Pitiful souls of men! O hearts all blind and unseeing!
Lo, how deep is the darkness of life, how great are the dangers
Ringing you fill of days! Why see ye not that for nature
One thing alone is needful, that pain be kept from the body
And that the soul rejoice and be free from sorrows and terrors? ...
Nor will the body the sooner be quit of a fiery fever,
Tossed on a purple couch with rich embroidery woven,
Than on a humble bed with a threadbare coverlet o'er thee.
Since, them, for bodily weal no hoarded treasure availeth-
No, nor the pride of rank can avail, nor the glory of empire-
Think not by such toys that the soul is profited either.
Say that before thine eyes the field is alive with legions
Aping the pomp of war and marching in mimic manoeuvre--
Strong reserves in the rear, and on each flank cavalry stationed--
Marshalled in goodly array and moving as one to thy order:
Canst thou, for all this show, thy soul from religion deliver,
Scaring its ghost from they heart? Art free from fear of they ending?
Hast thou a care-free breast and a mind all empty of terror,
Seeing the fleet sail forth and deploy itself on the waters?
Nay, but we know these shows are a mockery all and a plaything.
Truly the fears of man and the cares that shadow his pathway
Yield not to clashing of arms on his throne nor the master of empire,
Neither the glitter of gold nor the shimmering glory of purple:
Freedom of soul, be assured, is achieved by nothing but reason.
Is not the whole life, moreover, a struggle in darkness?
Even as in black gloom do children tremble at all things,
Fearing to go in the dark, so we ofttimes in the day-time
Shrink back afraid from things that are no whit more to be dreaded
Than those bugbears false that in darkness terrify children.
All this terror of mind and all this darkness of spirit
Neither the rays of the sun can dispel nor the shafts of the daylight--
Only the shape of nature herself and the law of her being.
(Lucretius, c. 99-55 B.C., a Roman poet,
concluded that all things - including man -
operate according to their own laws and
are not in any way influenced by supernatural
powers; with this view, he thought, man should
be free of the yoke of religious superstition
and the fear of death.)