Nature Is Her Own Mistress

Illustration: Elena Lacey; Getty Images; NASA



“…nature is her own mistress and is exempt from the oppression of arrogant despots, accomplishing everything by herself spontaneously and independently and free from the jurisdiction of the gods.” (Lucretius, De Rerum Natura translated by M. F. Smith, Book 2, Lines 1090-1093)

Comments 3

  • Hmm - Smith's "nature is her own mistress" seems a little aggressive to me given these other translations. I generally think Smith is worthy of deference but maybe this is one to investigate:

    Bailey has: [1090] "And if you learn this surely, and cling to it, nature is seen, free at once, and quit of her proud rulers, doing all things of her own accord alone, without control of gods. For by the holy hearts of the gods, which in their tranquil peace pass placid years, and a life of calm, who can avail to rule the whole sum of the boundless, who to hold in his guiding hand the mighty reins of the deep, who to turn round all firmaments at once, and warm all fruitful lands with heavenly fires, or to be at all times present in all places, so as to make darkness with clouds, and shake the calm tracts of heaven with thunder, and then shoot thunderbolts, and often make havoc of his own temples, or moving away into deserts rage furiously there, plying the bolt, which often passes by the guilty and does to death the innocent and undeserving?

    Munro has: [1090] "If you well apprehend and keep in mind these things, nature free at once and rid of her haughty lords is seen to do all things spontaneously of herself without the meddling of the gods. For I appeal to the holy breasts of the gods who in tranquil peace pass a calm time and an unruffled existence, who can rule the sum, who can hold in his hand with controlling force the strong reins, of the immeasurable deep? Who can at once make all the different heavens to roll and warm with ethereal fires all the fruitful earths, or be present in all places at all times, to bring darkness with clouds and shake with noise the heaven’s serene expanse, to hurl lightnings and often throw down his own temples, and withdrawing into the deserts there to spend his rage in practicing his bolt which often passes the guilty by and strikes dead the innocent and unoffending?

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    • Let me look up the Latin in the Loeb edition......

      Quae bene cogita si teneas, natura videtur libera continuo, dominis privata superbis, ipsa sua per se sponte omnia dis agere expers.

      And the Loeb edition, edited by Smith himself, has this translation: "If you hold fast to these convictions, nature is seen to be free at once and rid of proud masters, herself doing all by herself of her own accord, without the help of the gods.'

      So I wonder if he had good reason for his change, or if he just decided to engage in a flight of poetry himself?

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    • Just FYI

      Perseus' Leonard translation has:

      Then Nature, delivered from every haughty lord,

      And forthwith free, is seen to do all things

      Herself and through herself of own accord,

      dominis is masculine, not feminine, so mistress (of the house) doesn't seem to be correct. And superbis is haughty, so I'm going with Leonard.

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