Monday, February 29, 2016

On the Discovery of Hitherto Unknown Lines by the Latin Poet, Lucretius




The publication in November 2015 of the newly discovered concluding lines of Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura has sent shock-waves through the staid world of classical scholarship that reverberate to this present moment. The eminent classicist and author, Mary Beard announced that the retrieval of the epic poem’s lost ending was "an extraordinary gift to the literary world." Stephen Greenblatt, whose book on Lucretius, The Swerve, was an international bestseller, wrote that the discovery of the final page of the epic "confirms the poet’s essential sanity and importance" and reminds us of Lucretius’ impact on the renaissance. More circumspect, Ann Carson, the renowned translator from the Greek, noted in the London Review of Books that Lucretius’ "daringly materialistic vision" is rendered even "darker" and "more despairing" – Lucretius, Carson writes, declares the importance of the "death instinct" or Thanatos "two-thousand years before Freud."

The tale of how the lost lines of Lucretius’ epic were discovered is a tangled one, rife with tragedy and intrigue. But in order to understand the significance of this story and the lines of verse now restored to the poem, we must first consider Lucretius De Rerum Natura and the textual problems that the work presents.

Lucretius was a Latin poet who flourished at the time of the Roman civil wars. He probably died around 55 BC. Very little is known about the poet. His only surviving work is De Rerum Natura, that is, On the Nature of Things, a poem written in dactylic hexameter, that is, the prosody of the Greek and Latin epics. De Rerum Natura is about 7000 lines, composed in six books. The work is unique in classical literature – it is, in effect, an epic on the subject of Epicurean physics; that is, the poem does not narrate a story, has no hero, no love stories, no battles – rather, the work presents, and argues vehemently, several philosophical propositions. Following a lost work by the Greek philosopher, Epicurus, Lucretius argues that all things are comprised of combinations of atoms and the void. Atoms are incompressible, immortal, changeless, colorless, but, apparently, existing in different shapes – some are smooth, others hooked or rough. Things differ because they are made from different compounds of atoms admixed with the void. Matter is porous, consisting of channels through which light and sound and nourishment (with respect to living creatures) penetrates. All things are in flux – material things shed or slough-off films of atoms. These films of atoms impinging upon our eyes create simulacra – the Latin equivalent of eidolon – that is, images that we can perceive. All reality is in continual state of coming into being and dissolution.

From these propositions, Lucretius derives a variety of theories – he develops systems of optics, meteorology, and cosmology. In vehement, argumentive verse, the poet advances hypotheses about the origins of language, the design of human society – he is a precursor sociobiologist – and the nature of the gods. On that subject, the poem is ambiguous. The epic begins with a vivid proem invoking the power of Venus – the goddess of love brings the Spring and with that season an efflorescence of new, burgeoning life. Birds sing and domestic animals are fruitful and world is moist and green with budding blossoms. Lucretius imagines Venus in her bower with the fretful god Mars, restraining him in her embrace from his customary ravages. After his preliminary paean to the goddess, however, Lucretius denies the gods any additional agency in natural affairs – the gods become signs for detached and motionless, tranquility occupying some hypothetical space parallel and apart from our existence. (Lucretius vigorously argues that there are a multitude of inhabited worlds and, indeed, an infinity of possible universes. On that basis, he claims that there are, perhaps, other planets that subscribe to different rules and have alternative histories to our world.)

Tangible objects arise, Lucretius tells us, from a slight swerve or clinamen in the eternal rain of atoms. Atoms drop through the void, an infinite space, all descending (or ascending since direction has no meaning in this universe) at the same speed. Atoms would not interact except for a mysterious perturbation in the universal fabric, a tiny swerve that causes the particles to careen into one another. As the particles collide, they coalesce into forms and in accord with certain enigmatic limits – boundaries imposed by nature – these compounds persist in existence and comprise the world of things that we inhabit. All things are forever coming-to-be and passing-out-of-existence. The very world itself is an great organism that once secreted organisms in innumerable quantities from wet sacs embedded in earth. Milk oozed from the pores of the earth giving sustenance to these creatures. Some of these creatures were defective in that they were chimeras, or lacked the means to reproduce or nourish themselves, but others, better built, have survived and, indeed, flourished. The earth is now menopausal, dry, and infertile. Mother Earth only yields nourishment now through the sweat of our brows. The world’s clock is running down and the entire planet will one day become a corpse, leaking its atoms back into the void.

