Leaves, Like the Lives of Mortal Men

February 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

Throughout antiquity, we are reminded of the brevity of life, the temporal, but also the renewal aspect of Nature’s actions.

In the Iliad, men die in battle at such a horrifying pace.

Glaucus, a lieutenant of the Trojan side of the conflict, has this to say when confronted with the opposing Achean general Diomedes:

“Like the generation of leaves, the lives of mortal men.
Now the wind scatters the old leaves across the earth,
now the living timber bursts with the new buds
and spring comes round again. And so with men:
as one generation comes to life, another dies away.”

Iliad, Homer
(trans. Robert Fagles)

In De Rerum Natura (The Nature of Things), Lucretius’s magnum opus to Epicurean philosophy draws our attention to the cyclical and interrelatedness  of all living things, but also the indestructability of our core elements: atoms.

“While some species are ascendant, some recede,
And generations are renewed again in a brief space,
Passing on life’s torch, like relay runners in a race.”

(trans. A.E. Stallings)

In his writings, Marcus Aurelius was probably pondering about the lives of eminent men who have come before him, or probably a self-consolation after the death of the closest to him.

“Many grains of incense upon the same altar; one falls first, another later, but difference there is none.”

Meditations, Marcus Aurelius (trans. Farquharson)


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