Reviewing The Book The Way Things Are English Literature Essay


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In Book IV of The Way Things Are, Lucretius discusses the theory of the senses and the themes of love and human sexuality. In his argument, he references Venus as a symbol of sexual desires and addresses her in a hostile and contemptuous tone. This image of Venus seems to contradict her earlier image in the opening invocation which leads to an inconsistency in Lucretius' argument. In my opinion, there is no contradiction between the two images of Venus as each image represents a different ideal.

Venus in the opening invocation is a comprehensive symbol that represents the Epicurean ideals and the Romans' ideals. As an Epicurean, Lucretius doesn't believe in God's involvement to human's life. Therefore, we must understand that Venus, in this context, is not a goddess but a metaphor for the natural force of life. She symbolizes as the force of procreation which impels animal reproduction.

"Responsive to your coming, call and cry,

The cattle, tame no longer, swim across

The rush of river-torrents, or skip and bound

In joyous meadows; where your brightness leads,

They follow, gladly taken in the drive,

The urge, of love to come."(I. 10-15)

The animals, without making any decisions, follow their natural instincts to achieve a pleasurable life, enjoying the sexual pleasure and continue their reproductive cycle. Venus, as the nurturing mother who guiding all living beings, brings joy, or in other term, pleasure to our life. This depiction of Venus, as the source of life and "joy of earth and joy of heaven" (I. 2), represents Epicurean philosophy and constitutes its ultimate goal. Through her magnificent reproductive role, Lucretius further develops her as an impersonal metaphor of generations of all living beings over the course of life.

"Our race is fed, and so are animals

And we see happy cities, flowering

With children, […]" (I. 52-54)

Venus represents an ideal world of Epicurean philosophy - a well ordered, impersonal world where one follows his/her natural instinct and live a pleasurable life.

In addition to her symbol of procreation, Venus is also praised as the ancestress of the Romans and the patroness of peace. Further in the second half of the hymn, Lucretius gradually converts the impersonal figure of Venus into her popular conception of Romans' culture, the symbol of love and sexual desire, through her affair with Mars. Thus, the image of Venus, throughout the invocation, is very complicated and comprehensive. Venus is not only an idyllic symbol of Epicurean tranquility on a natural level as force of procreation but also a metonymy of love and sexual affair on the human level.

In Book 4, the comprehensive image of Venus is reduced to a metaphor of sexual acts. Unlike Venus in Book 1 who appears as a source of life and inspiration, Venus in Book 4 is a source of disappointment, frustration, and misery displayed by the images of wounding, blind desire and foolishness. But it's fallible to assume that Lucretius contradicts himself since he defines what he means by calling Venus before making his argument.

"There's Venus for you! And her name supplies

Another term for love, if you must know,

The word I have in mind is venery -" (IV. 56-59)

Lucretius doesn't address the whole comprehensive image of Venus in Book 1 but the portion of what she represents, her popular conception as a metaphor of lovemaking and as the Roman's goddess. In Book 1, Lucretius doesn't praise God but praises the creative force of nature symbolized by Venus. His hostile and contemptuous tone of voice when addressing Venus in Book 4 is used for his mockery and attack on the Roman's conception of Venus as symbol of love. In his argument, Lucretius sees love as a mental corruption of human's pure sexual instinct. As humans fall in love, we cannot think rationally and we delude ourselves with false images. These images instill hopes and fantasies but when reality fails to reach our expectations, we experience great pain and sorrow. Such misery deteriorates our sexual pleasure as well as our life experience.

" […]. So it is in love.

Venus plays tricks on lovers with her game

Of images which never satisfy." (IV. 1104-1106)

If in Book 1, Lucretius mainly discusses the idealistic cycle of animal's reproduction, in Book 4, he focuses on analyzing human sexual relations and the damaging effect of love upon human's sexual experience. This change in subject results a reduced image of Venus. Venus, the nurturing mother, now brings us pain by wounding us with her sons' arrow and teases us with her own tricks. Through this image of Venus, Lucretius tries to prove that love is problematic and destructive as it prevents us from experiencing pleasure. His explanation of sex is to direct us into our instinctive nature instead of being overtaken by feelings that we can't control and understand.

Lucretius' use of symbol might seem confusing but if we follow him thoroughly from Book 1 to Book 4, we will be able to understand his reason. Lucretius' method of his argument is to start in simple form and then gradually discuss in greater complexity. For example, from an explanation of a single atom, he proceeds to its complicated combination and diffusions. In the same manner, Lucretius combines the two images of Venus, the Epicurean and Roman's ideal, in his opening invocation. When reader has progressed in the poem and understood Lucretius' materialistic perspective and his Epicurean philosophy, he would be able to face the harsh image of Venus and accept some sort of reconciliation between her two images. Lucretius, through the double images of Venus, tries to reconcile the Epicurean ideals and the Roman's ideals. As human nature, love can be as natural as the sexual drive in animal. In order to reconcile the Epicurean's ideal and Roman's ideal of love and pleasure, Lucretius proposed the idea of marriage. He characterizes love is not heaven sent but a process of learning to live with another person.

"[…], and love depends

On habit quite as much as the wild ways

Of passion. […]" (IV. 84-86)

The two images of Venus in Book 1 and Book 4 are very different from each other. However, Lucretius doesn't contradict himself as he defines each Venus a different meaning in his argument. This inconsistency might seem confusing but it expresses Lucretius' method of argument and his effort to reconcile the tense but workable existence between the realistic Roman ideal and Epicurean ideal.

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