Nature: A Cruel Stepmother

Mother Nature, as we all know, is not always benign. An anecdote I often used as a professor to illustrate “Divine Indifference” (as opposed to Divine Providence) follows:

One day an apple drops from a tree, hits Newton on the head, and we have a great discovery—the Universal Law of Gravitation!
The next day another apple drops from the same tree and wipes out a colony of hard-working, social, provident ants.
That’s Mother Nature at her finest.

The Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi touched on the theme of Nature as a cruel stepmother in several of his poems. As one of the stanzas of his “Canto notturno di un pastore errante dell’Asia” [The nocturnal song of a wandering shepherd of Asia] says in part (translation to follow the Italian):

Nasce l’uomo a fatica,
Ed è rischio di morte il nascimento.
Prova pena e tormento
Per prima cosa; e in sul principio stesso
La madre e il genitore
Il prende a consolar dell’esser nato.
Poi che crescendo viene,
L’uno e l’altro il sostiene, e via pur sempre
Con atti e con parole
Studiasi fargli core,
E consolarlo dell’umano stato:
Altro ufficio più grato
Non si fa da parenti alla lor prole.
Ma perchè dare al sole,
Perchè reggere in vita
Chi poi di quella consolar convenga?
Se la vita è sventura,
Perchè da noi si dura?

• • •  

Man is born to labor;
and birth itself comes at risk of death.
The first thing he experiences is pain and torment;
and right from the start his mother and father console him for having been born.
Then, as he grows,
both the one and the other sustain him
and, ceaselessly, with words and deeds,
endeavor to give him courage,
and console him for the human condition:
No other more grateful duty
does a parent for their offspring.
But why bring to light,
why sustain in life
he who must be consoled for that?
If life is misfortune,
why do we endure it?
— translated by Ron Terpening

Virile, philosophical pessimism! With that in mind: Have a good weekend!