Lucretius’ obstinate materialist agnosticism did not endear him to other more pious Romans. He seems to have been a minority taste and only a single copy of his great poem survived the Fall of Rome. The Christian patristic writers, most particularly Jerome, detested him and, even, promulgated a legend that he was insane – the tale told about Lucretius’ madness was that he was impotent, that his wife tricked him into drinking a love-philter and that the chemicals in this ancient aphrodisiac drove him mad. (Tennyson retells this slander in one of his finest poems, Lucretius.) Lucretius was rediscovered in the Renaissance and his writings were immensely influential during that period. Renaissance and Enlightenment intellectuals most admired Lucretius for his stern disregard for mortality. Death is not something to be feared, Lucretius argues, because our constituent atoms are immortal – we are merely combinations of those atoms and have no right to complain that our compound flesh will one day dissolve. We were perfectly content with oblivion during the aeons of our previous nonexistence; similarly, we should be perfectly content with the infinity of our future nonexistence.

The calumny that Lucretius was mad seems supported, to some extent, by the peculiar ending to his immense poem. The way that De Rerum Natura concludes is highly disturbing and has troubled critics from the very outset of their studies of this poem. Anxious to deprive the gods of any actual role in human affairs, Lucretius asserts natural explanations for weather phenomena attributed to the Olympian deities – he explains how lightning bolts, tempests, and water-spouts arise. Not content to demystify the weather, Lucretius provides explanations for hot springs, earthquakes, volcanoes and sulfurous fumaroles asserted to be openings into the Underworld. The poem ends with an account of the great plague at Athens, a calamity described by Thucydides in his history of the Peloponnesian war. Like many Roman writers, Lucretius has a morbid, even sadistic, imagination and he luxuriates in gruesome details about to the symptoms of the plague and the panic induced by the pestilence. Presumably, Lucretius means to show us that pestilence is not a visitation of an angry god, but, merely, another aspect of nature. But the poet becomes entangled in his own dire descriptions of the plague –heaping one horrific detail onto another, it seems, that Lucretius has lost his didactic thread. What is this grisly material supposed to mean? And, just at the point, where the reader expects some moralizing or sententious explanation, the poem abruptly ends – it breaks off with the Latin word desererentur, that is, "deserted" in the phrase "they desert their dead." In A. E. Stallings’ recent translation, Lucretius huge poem ends like this:

Squalid Poverty and Sudden Disaster would conspire

To drive men on to a desperate deed – so they’d place on a pyre

Constructed by another their own loved-ones, and set fire

To it with wails and lamentation. And often they would shed

Much blood in the struggle rather than desert their dead.

Clearly, something is missing. And, now, we know what.

But before supplying the missing ending to Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura, we must consider the provenance of this remarkable discovery. And, therein, lies a tale as interesting, and unexpected, as anything in Lucretius’ poem.

De Rerum Natura begins with an invocation of Venus, known as Aphrodite to the Greeks. Lucretius, according to St. Jerome, was driven to suicide by a love-philtre. The story of the discovery of Lucretius lost lines begins, suitably enough, with the search for an aphrodisiac, specifically, the frenzied race to discover "female Viagra."

