People - Ancient Rome: Lucretius
Born Titus Lucretius Carus (ca. 99 BC – ca. 55 BC), he was a Roman poet and philosopher.
Lucretius Carus, Titus in Harpers Dictionary
A Roman poet and philosopher who was born probably in B.C. 98 or 96; the year is uncertain. Of his birthplace and parentage nothing is
known. St. Jerome is authority for the statement that he was made insane by a love-philter, and finally committed suicide, having
composed some books in the intervals of his madness. According to Donatus, he died on the same day that Vergil assumed the toga virilis—
October 15, B.C. 55.
Lucretius left but one work, the De Rerum Natura, a didactic poem in six books containing in all nearly 7500 hexameter lines. The
purpose of the poem is to set forth the Epicurean system of philosophy, particularly those portions dealing with the origin of the world
and the operations of natural forces. The poet's aim in writing was, as he tells us, to free men's minds from the baneful influence of
superstition and of the belief in the hereafter, to which he attributed the greater portion of the fears and troubles of life. He
endeavoured to explain how, without the direction or intervention of supernatural agencies in any degree, all natural phenomena may be
accounted for. In Book I, he lays down as fundamental truths the propositions that nothing can come from nothing, and that to nothing
nought returns. The universe is made up of matter and void, or space. It has no centre, for matter exists in infinite quantity, and
space is without limit. Matter is composed of atoms, which are inconceivably minute, perfectly solid, and indestructible. Book II. is
devoted to an elaborate discussion of the atoms, treating of their movements, shapes, and combinations. Sensation and feeling are
declared to be an accident of atomic combination, a result of the coming together of atoms of certain shapes in certain ways. The
subject of the third book is the mind and soul, which, according to the poet, are inseparably united and of material nature, being
composed of the finest and roundest atoms. Many reasons are brought forward to prove that the soul perishes at the same time with the
body. Book IV. deals with the phenomena of sense-perception. From the surface of all objects thin films of matter are continually flying
off, preserving the general outline of that from which they come. These impinge upon our senses, and perception is an immediate result.
Yet in the adaptation of the senses to their functions there is no evidence of design, no sign of creative intelligence. The fifth book
sets forth the perishable nature of the world, its formation from a fortuitous concourse of atoms, the origin of life by spontaneous
generation, the preservation of animal life in accordance with the law of the survival of the fittest, and the development of man in
civilization out of a condition of brutish savagery. In Book VI. the poet attempts to explain the natural phenomena which seem most
terrible and inexplicable, particularly thunder and lightning, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, the changes of the Nile, and the power
of the magnet. The poem ends abruptly with a description of the plague at Athens, and was evidently given to the world before it had
received the final revision of the author.
In the matter of the poem Lucretius followed closely the teachings of Epicurus, whom he revered as guide and master. With a truly Roman
spirit he laid more emphasis upon the reign of law in the universe than his teacher; but he made no contribution in the way of doctrine
to the Epicurean system. Whether he intended to bring his work to a close with a presentation of the ethical views of Epicurus it is
impossible to determine; but numerous references show that in these, also, the poet was fully in sympathy with his master. The form of
the De Rerum Natura was perhaps suggested by that of the poem of Empedocles, On Nature. The thought and manner of expression reveal the
influence of several Greek poets besides Empedocles (notably Homer and Euripides), and of the early Roman poets (particularly Ennius),
as well as of Cicero's Aratea. Yet the poem throughout bears the stamp of a marked individuality. Believing deeply himself in the
mission of Epicureanism as a cure-all for human ills, Lucretius proclaimed its teachings with an almost religious fervor. Previous to
his time this system of philosophy had received only scanty treatment in Latin, that, too, in barbarous prose. From the multitude of its
technical details and the absence of a supernatural element, it seemed incapable of poetic handling. Nevertheless, Lucretius succeeded
not only in presenting the main features of Epicurean physics and psychology with admirable clearness, but even in clothing them with a
highly poetic form. There are, indeed, passages of unequal merit, and now and then the lack of the poet's finishing touches becomes
unpleasantly apparent; yet from beginning to end the poem carries the reader along with a kind of epic movement and interest. It
possesses a unity and continuity inconsistent with the tradition that it was composed “in lucid intervals;” still it is not impossible
that the story of the poet's insanity and selfdestruction may reflect some tragic event of his life. The legend of the madness of
Lucretius was elaborated by Tennyson in a well-known poem.
The De Rerum Natura ranks not only as one of the finest poems in the Latin language, but also as undoubtedly the greatest didactic poem
of all literature. It is masterly in its grasp and handling of the subject-matter, elevated in tone, and finely poetic in expression and
suggestion. As an earnest attempt to adapt Epicureanism to the needs of the Roman life, the De Rerum Natura— apart from its value and
inspiration as literature —is of especial interest at the present time, when atomic materialism under a new form is again challenging
the attention of the philosophic world. Its doctrines form a curious and instructive parallel to those of the advocates of materialistic
evolution, and sometimes foreshadow in a striking manner the conclusions of modern science.
