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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
On the Evil of Superstition
By Titus Lucretius Carus (c. 99–c. 55 B.C.)
 
From ‘On the Nature of Things,’ Book First: Translation of Hugh Andrew Johnstone Munro

WHEN human life to view lay foully prostrate upon earth, crushed down under the weight of religion, who showed her head from the quarters of heaven with hideous aspect lowering upon mortals, a man of Greece ventured first to lift up his mortal eyes to her face and first to withstand her to her face. Him neither story of gods nor thunderbolts nor heaven with threatening roar could quell: they only chafed the more the eager courage of his soul, filling him with desire to be the first to burst the fast bars of nature’s portals. Therefore the living force of his soul gained the day: on he passed far beyond the flaming walls of the world, and traversed throughout in mind and spirit the immeasurable universe; whence he returns, a conqueror, to tell us what can, what cannot come into being; in short, on what principle each thing has its powers defined, its deep-set boundary mark. Therefore religion is put under foot and trampled upon in turn; us his victory brings level with heaven.  1
  This is what I fear herein, lest haply you should fancy that you are entering on unholy grounds of reason, and treading the path of sin; whereas on the contrary, often and often that very religion has given birth to sinful and unholy deeds. Thus, in Aulis, the chosen chieftains of the Danai, foremost of men, foully polluted with Iphianassa’s blood the altar of the Trivian maid. Soon as the fillet encircling her maiden tresses shed itself in equal lengths adown each cheek, and soon as she saw her father standing sorrowful before the altars, and beside him the ministering priests hiding the knife, and her countrymen at sight of her shedding tears, speechless in terror she dropped down on her knees and sank to the ground. Nor aught in such a moment could it avail the luckless girl that she had first bestowed the name of father on the king. For lifted up in the hands of the men she was carried shivering to the altars, not after due performance of the customary rites to be escorted by the clear-ringing bridal song, but in the very season of marriage, stainless maid ’mid the stain of blood, to fall a sad victim by the sacrificing stroke of a father, that thus a happy and prosperous departure might be granted to the fleet. So great the evils to which religion could prompt!  2
 
 
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