In late 2015, the FDA approved Fibanseri, a drug thought to enhance sexual function in women. The drug’s effect, however, is controversial and only marginally better than a placebo in increasing female libido. Unlike viagra, a cardio-vascular drug intended to re-direct blood flow to a man’s genitalia, Fibanseri targets brain chemistry, thereby highlighting the difference between male and female sexuality. Viagra works on the mechanics of the erection; it operates on the machinery by which sex occurs – viagra doesn’t induce desire, but merely enhances performance. By contrast, Fibanseri is supposed to change a woman’s brain chemistry to make her more receptive to sexual cues – the drug is designed to affect the mind and its desires. Unfortunately, Fibanseri has no propitious cardio-vascular or physiological effects – it doesn’t induce the circulatory or hormonal chemistry associated with female sexual response. (An off-label use for viagra is to enhance female sexual performance – a small dose of a testosterone analog has this effect on women and, with the drug’s placebo characteristics, always highly important with respect to an aphrodisiac, viagra can, in fact, be efficacious to a limited degree in some women; unfortunately, testosterone equivalents in women are correlated to various forms of cancer and so the drug can not be reliably used in this way.)

Even before Fibanseri was marketed, competitor companies were seeking a female aphrodisiac that had both brain chemistry and correlative physiological effects. Of course, it is presumed that a female aphrodisiac, if discovered, would return revenues in the form of billions of dollars to the owner of the patent on that drug. Accordingly, a race is underway between the leading pharmaceutical manufacturers to develop such a drug, achieve FDA approval for its use, and, then, market that substance to the public. The stakes involved in this race could not be higher in terms of anticipated profit and so, as might be expected, the best minds in biochemistry have been engaged in research and development on this subject. (Drug companies have currently budgeted more financial resources to the discovery of female viagra than for the cure of all forms of cancer and AIDS combined.)

Phil Lazaro, a post-doctoral ethno-botanist at Stanford University, is at the forefront of these efforts. Throughout history, a variety of substances have been claimed to have aphrodisiac effects. The most notable of these substances are so-called cantharides, the active ingredients in Spanish fly. Unfortunately, Spanish fly is toxic in the dose required to induce aphrodisiac effects – in fact, the Marquis de Sade was indicted for poisoning several prostitutes, apparently, inadvertently, with Spanish fly. Big Pharma’s strategy was to seek folk-remedies for female frigidity or sexual dysfunction, subject those decoctions to testing, and, then, assess whether the active ingredients in those substances could be used to create a marketable love-philtre. Dr. Lazaro, on extended sabbatical from Stanford, was recruited by Merck for these studies. Specifically, Lazaro, who had written his doctoral thesis on the physiological effects of different varietals of ayahuasco, an Amazonian vine with psychedelic properties, was dispatched to the lower to the upper Amazon basin to study allegedly aphrodisiac plants known to the local indigenous people.

In July 2014, Lazaro, a gregarious and athletic 38-year old, flew to Iquitos in the Peruvian Amazon. Iquitos is an island metropolis, surrounded on all sides by the impenetrable Amazonian rainforest. Nautos, the next largest city in this province in northeastern Peru, is 100 kilometer south of the metropolis and can be reached by highway. Nautos is a staging area for tourist excursions into the jungle and a significant trading center for indigenous people too shy to venture in Iquitos or its environs. Lazaro set a up trading center at the edge of a national reserve, a quincha at the literal end of the road. (A quincha is a shanty made from bamboo and sugar can stalks woven into thatched walls supported by a tin roof.) Through emissaries to various local tribes, Lazaro distributed gifts and advised that he was interested in receiving medicinal herbs and plants from regional shamans. The Nautos trading post, although occupying a cul-de-sac on the edge of a vast swampy basin, an area the size of Texas but inhabited by only 15,000 people, was serviced by UPS worldwide. Daily, the familiar brown truck arrived at the Nautos station where Lazaro shipped back to Iquitos, and, ultimately, laboratories in Darmstadt and San Jose, vegetal specimens that he had received and indexed according to their alleged pharmaceutical properties. Lazaro developed specialized techniques for transporting the plant specimens that the received generally intact with essential oils undiluted – in many instances, the medicinal virtue of the plant does not reside in its buds or blossoms, but instead in roots, bark, or other integument. Lazaro’s innovations in preserving and shipping his specimens, some of these techniques involving cryovac and quick freeze technology were themselves scientific breakthroughs and won him much renown in his field.

