De Rerum Natura

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Harvard University Press, 1975 - Literary Criticism - 601 pages
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Lucretius (Titus Lucretius Carus) lived ca. 99-ca. 55 BCE, but the details of his career are unknown. He is the author of the great didactic poem in hexameters, De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things). In six books compounded of solid reasoning, brilliant imagination, and noble poetry, he expounds the scientific theories of the Greek philosopher Epicurus, with the aim of dispelling fear of the gods and fear of death and so enabling man to attain peace of mind and happiness.

In Book 1 he establishes the general principles of the atomic system, refutes the views of rival physicists, and proves the infinity of the universe and of its two ultimate constituents, matter and void. In Book 2 he explains atomic movement, the variety of atomic shapes, and argues that the atoms lack colour, sensation, and other secondary qualities. In Book 3 he expounds the nature and composition of mind and spirit, proves their mortality, and argues that there is nothing to fear in death. Book 4 explains the nature of sensation and thought, and ends with an impressive account of sexual love. Book 5 describes the nature and formation of our world, astronomical phenomena, the beginnings of life on earth, and the development of civilization. In Book 6 the poet explains various atmospheric and terrestrial phenomena, including thunder, lightning, earthquakes, volcanoes, the magnet, and plagues.

The work is distinguished by the fervour and poetry of the author.

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About the author (1975)

Almost nothing is known of Lucretius's life, but legends have attached themselves to him. Donatus said that Virgil assumed the toga of manhood the very day Lucretius died (October 15, 55 b.c.); and Jerome stated that the poet was poisoned by a love potion, wrote his "De Rerum Natura" at lucid intervals, and then committed suicide. He may have been one of the Lucretii, an aristocratic Roman family, or a native of Campania who studied Epicureanism in Naples. It is certain, however, that he was a friend or dependent of C. Memmius (who was also the patron of Catullus) to whom the poem is dedicated. "De Rerum Natura" (On the Nature of the Universe), Lucretius's only work, written in six books, expounds the philosophy of Epicurus. Because the universe and all things in it are made up of atoms swirling about in different combinations, the human soul perishes with the body. Lucretius was intent on proving this so that he might persuade his audience to give up their fear of death and of punishment in the afterlife and their belief in divine intervention. His exposition of the mechanical nature of the universe shows intensity of thought and feeling and is expressed in beautiful, vivid images. His invocation to Venus in Book I, and his denunciation of women and the passion of love in Book IV, are famous and their influence enduring.

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