versantur neque fulgorem reverentur ab auro
nec clarum vestis splendorem purpureai,
quid dubitas quin omnis sit haec rationis potestas,
omnis cum in tenebris praesertim vita laboret?
nam vel uti pueri trepidant atque omnia caecis 55
in tenebris metuunt, sic nos in luce timemus
inter dum, nihilo quae sunt metuenda magis quam
quae pueri in tenebris pavitant finguntque futura.
hunc igitur terrorem animi tenebrasque necessest
non radii solis neque lucida tela diei 60
discutiant, sed naturae species ratioque.
Now, I don’t know that Frank Herbert was reading Lucretius (and I don’t know that he wasn’t) but notions of pure rationalism that are a product of Enlightenments thinking (as well as some Near Eastern strands of thought) draw a bit on our friend Lucretius. Reading this passage made me think of the “Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear” which shows up early in Herbert’s Dune:
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain
Want to find more connections between the Classics and Science Fiction? There’s a whole book about that: Classical Traditions in Science Fiction edited by Brett Rogers and Benjamin Stevens.
“For men often claim that disease and a life
of a bad reputation should be feared more than Tartaros.
And they claim they know that the nature of the soul is like blood
Or even air, if that fits their current desire.
And they claim that they do not need our arguments.
But what follows will make you see these things as a matter of boasting
rather than because the matter itself has been proved.
The same men, out of their homeland and in a long exile
From the sight of others, charged with some foul crime,
live as they do, even afflicted with all possible troubles.
But, still, wherever they go the outcasts minister to their ancestors
and slaughter dark cattle and make their offerings
to the departed ghosts and when things get worse
they focus more sharply on religion.
For this reason it is better to examine a man in doubt or danger:
Adverse circumstances make it easier to know who a man is,
for then true words finally rise from his deepest heart;
when the mask is removed, the thing itself remains.”
nam quod saepe homines morbos magis esse timendos
infamemque ferunt vitam quam Tartara leti
et se scire animi naturam sanguinis esse,
aut etiam venti, si fert ita forte voluntas,
nec prosum quicquam nostrae rationis egere,
hinc licet advertas animum magis omnia laudis
iactari causa quam quod res ipsa probetur.
extorres idem patria longeque fugati
conspectu ex hominum, foedati crimine turpi,
omnibus aerumnis adfecti denique vivunt,
et quo cumque tamen miseri venere parentant
et nigras mactant pecudes et manibus divis
inferias mittunt multoque in rebus acerbis
acrius advertunt animos ad religionem.
quo magis in dubiis hominem spectare periclis
convenit adversisque in rebus noscere qui sit;
nam verae voces tum demum pectore ab imo
eliciuntur [et] eripitur persona manet res.
“And why can’t nature make men so large
that they cross the depths of the sea with their feet
or tear down great mountains with their hands
or outstrip many teeming generations in living,
if not for this: the contingent material of all possible generation
is assigned and fixed for the creation of all things?
Therefore, we must affirm that nothing can come from nothing,
since everything must have a seed from which all creation
may be offered to the soft breezes of the air.”
Denique cur homines tantos natura parare
non potuit, pedibus qui pontum per vada possent 200
transire et magnos manibus divellere montis
multaque vivendo vitalia vincere saecla,
si non, materies quia rebus reddita certast
gignundis, e qua constat quid possit oriri?
nil igitur fieri de nilo posse fatendumst, 205
semine quando opus est rebus, quo quaeque creatae
aeris in teneras possint proferrier auras.
“Athens—that famous city—long ago was the first
to give grain-bearing seed to sickly man;
She gave us a new life and created laws
and was the first to give life sweet consolations
when she bore a man blessed with such a mind
who so long ago divulged everything with a true tongue,
whose fame, thanks to his divine discoveries,
has already long been known to heaven.”
Primae frugiparos fetus mortalibus aegris
dididerunt quondam praeclaro nomine Athenae
et recreaverunt vitam legesque rogarunt
et primae dederunt solacia dulcia vitae,
cum genuere virum tali cum corde repertum,
omnia veridico qui quondam ex ore profudit;
cuius et extincti propter divina reperta
divolgata vetus iam ad caelum gloria fertur.