Authors: Lucretius

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Roman philosopher and poet

Author Works


De rerum natura, c. 60 B.C.E. (On the Nature of Things, 1682)


The Roman philosophical poet Titus Lucretius Carus, known as Lucretius (lew-KREE-shuhs), was a disciple of Epicurus (c. 342-270 b.c.e.), who taught that pleasure is the only good and the aim of all morality, but Lucretius insisted that a life of pleasure must be founded on honor, prudence, and justice. All that is known about Lucretius as a man are some forty words in Jerome’s Chronica eusebii, which, under the year 94 b.c.e., declares: “Titus Lucretius the poet is born. Rendered insane by a love potion, he wrote some books which Cicero afterward amended and he later killed himself by his own hand in his forty-fourth year.” The exact day of his death can be determined by a history of Vergil that declares Vergil assumed his toga virilis on the day Lucretius died. However, all the details do not fit, and the story of insanity after his wife gave him a love philter may be the invention of some anti-Epicurean to discredit Lucretius’s work.{$I[AN]9810000523}{$I[A]Lucretius}{$S[A]Titus Lucretius Carus;Lucretius}{$I[geo]ROMAN EMPIRE;Lucretius}{$I[tim]0098 b.c.e.;Lucretius}

On the Nature of Things, in six books of hexameter verse, is a didactic work based on the fourth century b.c.e. “Laughing Philosopher” Democritus as well as on the doctrines of Epicurus. Lucretius declares that people are lords of themselves and need not fear either death or the gods, that the human soul is made up of atoms and therefore controlled by natural laws, and that the soul and the body are mutually interdependent and cease to exist at the same time. Lucretius preached that people should see clearly, think seriously, and, believing in their own independence, face life bravely.

Further Reading:Bailey, Cyril. “Late Republican Poetry.” In Fifty Years (and Twelve) of Classical Scholarship, edited by Maurice Platnauer. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1968. This article discusses Lucretius with special emphasis on editions and translations of his poem, possible sources, textual criticism, and Lucretian thought, philosophy, and natural science.Dalzell, Alexander. The Criticism of Didactic Poetry: Essays on Lucretius, Virgil, and Ovid. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997. Explores how Lucretius used poetic forms to express his philosophical views.Donohue, Harold. The Song of the Swan: Lucretius and the Influence of Callimachus. New York: University Press of America, 1993. Traces the connections and relationships of several of the key themes and techniques of classical poetry from Greek to Latin literature.Duff, J. Wight, and A. M. Duff. A Literary History of Rome from the Origins to the Close of the Golden Age. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1960. This companion volume to the Duffs’ study of Silver Age Latin literature devotes a sizable chapter to Lucretius. It records the basic meager details of Lucretius’s life, analyzes his poem, and makes several interesting cross-references to English Romantic and Victorian poets.Fowler, Don, and Peta Fowler. Introduction to Lucretius on the Nature of the Universe. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997. Places Lucretius’s philosophical and scientific poem within the contexts of Latin literature, Epicurean philosophy, and classical science. A good overview of the work and its contents which grounds it for the modern reader in terms of a vigorous modern translation.Gale, Monika. Myth and Poetry in Lucretius. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Lucretius’s distinctive use of poetic imagery is analyzed in a study that sheds light on his methods and metaphysics.Gale, Monika. Virgil on the Nature of Things: The “Georgics,” Lucretius, and the Didactic Tradition. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Good for helping the modern reader understand how a handbook on agriculture and a scientific treatise could be written in disciplined Latin verse.Godwin, John. Introduction to Lucretius: “De Rerum Natura” VI. Warminster, England: Aris and Phillips, 1991. Although this translation is of only one book of what is, in fact, a long and intricate poem, Godwin’s introduction provides a helpful overview of the entire work, including its techniques and meanings.Johnson, W. R. Lucretius and the Modern World. London: Duckworth, 2000. In this description of Lucretius’s influential poem, Johnson surveys major texts from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the works of John Dryden, Voltaire, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and others. Emphasizes Lucretius’s version of materialism and his attempt to devise an ethical system appropriate to the universe.Latham, R. E., trans. Lucretius: On the Nature of the Universe. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1971. This accurate translation has the great virtue of an introduction that discusses what is known about Lucretius’s life and, more, outlines his poem section by section with line references. It is, by far, the best introduction to Lucretius for one unable to read Latin.Lucretius. On the Nature of Things. Translated by Martin Ferguson Smith. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2001. Includes introduction and notes by the translator in addition to bibliography and index.Pelikan, Jaroslav. What Has Athens to Do with Jerusalem? Timaeus and Genesis in Counterpoint. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997. Reflects on the similarities and differences between biblical views and other important philosophical outlooks from the ancient world, including the Epicurean outlook amplified by Lucretius.Sedley, D. N. Lucretius and the Transformation of Greek Wisdom. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Shows how Lucretius built on and departed from Greek traditions that informed the context in which he worked.Segal, Charles. Lucretius on Death and Anxiety: Poetry and Philosophy in “De Rerum Natura.” Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990. Shows how Lucretius developed his understanding that death is not to be feared.
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