Lucretius

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Lucretius

(Titus Lucretius Carus) (lo͞okrē`shəs), c.99 B.C.–c.55 B.C., Roman poet and philosopher. Little is known about his life. A chronicle of St. Jerome speaks of the loss of his reason through taking a love potion. It states that in sane intervals he had written books that were later emended by Cicero. The poetry of Lucretius constitutes one great didactic work in six books, De rerum natura [on the nature of things]. In dignified and beautiful hexameter verse the poet sets forth arguments founded upon the philosophical ideas of Democritus and Epicurus. He seeks to persuade man that there need be no fear of the gods or of death, since "man is lord of himself." His proof is based upon the so-called atomic theory of the ancients, which held that everything, even the soul, is made up of atoms, and the laws of nature control all. The soul is itself material and so closely associated with the body that whatever affects one affects the other. Consciousness ends with death. There is no immortality of the soul. The universe came into being through the working of natural laws in the combining of atoms, instead of by the creative power of a deity. Although not the same as the modern atomic theory, many of the principles he gives in his scientific discussions have been upheld by later investigations.

Bibliography

See the translation by C. Bailey (3 vol., 1947); studies by L. A. Holland (1979) and D. Clay (1983); S. Greenblatt, The Swerve (2011).

Lucretius

 

(full name, Titus Lucretius Carus). Born in the first century B.C. Roman poet and materialist philosopher.

The earliest biographical information on Lucretius dates from the fourth century and cannot be considered reliable. His philosophical poem On the Nature of Things, written in the form of a didactic epic, expounds the teachings of the Greek philosopher Epicurus, chiefly his physics but briefly touching upon his theories of cognition and ethics. The poem, divided into six books, is the only fully preserved exposition of the materialist thought of antiquity. The first and second books expound an atomistic theory of the universe and deny the intervention of gods in men’s affairs. The third book describes the soul as a material and mortal entity and discusses the soul’s relation to the body. Book four presents a theory of man and sensory impressions as the basis of knowledge.

The fifth book contains a cosmogony, a history of the development of the human race, and an explanation of the origin of language. According to Lucretius, the use of fire and the formation of the family were the first steps leading from the primitive, “wild” state to the development of society and culture, hastened by the appearance of language. In the sixth book the origin of religion is explained by three natural causes: images of beautiful and powerful beings appearing in dreams that become objects of worship, natural phenomena surpassing human powers that are attributed to supernatural beings, and, finally, human fears. By choosing a verse form for his philosophical work, Lucretius enlivened and made more convincing the teachings of Epicurus. The materialists of the 17th and 18th centuries became acquainted with the atomistic ideas of antiquity primarily through Lucretius; a major exponent of his ideas was the French philosopher P. Gassendi.

WORKS

De rerum natura. Oxford, 1947.
In Russian translation:
O prirode veshchei. vol. 1. Moscow-Leningrad, 1946.
O prirode veshchei. Introduction by F. A. Petrovskii. Moscow, 1958.

REFERENCES

Lukretsii, K. T. O prirode veshchei, vol. 2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1947.
(See the articles and commentaries in the volume.)
Losev, A. F. “Lukretsii.” In Antichnaia literatura. Moscow, 1963. Gordon, C. A. A Bibliography of Lucretius. London, 1962.
Sallmann, K. G. Die Natur bei Lukrez. Cologne, 1962.
Boyancé, P. Lucrece: Sa vie, son oeuvre, avec un exposé de sa philosophic. Paris, 1964.

F. A. PETROVSKII

Lucretius

full name Titus Lucretius Carus. ?96--55 bc, Roman poet and philosopher. In his didactic poem De rerum natura, he expounds Epicurus' atomist theory of the universe
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