Illustration: Apollo, patron god of music, plays the lyre,
the instrument with which the bard accompanied himself as he
sang of mythical stories or the news of the day.
Archived quotations of the month
Beginning with September, 2004, my home page
will feature a different quotation from Classical or other literature
each month, appropriate to the season or to current events.
Starting in October, 2004, these pages will contain "Quotations of
the Month" from previous months. Translations are my own, except
where otherwise noted.
Below is the index to the quotations for 2019,
followed by the quotations themselves.
Index to quotations for 2019
Below are quotations for the year 2019. For other years,
go back to the first quotation page
for the Index to Quotations or click on one of the years below:
Quotations of the Month for the year 2019
Click on a link to read each quotation
Quotation for January, 2019
Extreme Weather and Climate Change Deniers: Rejection of Science,
Ancient and Modern (Lucretius De Rerum Natura Book I)
Above: Iphigenia is sacrificed at Aulis so that the Greek fleet can sail
for Troy. Based on a wall painting at Pompeii. From Oskar
Seyffert, A Dictionary of Classical Antiquities, 1899, p.323.
Extreme weather and a lopsided Polar Vortex
The weather has gone crazy. The northeastern and midwestern U.S. have
been experiencing record cold, while other parts of the country have been
suffering extended drought. We in New York went down to zero temperature,
but Chicago hit a low of -21, bringing much of the city to a halt.
The Postal Service suspended delivery in some areas, breaking their
traditional promise, which itself is taken from Herodotus' description of the
Persian couriers (Herodotus, Histories 8.98):
"Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers
from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."
The Lower 48 States have been experiencing weather that properly belongs
in Alaska and the Arctic, where global warming has disrupted the patterns
of the upper air, the Polar Vortex and the jet stream.
There are still those that think that global warming is Fake News, and
furthermore, that science itself is not to be trusted.
Lucretius on Epicurus' contributions to a scientific view
The conflict between science and long-held supersititions is as old
as science itself. This month's Quotation of the Month is from
the De Rerum Natura ("On the Nature of Things") of the Roman poet
Lucretius (ca. 99 B.C.- ca. 55 B.C.), where he lays out the
scientific system of physics and cosmology developed by the Epicurean
school of philosophy, and rails against evils perpetrated
in the name of superstitious beliefs.
Epicurus (341- 270 BC), who derived much of his system from the
earlier work of Democritus (ca. 460 - ca. 370 BC), developed an
early version of the atomic theory, which taught that the universe
is made up of tiny invisible particles which they called atoms
("indivisibles"). These particles move about and interact with
each other. Epicurus introduced the idea of the "swerve," which
allows atoms to deviate from their normal course, thus opening the
door to free will.
Lucretius adopts Epicurus' system, but Epicurus is also his hero,
freeing mankind from the bonds of what he calls religio.
By this word Lucretius does not mean what we would call "religion,"
in fact he is as pains to explain that he should not be accused of
impiety. He believes in gods, but does not believe that the gods
take any active role in the lives of people. Therefore, it is common
(as I have done here) to translate religio as "Superstition,"
connecting the word to its likely derivation, from religere,
"to bind, constrain."
The sacrifice of Iphigenia, a result of Supersitition
Lucretius' most horrifying example of beliefs gone wrong is
the tale of Iphigenia, daughter of King Agamemnon, who is sacrificed
at Aulis to ensure a fair wind for the Greek troops to sail for Troy.
Supposedly, Agamemnon had offended the goddess Artemis by killing a
deer in her forest, and she demanded a human sacrifice. The story
was told in the lost epic the Cypria and famously in
Euripides' play Iphigenia at Aulis. Iphigenia (sometimes,
as in Lucretius, called Iphianassa) is duped into coming to Aulis
with the promise that she is to marry the hero Achilles.
In some versions of the story, Artemis at the last minute substitutes
a deer for Iphigenia, and the girl herself is spirited away to Tauris,
where she becomes a priestess of Artemis. Lucretius follows a more downbeat
version, in which Iphigenia dies. The story ends with one of Lucretius' most
Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum.
So much evil could Superstition persuade.
Flaming ramparts of the universe
Below, in Latin and English, are verses 62-101 of De Rerum Natura,
containing Lucretius' praise of Epicurus and his telling of the story of
The phrase "the flaming ramparts of the universe" (flammantia moenia mundi,
v. 73) refers to the fiery belt of aether, which was believed to encircle
the world. (It could be argued, in fact, that mundus should be translated
as "world" rather than "universe." The Stoics frequently used mundus to
mean the universe, but the Epicureans, unlike the
Stoics, believed that the universe contained an infinite number of worlds.)
