No matter what happens this year, what will (hopefully) be the year of my graduation, and the year I hunt for real work in a stagnant economy and dying industry, there is one failure I am not doomed to. I can mark 2009 as the last year I had not read Titus Lucretius Carus’ On the Nature of Things in its entirety. In 2010, I might find myself with a useless degree and no work, but what cannot be taken from me is my digestion of the most perfect summation of the tetrapharmakos.
There is much of baseless speculation and unfounded prescriptions in the poem; Lucretius argues that sour tastes arise from hook-shaped atoms embedding themselves in the tongue, claimed roosters projected invisible rays from their bodies which stung lions’ eyes, and recommends of more ferarum for couples wishing to conceive. However, the poet also gives a more perfect expression to the wisdom of Ecclesiastes 1:4 which declares nothing abides, yet there is nothing new under the sun, for nature is an economy. And he answers, a century before Paul, the apostle’s fatal query (1 Corinthians 15:55):
Old order always passes, thrust out by the new, and one thing has to be made afresh from others; but no one is delivered from the pit of black Tatarus: matter is wanted, that coming generations may grow; and yet they all, when their life is done, will follow you, and so, no less than you, these generations have passed away before now, and will continue to pass away. So one thing will never cease to arise from another, and no man possesses life in freehold–all as tenants. Look back also and see how the ages of everlasting time past before we were born have been to us nothing. This therefore is a mirror which nature holds up to us, showing the time to come after we at length shall die. Is there anything horrible in that? Is there anything gloomy? Is it not serener far than any sleep?
[De Rerum Natura, Bk. III, lines 961-977]