[W]hat cause has spread divine influence
of the gods through powerful states, filling
cities with altars, and brought it about
that men set up sacred ceremonies,
rituals which today are flourishing
at important times and in great places.
— V [1161-1166], p. 229.
[People] kept observing what went on
in the sky in fixed order—various seasons
of the year returning—and could not see
the causes that made these happen. Therefore,
they found themselves a way out, by linking
all these to the gods, making everything
directed by gods’ will. And they set up
habitations and spaces for the gods
up in the sky, for they saw night and moon
moving through the heavens—moon, day, and night,
glorious nocturnal constellations,
celestial torches wandering at night,
flying fires, clouds, sun, rain, snow, and wind,
lighting, hail, swift peals and ominous sounds
of menacing thunder.
O unhappy race of men,
when they ascribed such actions to the gods
and added to them bitter rage! What sorrow
they made for themselves then, what wounds for us,
what weeping for our children yet to come!
There is no piety in being seen
time and again turning towards a stone
with one’s head covered and approaching close
to every altar, and hurling oneself
prostrate on the ground, stretching out one’s palms
before gods’ shrines, or spreading lots of blood
from four-footed beasts on altars, or piling
sacred pledges onto sacred pledges,
but rather in being able to perceive
all things with one’s mind at peace.
— V, [1160-1205], p. 230-231.
[W]hen all the earth shakes underfoot
and tottering towns fall or their collapse
is threatened and hangs in doubt, no wonder
if races of mortal men hate themselves
and make room for the amazing powers
and immense forces of gods here on earth,
so that they have control of everything.
— V, [1234-1240], p. 232.
[I]n their hearts the human race stirs up
anxious tides of worries, for the most part
with no good reason. For just as children
tremble in blinding darkness and are afraid
of everything, so sometimes in the light
we dread things which are no more to be feared
than those which during the night young people
tremble at, dreaming of what will happen.
Therefore, this terror, this darkness of mind,
must be dispelled, not by rays of sunlight
or bright arrows of the day, but by reason
and the face of nature.
— VI, [35-46], p. 241.
People say that gods, when angry, bring on
raging storms and then, when a lull occurs
in the fury] of the winds, that gods’ anger
is appeased and everything which was there
has changed back again, now that their anger
has been soothed. [I will explain] all the rest
which mortals creatures observe taking place
on earth and in the sky, when so often
they are in suspense, their minds full of dread,
things which demean their souls with fear of gods.
These weigh on them and press them to the ground.
Their ignorance of causes forces them
to assign things to the rule of deities
and to concede that gods are in control.
— VI, [55-67], p. 242.
[T]hey are carried back to old religion
and accept harsh masters, who, they believe,
in their misery, can do everything,
being ignorant of what can and cannot be,
in short, by what law each thing possesses
limited power, a deep-set boundary stone.
And therefore men lose their way even more,
carried away by their blind reasoning.
— VI, [66-73], p. 242.
☞ How Epicurus’ ideas survived through Lucretius’ poetry, and led to toleration, Lapidarium notes
☞ Lucretius on the infinite universe, the beginning of things and the likelihood of extraterrestrial life