An overview of the influence of Lucretius poem On the Nature of Things (De Rerum Natura) on the renaissance and scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, and an examination of its continuing influence over physical atomism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
In twenty important passages located throughout De rerum natura, Lucretius refers to natural things happening spontaneously (sponte sua; the Greek term is automaton). The most important of these uses include his discussion of the causes of: nature, matter, and the cosmos in general; the generation and adaptation of plants and animals; the formation of images and thoughts; and the behavior of human beings and the development of human culture. In this paper I examine the way spontaneity functions as a (...) cause in other Greek and Latin writers, beginning with Homer and Hesiod, and including Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Plato, Aristotle, and Theophrastus; among Latin writers Cicero, Pliny, Horace, Vergil and Ovid. I argue that the most important influence (immediately or via Epicurus) on Lucretius’ concept and use of this cause is the natural philosophy of Democritus and his followers and critics. I argue that understanding the nature of spontaneity, and how it differs from chance, is crucial to understanding Lucretius’ account of the cosmos and nature, and also how some of the actions of humans and other animals are “free” and “voluntary”. For in the famous passage at II.251-293 he contrasts free action with action caused or constrained by external forces and outside influences. (shrink)
This paper identifies two possible versions of the Epicurean 'Symmetry argument', both of which claim that post mortem non-existence is relevantly like prenatal non-existence and that therefore our attitude to the former should be the same as that towards the latter. One version addresses the fear of the state of being dead by making it equivalent to the state of not yet being born; the other addresses the prospective fear of dying by relating it to our present retrospective attitude to (...) the time before birth. I argue that only the first of these is present in the relevant sections of Lucretius (DRN 3.832-42, 972-5). Therefore, this argument is not aimed at a prospective fear of death, or a fear of 'mortality'. That particular fear is instead addressed by the Epicureans through the additional premise (found in the Letter to Menoeceus 125) that it is irrational to fear in prospect an event which is known to be painless when present. This still leaves unaddressed the related fear of 'premature death', which is to be removed through the acceptance of Epicurean hedonism. (shrink)
<span class='Hi'>Titus</span> Lucretius Carus was an ardent disciple of Epicurus and the author of the De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things), one of the greatest poems in Latin. Other than his approximate dates of birth and death, we have next to no reliable information about him. (St. Jerome's report, in the 4th Century AD, that Lucretius was driven insane by a love potion and composed the De Rerum Natura in the lucid intervals between bouts of madness (...) has been widely repeated but is almost certainly scurrilous.) Because of his family name and his apparent familiarity with Roman upper-class mores, it is thought that Lucretius was probably a member of the aristocratic clan of the Lucretii, but this is not certain. And so any insight we wish to gain into the thought and personality of Lucretius must come from the De Rerum Natura itself. (shrink)
Abstract: Most commentators have assumed that Lucretius's symmetry argument against the fear of death is flawed. There remains, however, dispute as to what the flaw is. After establishing what I understand the target of Lucretius's argument to be (a desire for a longer life as such), I argue for a novel interpretation of what the flaw is, namely, that extending one's life into the time before one was actually born would be an uncertain bet for one who wanted (...) to extend his life, whereas extending one's life beyond the time one actually dies is a sure bet. This account of what the flaw is has the particular merit of relying only on simple concepts used in everyday reasoning and thus can explain why Lucretius's argument gains no traction even in the absence of sophisticated philosophical analysis. (shrink)
Lucretius' account of the origin of life, the origin of species, and human prehistory (first century BC) is the longest and most detailed account extant from the ancient world. It is a mechanistic theory that does away with the need for any divine design, and has been seen as a forerunner of Darwin's theory of evolution. This commentary seeks to locate Lucretius in both the ancient and modern contexts. The recent revival of creationism makes this study particularly relevant (...) to contemporary debate, and indeed, many of the central questions posed by creationists are those Lucretius attempts to answer. (shrink)
: Lucretius' Epicurean account of dreams in Book IV of De Rerum Natura indicates that they are wholly void of prophetic significance and of little practical significance. Dreams, rightly apprehended, do little more than mirror our daily preoccupations. For Lucretius, all dreams pass through the gate of ivory and all are reducible to psychophysical phenomena.In this paper, I examine Lucretius' account of sleep and the formation of dreams in light of the Epicurean aims of the poem as (...) a whole. In doing so, I give what I take to be a plausible sketch of the formation of dreams through what I call Lucretius' "selection model" of dreams. The selection model forbids, strictly speaking, the phenomenon of genuine prophecy through dreams, while at the same time it allows for a surprisingly rich psychophysical explanation of the genesis of seemingly prophetic dreams in sleepers. Thus, I argue, a proper grasp of the Lucretian account of oneiric formation is itself a significant part of the Epicurean cure for superstitions and religiously based ills of his day. (shrink)
The early Epicurean revival in Florence and Italy -- Medicean Florence : Ficino and Bartolomeo Scala -- Republican Florence : the university lectures of Marcello Adriani -- Niccol Machiavelli and the influence of Lucretius -- Lucretian networks in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries -- Appendix : notes on Machiavelli's transcription of MS Vat. Rossi 884.