Thomas Gray imitated the line in The Progress of Poesy 3.2 (speaking
of Milton) with "He pass'd the flaming bounds of space and time."
Lucretius De Rerum Natura I.62-101
Humana ante oculos foede cum vita iaceret,
in terris oppressa gravi sub religione,
quae caput a caeli regionibus ostendebat
horribili super aspectu mortalibus instans,
primum Graius homo mortalis tollere contra
est oculos ausus primusque obsistere contra;
quem neque fama deum nec fulmina nec minitanti
murmure compressit caelum, sed eo magis acrem
inritat animi virtutem, effringere ut arta
naturae primus portarum claustra cupiret.
ergo vivida vis animi pervicit et extra
processit longe flammantia moenia mundi
atque omne immensum peragravit mente animoque,
unde refert nobis victor quid possit oriri,
quid nequeat, finita potestas denique cuique
qua nam sit ratione atque alte terminus haerens.
quare religio pedibus subiecta vicissim
opteritur, nos exaequat victoria caelo.
Illud in his rebus vereor, ne forte rearis
impia te rationis inire elementa viamque
indugredi sceleris. quod contra saepius illa
religio peperit scelerosa atque impia facta.
Aulide quo pacto Triviai virginis aram
Iphianassai turparunt sanguine foede
ductores Danaum delecti, prima virorum.
cui simul infula virgineos circum data comptus
ex utraque pari malarum parte profusast,
et maestum simul ante aras adstare parentem
sensit et hunc propter ferrum celare ministros
aspectuque suo lacrimas effundere civis,
muta metu terram genibus summissa petebat.
nec miserae prodesse in tali tempore quibat,
quod patrio princeps donarat nomine regem;
nam sublata virum manibus tremibundaque ad aras
deductast, non ut sollemni more sacrorum
perfecto posset claro comitari Hymenaeo,
sed casta inceste nubendi tempore in ipso
hostia concideret mactatu maesta parentis,
exitus ut classi felix faustusque daretur.
tantum religio potuit suadere malorum.
Epicurus freed us from Superstition such as that which killed
When human life lay foul before our eyes upon the ground,
oppressed beneath the weight of Superstition,
which showed its head from heaven's regions,
lowering over mortals with horrible aspect,
it was a man of Greece who first dared lift mortal eyes
against it and take a stand in opposition,
whom neither the fame of the gods nor thunderbolts nor
the menacing murmur of the heavens could restrain, but all the more
they goaded the sharp courage of his soul, so that he might desire
to be the first to break the close-fitted locks to the gates of nature.
And so the lively strength of his mind prevailed
and he went forth, far beyond the flaming ramparts of the universe,
traversing the entire immeasurable space in mind and spirit,
whence, victorious, he brings back to us the knowledge of what can come to be,
what cannot, and finally in what way the power of each thing is limited,
and what is its deep-seated boundary.
Therefore Superstition, in turn, is cast underfoot
and trampled, and the victory makes us Heaven's equal.
This I fear in these matters, that you may perhaps think
that you are undertaking elements of reason that show impiety,
and that you entering the way of crime, whereas, on the contrary,
Supersitition itself has brought forth criminal and impious acts.
As when at Aulis the altar of the Virgin of the Crossroads
was horribly defiled by the blood of Iphianassa,
at the hands of the chosen leaders of the Danai, first among men.
She, as soon as the ribbon was placed around her virgin coiffure,
and was arranged to fall equally down each cheek,
and at the same time she saw her father stand sorrowfully by the altar
and next to him the attendants hiding the knife,
while the citizens shed tears at the sight of her,
frozen in fear sank to her knees upon the ground.
Nor could it help the miserable girl at such a time
that she was the first to call the king by the name of father.
For she, uplifted by the hands of men, was brought trembling to the altar,
not so that she might be accompanied by the loud Hymeneal song,
but that chaste she might be unchastely, at the very age of marriage,
as a sorrowful victim fall at the hand of her father,
so that a fortunate departure might be given to the fleet.
So much evil could Superstition persuade.
Marble bust of Epicurus. Roman copy after a lost Hellenistic original.
British Museum. Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen, from Wikimedia.
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