Thursday, 7 May 2015

Lucretius v, 1011-1029: how society began.



Myths about the origin of civilisation can be found all over the world. Sometimes civilisation is brought to mankind by a trickster like Prometheus or by some divine aid. Such an intervention is impossible for Lucretius and he tries to develop a rationalistic explanation.  His reconstruction comes close to what modern anthropologists and sociologists consider as a likely development for a civilization. On the other hand is Lucretius to optimistic and incorporated in his description the notion of a golden age. Modern research has found that primitive societies were violent against each other. Still, one can only admire Lucretius’ attempt to imagine the development of society.

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura, v 1011 - 1027
Inde casas postquam ac pellis ignemque pararunt
et mulier coniuncta viro concessit in unum

*
cognita sunt, prolemque ex se videre creatam,
tum genus humanum primum mollescere coepit.
ignis enim curavit, ut alsia corpora frigus                1015
non ita iam possent caeli sub tegmine ferre,
et Venus inminuit viris puerique parentum
blanditiis facile ingenium fregere superbum.
tunc et amicitiem coeperunt iungere aventes
finitimi inter se nec laedere nec violari,                                   1020
et pueros commendarunt muliebreque saeclum,
vocibus et gestu cum balbe significarent
imbecillorum esse aequum misererier omnis.
nec tamen omnimodis poterat concordia gigni,
sed bona magnaque pars servabat foedera caste;               1025
aut genus humanum iam tum foret omne peremptum
nec potuisset adhuc perducere saecla propago.  

casa: shelter, dwelling-place
pellis (f.): pelt, hide (pellis = pelles (acc. pl.)
* a line is missing with a noun agreeing with unum, for which coniugium is the best option (`they  retired  into a single marriage’ as opposed to the free sex they practised before), a conjunction and a noun agreeing with cognita. Probably the sentence runs `rhe ritired into a single (union and the laws of marriage were learnt.’ Following the suggestion in the edition by Benfield – Reeves)
mollesco: to soften (i.e. to become civilized)
alsius: cold (only found in Lucretius)
frigus frigoris (n.): coldness
caeli sub tegmine: under the vault of heaven
ita iam: as well (as before – because their bodies were softened!)
inminuo inminui inminutum: to lessen, diminish
viris = vires
puerique parentum blanditiis facile ingenium fregere superbum = puerique  facike ingenium superbum (the fierce temperament) parentum blanditiis fregere (= fregerunt)
blanditia blanditiae: flatteries, blandishments
frango fregi fractum: to break (both words come from the common Indo-European root *bhr(e)g)
amicities = amicitia (this form only here)
aveo: to long for (object: amicitiem)
finitimus: neighbour
commendo: to entrust
muliebre saeclum: the female race
vocibus et gestu cum = cum vocibus et gestu
balbe: in a stammering way (as they had not yet discovered language)
imbecillorum esse aequum misererier omnis = aequum esse omnis imbecillorum misererier (= misereri)
aequus: fair, reasonable
omnis = omnes (acc of the aci)
imbecillis: weak
misereor (+ gen.) to have pity with
omnimodis: in every way, wholly
gigno genui genitus: to come forth
servabat foedera caste: kept their treaties pure
foret = esset
perimo peremi peremptum: to destroy
propago propaginis (f.): offspring
perduco perduxi perductum: continue through


Translation by John Selby Watson (1880)

Afterwards, when they procured huts, and skins, and fire,
and the woman, united to the man, came to dwell in the
same place with him; and when the pure and pleasing con-
nexions of undivided love were known, and they saw a pro-
geny sprung from themselves ; then first the human race
began to be softened and civilized. For fire now rendered
their shivering bodies less able to endure the cold under the
canopy of heaven ; and love diminished their strength ; and
children with their blandishments easily subdued the ferocious
tempers of their parents. Then, also, neighbours, feeling a
mutual friendship, began to form agreements not to hurt or
injui'e one another; and they commended, with sounds and
gestures, their children, and the female sex, to each other's
protection ; while they signified, with imperfect speech, that
it is right for every one to have compassion on the weak.
Such concord, however, could not be established universally ;
but the better and greater part kept their faith inviolate, or
the human race would then have been wholly destroyed, and
the species could not have continued its generations to the
present period.

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