All went well for a half year. Rain is omnipresent in this part of the Amazonian river basin – there is no dry season, only a period of time when the downpours occur at greater, as opposed to lesser, intervals. Around Christmas time 2014, Lazaro traveled to the city to celebrate the holiday in Iquitos. On the way back to Nautos, his Landrover was hit head-on by a semi-truck hauling forestry products and Lazaro was severely injured. For several weeks, he lingered in a coma in the hospital at Nautos, too sick and fragile to be transported to Iquitos. During this time, the doctors at the Nautos commissary despaired of Lazaro’s life and a Jesuit priest was called to administer last rites to him. Lazaro ultimately recovered and, it was during this time, that he forged a close friendship with the Jesuit pastor. This relationship was the crucial contact that ultimately led to the discovery the lost lines concluding Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura.

The Jesuit Father, Monseignor Augustin Rodriguez was born and educated in Paraguay, a full-blooded Guarani Indian from Banado Norte, one of poorest barrios in Asuncion. Although Rodriquez was a canon lawyer, trained in Vatican City, he retained a keen interest in Indian folkways and enjoyed discussing native medicines and remedies with Lazaro. As the ethno-botanist slowly recovered from his injuries, he interrogated Rodriquez about this knowledge of the herbal potions used by the natives of the Gran Chaco, the vast thorn-thickets from which the priest’s family had migrated to the Paraguayan capital. While the two men talked, Rodriquez sipped yerba mate tea from a small gourd-shaped cup made from stainless steel. (Lazaro and Rodriguez had first discussed herbal potions in relationship to the priest’s addiction to yerba mate and his discussion with the scientist about the sinister flor de agosto decoctions sometimes used heighten the effects of the infusion.) It was during one of these conversations, the Monsiegnor Rodriguez mentioned the strange history of aphrodisiacs in Paraguay.

According to Rodriguez, the Paraguay was twice ravaged by horrific wars. Around the time of the American Civil War, Paraguay was destroyed in the War of the Triple Alliance. In that conflict, little poverty-stricken Paraguay fought the armies of Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina. The result was predictably catastrophic – more than two-thirds of Paraguay’s population died in battle or as result of pestilence and starvation. Almost all of Paraguay’s men of fighting age were killed. Then, about eighty years later, Paraguay again was defeated in the Chaco War, a nightmarish conflict with Chile. In the Chaco War, the country was once more depopulated – vast numbers of its men died in the impenetrable and arid scrubland rolling westward from Asuncion to the foothills of the Andes. Both of these wars resulted in a situation in which the surviving men were outnumbered ten-to-one by the female population. In this dire circumstance, the Catholic church acted pragmatically and decreed that monogamous marriage was no longer mandatory. To the contrary, parishioners were authorized to have harems of women and, for several decades, polygamy was not only sanctioned but covertly encouraged by the Church.

These practices had long since lapsed when Rodriguez was educated by the Jesuits. But he was aware of this history and, indeed, an elderly priest had once told him about these things, encouraging his interest by showing him certain letters from an archive maintained in the Institutu Superior de Estudios Humansticos y Filosoficos in Asuncion. In those letters, a parish priest comments on the aftermath of the Chaco War and suggests instituting demographic measures that prevailed between 1870 and 1900 after the catastrophic War of the Triple Alliances. In the letter, the priest mentioned the practice of sanctioning polygamy and, further, spoke of the use of certain herbs mixed in yerba mate infusions said to increase sexual desire in women. Rodriguez’ recollection of the letter was incomplete – his main interest had been in canon law implications of these doctrines – but the Jesuit was quite certain that the correspondence had referenced a book detailing the ingredients used to make the aphrodisiac brew. "If I remember correctly," Rodriguez said, " the letter cited an Italian book, something from Florence, a codex that contained a detailed recipe for a female aphrodisiac said to be of great potency."