The employment of mythological language and imagery by an Epicurean poet - an adherent of a system not only materialist, but overtly hostile to myth and poetry - is highly paradoxical. This apparent contradiction has often been ascribed to a conflict in the poet between reason and intellect, or to a desire to enliven his philosophical material with mythological digressions. This book attempts to provide a more positive assessment of Lucretius' aims and methodology by considering the poet's attitude to (...) myth, and the role which it plays in the De Rerum Natura, against the background of earlier and contemporary views. The author suggests that Lucretius was not only aware of the tension between his two roles as philosopher and poet, but attempted to resolve it by developing his own, Epicurean poetic, together with a bold and innovative theory of the origins and meaning of myth. (shrink)
In De Rerum Natura III 963-971, Lucretius argues that death should not be feared because it is a necessary part of the natural cycle of life and death. This argument has received little philosophical attention, except by Martha Nussbaum, who asserts it is quite strong. However, Nussbaum's view is unsustainable, and I offer my own reading. I agree with Nussbaum that, as she construes it, the cycle of life argument is quite distinct from the better-known Epicurean arguments: not only (...) does it start from different premises, but it is a completely different type of argument. However, thus construed, it is deeply problematic. It relies on premises that are much more at home in Stoic than in Epicurean ethics, and Lucretius' appeal to nature in this argument contradicts what he says elsewhere in De Rerum Natura. I consider why Lucretius offers what appears to be such a flawed argument, and I propose a reading on which the cycle of life argument could be offered consistently by an Epicurean. The cycle of life argument, unlike the better-known arguments, does not attempt directly to show that death is not a bad thing. Instead, it targets certain destructive attitudes towards one's life that result in one fearing death. By helping relieve the interlocutor of these attitudes, the argument aims at reducing his fear of death. (shrink)
Lucretius' didactic poem De rerum natura ('On the Nature of Things') is an impassioned and visionary presentation of the materialist philosophy of Epicurus, and one of the most powerful poetic texts of antiquity. After its rediscovery in 1417 it became a controversial and seminal work in successive phases of literary history, the history of science, and the Enlightenment. In this Cambridge Companion experts in the history of literature, philosophy and science discuss the poem in its ancient contexts and in (...) its reception both as a literary text and as a vehicle for progressive ideas. The Companion is designed both as an accessible handbook for the general reader who wishes to learn about Lucretius, and as a series of stimulating essays for students of classical antiquity and its reception. It is completely accessible to the reader who has only read Lucretius in translation. (shrink)
Spinoza viewed the book of Ecclesiastes, in its original Hebrew and thus cleared of the interpretations imposed upon it in the guise of translation, as a powerful critique of the two most important variants of the superstition that taught human beings to regard both nature and themselves as degraded expressions of an unattainable perfection. The first was organized around the concept of miracle, the divine suspension of the actual concatenation of things, as if God were an earthly sovereign declaring a (...) state of exception. The second was the apparent opposite of this first, the idea that the concatenation of things has an origin and an end, that is, an order decreed by God. Spinoza reads Ecclesiastes through the lens of Epicurus and Lucretius, as if it were an attempt in the Hebrew idiom, an idiom in certain ways perhaps better suited for this task than either Greek or Latin, to shatter the decrees of destiny and to regard with pleasure those singular things (both human and non-human) that cannot and need not be made straight. (shrink)
This is the first volume in the four-volume edition of The Works of Lucy Hutchinson, the first-ever collected edition of the writings of the pioneering author and translator. Hutchinson (1620-81) had a remarkable range of her interests, from Latin poetry to Civil War politics and theology. This edition of her translation of Lucretius's De rerum natura offers new biographical material, demonstrating the changes and unexpected continuities in Hutchinson's life between the work's composition in the 1650s and its dedication in (...) 1675. Hers is the first complete surviving English translation of one of the great classical epics, a challenging text at the borderlines of poetry and philosophy. For the first time, the Lucretius translation is made available alongside the Latin text Hutchinson used, which differs in innumerable ways from versions known today. The commentary provides multiple ways into further understanding of the translation and its contexts. Written at a momentous period in political and literary history, Hutchinson's Lucretius throws light on the complex transition between 'ancient' and 'modern' conceptions of the classical canon and of natural philosophy. It offers a case study in the history of reading, and more specifically of reading by a woman. Through close comparison with three contemporary translations, this edition situates Hutchinson's version in the context of the shifting poetic languages of the seventeenth century, and facilitates an approach to Lucretius' often rebarbative Latin. It further demonstrates the remarkable ways in which Hutchinson's engagement with this 'atheistical' poem leaves deep traces on her later, militantly Calvinist prose and verse. (shrink)
(2008). Latin Poet‐Doctors of the Eighteenth Century: the German Lucretius (Johann Ernst Hebenstreit) Versus the Dutch Ovid (Gerard Nicolaas Heerkens) Intellectual History Review: Vol. 18, Humanism and Medicine in the Early Modern Era, pp. 91-101.
Although repeated attempts have been made over the last half-century to make sense of Machiavelli's Discourses on Livy as an exposition of classical republicanism, such endeavours are bound to fail. After all, Machiavelli rejected the teleology underpinning the discursive republicanism of the ancients, and his understanding of the ends pursued by republics was profoundly at odds with the understanding predominant in ancient Greece and Rome. If he had a classical mentor, it cannot, then, have been Aristotle or Cicero or one (...) of the ancient historians. If he had such a mentor, it was surely Lucretius, the leading Roman critic of ancient political idealism--a figure so important to the Florentine that in the late 1490s he copied by hand in its entirety De rerum natura and that he drew on it throughout his subsequent career. Machiavelli's republicanism is best understood as an appropriation, critique and reworking of ancient Epicureanism. (shrink)
This book is designed to appeal both to those interested in Roman poetry and to specialists in ancient philosophy. In it David Sedley explores Lucretius' complex relationship with Greek culture, in particular with Empedocles, whose poetry was the model for his own, with Epicurus, the source of his philosophical inspiration, and with the Greek language itself. He includes a detailed reconstruction of Epicurus' great treatise On Nature, and seeks to show how Lucretius worked with this as his sole (...) philosophical source, but gradually emancipated himself from its structure, transforming its raw contents into something radically new. By pursuing these themes, the book uncovers many unrecognised aspects of Lucretius' methods and achievements as a poetic craftsman. (shrink)