The existing manuscripts of Lucretius are all derived from a single archetype, which has long since disappeared. From this at least
three copies were made. One of these, a beautiful folio of the ninth century, is now at Leyden (called A by Munro). Another was the
parent of a quarto MS. of the tenth century (B), also at Leyden, and of two others of which there are considerable fragments at
Copenhagen and Vienna. The third copy was taken by Poggio to Italy in the fifteenth century, and became the ancestor of the numerous
Italian MSS. of the De Rerum Natura. The editio princeps of the poem was published about 1473 by Ferandus of Brescia. The most important
of the early editions are the first Aldus (1500), edited by Avancius, the Jiunta (1512) by Candidus , and those by Lambinus (Paris,
1563; 2d ed. 1565; 3d ed. 1570, often reprinted). Recent editions are those by Lachmann (Berlin, 1850; 4th ed. of the text, 1871; of the
commentary, 1882), Bernays (text, Leipzig, 1852), Bockemüller (text with commentary, 2 vols., Stade, 1873-74), Kelsey (text of Munro,
with notes to Books I., III., and V., Boston, 1884), but especially by H. A. J. Munro (text, commentary, translation; 4th ed. 3 vols.,
London, 1886). For the poet's philosophy, see Masson, The Atomic Theory of Lucretius contrasted with Modern Doctrines of Atoms and
Evolution (London, 1884); Woltjer, Lucretii Philosophia cum Fontibus Comparata (Groningen, 1877); Bruns, Lucrez-Studien (Freiburg,
1884); Royer, Les Arguments du Matérialisme dans Lucrèce (Paris, 1883); Lange, History of Materialism, vol. i. For his language, see
Holtze, Syntaxis Lucretianae Lineamenta (Leipzig, 1868); Städler, De Sermone Lucretiano (Jena, 1869); Kühn, Quaestiones Lucr.
Grammaticae et Metricae (Breslau, 1869); Kraetsch, De Abundanti Dicendi Genere Lucretiano (Berlin, 1881). For his rank as a poet, see
Sellar's Roman Poets of the Republic (3d ed. 1889); Martha, Le Poème de Lucrèce—Morale, Religion, Science (Paris, 4th ed. 1885).
Lucretius in Roman Biography
Lucretius, lu-kree'she^s, [Fr. Lucrece, Ki'kRjss';
It. Lucrezio, loo-kReYse-o; Sp. Lucrf.chi, loo-kRa'-
theo,] or, to give his full name, Ti'tus Lucre'tius
Ca'rus, one of the greatest Latin poets, was born in
Italy in 95 B.C., and was contemporary with Cicero.
The records of antiquity throw scarcely any light on his
life, which was probably passed in studious retirement.
It is not known whether he ever visited Greece ; but
it is evident from his writings that he had profoundly
studied the language, philosophy, and manners of that
people. A doubtful tradition asserts that he was subject
to insanity caused by a love-potion ; and the statement
that he committed suicide in his forty-fourth year is
credited. He left only one work,—a philosophic
and didactic poem, in six books, entitled "De Return
Natur3," (" On the Nature of Things,") in which lie expounds
and illustrates the physical and ethical doctrines
of Epicurus, of whom he was a disciple. From such
abstruse speculations and intractable subjects he has
produced one of the most admirable poems in the language.
Although his system is erroneous and incoherent,
his reasoning is remarkably clear and close. Probably
no other work so amply demonstrates the power of the
Latin language to utter the sublimest conceptions with
a sustained majesty and harmony. "A great atheistic
poet," says Villemain, "is surely a surprising phenomenon.
His genius finds sublime accents to attack all
the inspirations of genius. He renders even nothingness
poetic; he insults glory; he enjoys death. Out of
the abyss of skepticism he sometimes soars to a height
of enthusiasm which is rivalled only by the sublimity of
Homer." Referring to this work, Macaulay remarks,
"The finest poem in the Latin language—indeed, the
finest didactic poem in any language—was written in
defence of the silliest and meanest of all systems of
natural and moral philosophy." Ovid appears to be
the only contemporary writer who fully appreciated the
genius of Lucretius.
See the article on Lucretius, bv Vili.emain, in the
Universelle ;" Sellar,
" Roman Poets of the Republic ;" Carl F.
Sciimid, "Dissertatio de T. Lucretio Cam," 1768; J.
"QuaistionesLucrettanai," 1844 ; J. I.egris, Rome, ses
Novateurs, M Onst-rvateurs, etc. E"tudes hisforiques
surl.ucrece, Catulle," etc.,
1846: Farricics, "fiibliotheca Latina :" Smith, "Dictionary
Greek and Roman Biography ;"
Edinburgh Review" for April, 1807.
Lucretius in Wikipedia
Titus Lucretius Carus (ca. 99 BC – ca. 55 BC) was a Roman poet and philosopher. His only known work is the epic philosophical poem
on Epicureanism De rerum natura, translated into English as On the Nature of Things or "On the Nature of the Universe".
Life of Lucretius -
Very little is known about Lucretius's life; the only certain fact is that he was either a friend or a client of Gaius Memmius, to
whom he dedicated De Rerum Natura.
Another piece of information is found in a letter Cicero wrote to his brother Quintus in February 54 BCE. Cicero writes: "The
poems of Lucretius are as you write: they exhibit many flashes of genius, and yet show great mastership." Apparently, by
February 54 BCE both Cicero and his brother had read De Rerum Natura. However, internal evidence from the poem suggests that it
was published without a final revision, possibly due to its author's untimely death. If this is true, Lucretius must have been
dead by February 54 BCE...
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