When he was well enough to travel, Dr. Lazaro flew from Iquitos to Buenos Aires and, then, to Asuncion. Equipped with a letter of introduction by Monsiegnor Rodriguez, Lazaro applied for a permit to review the historical archives of the Jesuit order maintained at the Instititu Superior in Asuncion. Although the priests administering the archives were, at first, hesitant, Dr. Lazaro arranged for them to speak to Rodriguez by telephone and the ethnobotanist was, then, given full access to the historical documents that he was seeking. After several days research, Lazaro located the correspondence that Rodriguez had mentioned and found that, indeed, the letter referenced a volume, the Firenze Medici, or Florentine medical codex, that the priest had read in the library of Monastery and Convent of San Francisco in Lima, Peru. The reference to the aphrodisiac was short but tantalizing – the decoction was said to be invariably efficacious in arousing female desire.

Following these clues, Dr. Lazaro, then, traveled to Lima. The church officials managing the monastery of San Francisco denied Lazaro access to the famous convent library. He was allowed to stand at the entrance to the long, dusty, and suffocating room containing the library, a dim space extending like an underground shaft a hundred yards into the stony bowels of the convent. A velvet rope, like those used in old movie-houses, kept tourists from entering the dim and humid library – Lazaro stood at the entrance to the library and looked at the ancient books, some of them displayed on stands just beyond the rope-line and groups of tourists came and went, some of them guided by women who chirped a few words in German or Japanese, warning the visitors to not take flash pictures, an admonition invariably ignored so that flashes invaded the silent, decrepit sanctuary of the library, that deep and gloomy corridor where the light reflected off the cyclopean bulb of a vast, amber-colored globe, the guides warning the tourists once more before the spectators were hustled away, down the spiral steps to the refreshing and breezy coolness of the cloisters surrounding the garden plaza. The library was full of yellow parchment, enigmatic bundles the color of mummy wrappings, some of them tied with string on shadowy shelves and there was a kind of balcony overhead lit by light that just barely penetrated through honey-colored slits in the fortified wall of the monastery. Lazaro felt like someone who has been excluded from paradise although this heavenly place was humid and sweltering, airless, a vault crammed with rotting paper. The baroque library leaked – Lazaro could see water-stains in the corners of the cherry-wood coffered ceiling. No one seemed to know what permission was required to enter the library and little Indian men with whiskerless faces and armed with machine guns patrolled the premises so that Lazaro was not tempted to essay any surreptitious entry into the library. After making a half-dozen fruitless inquiries, Lazaro was told by a wizened monk that the codex Firenze Medici was no longer in the collection and that, in fact, it had been sent to the Vatican Library with several hundred other important volumes too fragile or important to be allowed to quietly decay in the convent library in Lima. Peru is a poor country and its religious institutions are not prosperous either and, so, Vatican officals had recalled to St. Peter’s the most important acquisitions of the convent library – ostensibly so that those rare volumes could be properly conserved by experts in Rome.

So Dr. Phil Lazaro went, at last, to Rome. Officials at the Vatican Library were circumspect. They neither admitted nor denied possession of the Firenze Medici incunabula. The manuscript was, apparently, subject to some modern equivalent of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum. Further, Vatican librarians seemed to understand Dr. Lazaro’s connection to Merck Pharmaceuticals all too well. At one point, a Vatican librarian told Lazaro that the book was off-limits, the product of its author’s insanity, and, in any event, the best remedy and vade mecum was prayer – statements uttered officiously with a wink of the eye to signify that neither the speaker nor the listener should consider them as meant in earnest. Several prelates deputized to meet with Lazaro suggested that Merck was complicit in the murder of millions of unborn infants and that it was the height of secular arrogance to expect the Holy Mother Church to cooperate with an emissary of that company. But again these words were not spoken in a hectoring tone, but, rather, suavely, as mere considerations that, perhaps, should be taken into account but would not be dispositive as to the final outcome. Ultimately, Lazaro was led to believe that if a donation were made to a certain fund dedicated to the canonization of the Reverend Bishop Fulton Sheen, an ongoing project among certain dioceses in the United States, Vatican cooperation, although discrete, might be forthcoming. The Vatican official who made this proposal suggested that Lazaro and his patron corporation consider the donation as Obolo di San Pietro or "St. Peter’s pence". (In his one and only interview on the subject, Dr. Lazaro makes the jocose observation that he misheard the official to say "Ebola" of San Pietro and, at first, wondered what this curious reference to a modern-day plague meant.) In due course, Lazaro contacted Merck and arranged that payments be made as prescribed – funding the arrangement ultimately involved several Skullcandy duffel bags of cash transported to Davos, Switzerland. After the proceeds had been transferred, Dr. Lazaro was allowed to spend several days with the Firenze Medici codex. For an additional fee, this paid to a retirement association for Ursuline nuns, a secretary was retained to transcribe the relevant portions of the book.

