Saturday, April 25, 2009

Poetic take down of superstition from 2000 years ago

Can't we have all present debates in the form of poetry? Below is an example of poetic skepticism from 2000 years ago (also check out Doubt - where you'd least expect it by Jennifer Michael Hecht). Here is a review of a new translation of Lucretius's De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things) from first century BC, by David Slavitt:

Unlike the many prose versions of De rerum natura, David Slavitt’s new translation (University of California Press, $15) gives us six-beat English versions of the Latin original. Here’s how he renders the passage in which Lucretius acknowledges his debt to Epicurus:

It was long the case that men would grovel
upon the earth,
crushed beneath the weight of Superstition
whose head
loomed in the heavens, glaring down with her
dreadful visage
until Epicurus of Greece dared to look up and
confront her,
taking a stand against the fables and myths of
the gods . . .

Referring more directly to the implications of the Epicurian philosophy:
It is important to remember that Lucretius is striving to convince an interlocutor, Memmius, of the truth of Epicurian philosophy. Poetry is thus closely wedded to argument in De rerum natura, since the harsh wisdom of Epicurianism—that the soul dies with the body—needs to be mixed with something sweet if it’s going to go down. In a well-known analogy, Lucretius compares his rhetorical strategy to spreading honey (“mellis dulci flavoque liquore”) around the rim of a glass of bitter medicine (“taetra absinthi”). The idea is to free the mind from superstition without coercion, as if the music of poetry alone were enough to dissolve the bonds of mental servitude.
Read the full review of Slavitt's translation here (tip 3quarksdaily). It also has an interesting bit at the end about various translations/commentaries of Lucretius's poem in the post Renaissance era.