By James Bishop, Jr.
(November 5, 2018)
Do we not see all humans unaware of what they want they want and always searching everywhere,
and changing place, as if to drop the load they bear
—Lucretius 90 BC
Truth be told, in these days dark forces fueled by fear are busy here and there and seemingly everywhere. One way to brighten the mood is to visit Sedona’s cheerful Recycling Center on Shelby Rd and dig around in bins for some throwaway paintings, occasional 100-dollar bills, thought-provoking old books, and poetry in a battered book that nonetheless may contain good news.
Do not laugh.
It has worked before.
How about the discovery of a 2000 year-old hundred- four hundred word poem in a trash bin in Connecticut a book brimming with the of works of a Roman poet and philosopher named Lucretius—marked down to ten cents. What a bargain to delve into of an exciting new way of living with modern implications.
At its unveiling in 90 BC, Lucretius’s poem caused a brouhaha throughout Greece and Rome because the poet announced that from then on citizens need not live in fear of gods but in pursuit of beauty and pleasure, and avoidance of pain. It represented a swerve in a new direction for the culture—no more revolutions would be needed. No heaven need to be sought, it is here and now.
Anger flowed from many gods and religious leaders over Lucretius’s poem, so incompatible it was with many cults of the gods. For his creativity he was ridiculed, burned, attacked yet his pursuit of beauty had suffused the legendary likes of da Vinci, Galileo even Machiavelli, moved by his poem “On the Nature of Things”. It posits, “When we look at the sky and marvel at the numberless stars, we are not seeing the handiwork of the gods or a crystalline sphere. We are seeing the same material world of which we are made. There is no master plan , no divine architect, no intelligent design… we are all spring from celestial seed ; all from the same father, from which our fostering mother earth receives drops of water…..”
Many Hundreds of years have passed during which his idea of pleasure all but vanished all except for a few copies here and there in libraries nonetheless opposition to these ideas never diminished. To his enemies, human beings were by nature corrupt and it was only through pain and punishment that a few would be able to find the narrow gate to salvation.
To his followers today, his legacy is his condemnation of superstitious fears and the poet’s belief—that everything that ever existed and will exist is put together out of what the poet called “the seeds of things…invisible individual building blocks that could be not divided any further”. The Greeks had a word these blocks: Atoms.
His poems are back in print thanks to Oxford Classic, doesn’t feel like the time has come for a world in which we are not afraid of political gods, and can pursue more pleasure and in avoidance of pain.
How about now.