The content of the Firenze Medici, at least in the Merck-sponsored transcription, is highly proprietary and can not be revealed in this essay. The contents of the incunabula include an initial chapter entitled "On enemas and rectal evacuation" – the following chapters are said to address poisons, the influence of bad air on health, kidney and bladder stones, erysipelas (ignis sacer), the Falling Sickness and other kinds of seizure disorders, megrim, the plague, and, of course, a lengthy section entitled "On Generation." Merck in partnership with the Vatican controls the manuscript and has severely limited access to the book. However, Dr. Lazaro in collaboration with a Vatican scholar on Latin literature, was authorized to publish a few words on the section of the manuscript entitled "On the Plague."

In the "plague" chapter, the Firenze Medici catalogs classic accounts of the plague. Of course, the text cites Thucydides report on the Athenian plague. Also quoted, at length, is Lucretius’ adaptation of that narrative into Latin verse. Remarkably, the citation from Lucretius, words apparently copied from a source no longer extant, does not conclude with the word "desererentur" – that is, "desert their dead." Instead, the text continues for another 23 lines. Dr. Lazaro is not a classicist and, so, of course, he didn’t know the significance of this addendum to Lucretius poem. But the Vatican translator assigned work on the Merck edition was aware that these additional lines were immensely important. Indeed, most scholars have come to accept the 23 lines following the word "desererentur" as the conclusion of De Rerum Natura as it was originally conceived by the poet.

Lucretius experts have long noted that the poem, even in its truncated form, demonstrates a kind of symmetry. The verse epic begins with a paean to Venus and celebrates the goddess’ power in bringing forth fresh life. As transmitted, De Rerum Natura ends with a vivid and unsettling exposition of the plague – thus, the epic focuses on death as it approaches its ending. This is consistent with Lucretius’ Epicureanism – all things come into being by birth and are dissolved or pass away in death. Since the poem begins with a powerful celebration of birth, it should end with an equally forceful acknowledgment of the power of death. And, indeed, the poem as it has been handed down to us does end in this way. But Lucretius’ hymn to birth and life, the poem’s incipit as it were, concludes with a vignette showing Venus triumphant over Mars. Beginning in Book One at line 31, Lucretius embodies the twin principles of Love and Strife as an erotic encounter between Venus and Mars:

For only you (Venus) can favor mortal men with peace since Mars

Mighty in arms, who oversees the wicked works of wars,

Conquered by Love’s everlasting wound, so often lies

Upon your lap, and gazing upward feasts his greedy eyes
On love, his mouth agape at you, Famed Goddess, as he tips

Back his shapely neck, his breath hovering at your lips,

And, as he leans upon your holy body, and you reach

Your arms around him, sweet-talk him, Lady, with your honeyed speech

Pleading for a quiet peace for Romans.

Lucretius ends the epic by again invoking this scene. As the poem begins with Venus, the epic concludes with an image of Strife, that is Mars, the force that dissolves the atoms and, thereby, brings death into the world. Again, we are shown Mars embowered with Venus. But, at the end of the poem, made powerful by the thousands of deaths caused by the plague, Mars rises from Venus’ couch and stalks away. Thus, the poem begins by invoking Venus and ends with an account of Mars leaving the embrace of the Love Goddess and continuing his depredations in the world. Existence arises from the embrace (or collision) between Love and Strife. The poem begins with Love and, therefore, must end by displaying the power of Strife.

Here is the actual ending of De Rerum Natura as conceived by Lucretius two-thousand years ago:

Remote and serene, indifferent to the ruined city’s noisome reek,

The lovers prolong their sweet combat and the goddess’ soft hand seeks

To delay the Thracian youth’s departure, tangling white fingers

In his beard, and unbuckling bronze breast-plate, so that Mars lingers

Made negligent by caress and honeyed words pleading that this peace

Endure and that the wrathful one tarry on her lap without surcease,

Ignoring the war-summons bellowed by his twin sons, Terror and Dread,

Mars Loitering amidst the garlands and incense of Venus’soft bed.

But come away to war, thou fierce God, most hateful of all the divine,

See, Memnius, how he stalks, trampling out that red wine,

The vintage of those grapes of wrath, most greedily quaffed

At the wall’s breach, where the fires of war flicker high aloft,

Destroyer of cities, insatiable in battle, who rips and rends and tears

Apart all things and smashes the hearth into shards and lures from lairs

Those wild beasts with savage maw that shred tendon and sinew

And with delirious strife break bone, strew limbs and make blood spew

So that the seeds are scattered of their forms bereft, into the void hurled

To there collide and mate and combine again to make a new world

From the wreckage of this smashed one.

Man-slaughterer, lord of strife

From whose destructive forays arises the blessing of new life,

As you were once caught in Vulcan’s glittering net, entrapped along

With Venus, abide with me now and sanctify this web of song.

"The Thracian Youth" is an epithet for Mars. Mars was thought to have been born in the warlike province of Thrace. Deimos ("Dread") and Phobos ("Terror") are Mars’ twin sons. The poem concludes didactically addressing Memnius, Lucretius’ young acolyte referenced earlier in the poem. The final conceit suggests that Lucretius imagines his verse epic to be like the tightly wrought net made by Hephaestus (Vulcan) to ensnare his adulterous wife, Venus, and her warlike lover, Mars. Lucretius proclaims his dactylic hexameters to be a well-wrought web sufficient to entangle, imprison, and display the two great powers of existence, Love and Strife.

Dr. Phil Lazaro cites his non-compete and confidentiality agreement with Merck when quizzed about that company’s progress toward developing, patenting, and marketing female Viagra. Industry sources speaking off-the-record suggest that Merck’s efforts have encountered unanticipated obstacles – whether legal, technical, or scientific remains unclear. Furthermore, rumors abound that a Swiss pharmaceutical company, Davina, may well be ahead of Merck in the race to the market; some sources suggest that clinical trials of the aphrodisiac are underway presently in Laos and Bangladesh. Curiously, Davina is a business corporation organized as a partnership between AstraZeneca and an Italian firm, Luxus. Luxus, holding a controlling interest in Davina, manages a series of Mediterranean resorts marketed under the phrase: Cupid’s Beaches – the Most Romantic Getaways in the World. Luxus is reported to be a joint venture between a holding company owned by the Vatican and the Italian mafia.

In an interview recorded shortly after returning to Stanford from his adventures abroad, Lazaro may have given the world a clue as to the mode of operation of the world’s first truly efficacious female aphrodisiac. "What is desire anyway?" Dr. Lazaro asked. "It’s a kind of hoax, a device to trick the brain. The mistake chemists make is trying to create physiological reactions. But what if there was a medication that, instead of enhancing the flow of blood to the genitals, instead operated on the imagination. What if, in other words, the drug enhanced the placebo effect itself, that is, making the recipient more responsive to the imagined effects of the medication. I’m simply asking if the best route wouldn’t be enhance the quality of the deception, that is, improve the placebo effect, improve the hoax, as it were."

Dr. Lazaro has not publicly spoken on the subject recently.