Lucretius

Lucretius

Lucretius

Lucretius

Excerpt

The choice of Lucretius as the subject for the second volume of this series was not hard to make. At its lowest, he is a suitable companion for his contemporary Cicero, the subject of the first; it would be auspicious for the series to get under way with the greatest poet and the greatest prose author of the Republic. But there are more cogent reasons. For Lucretius, at the present time, is somewhat in eclipse, and in an eclipse of a peculiar and unexpected kind. He does not suffer—nor is he likely to do so— from the dis-esteem which so long affected the reputation of Ovid, and from which that poet is just beginning to emerge. Lucretius is rather the case of Honesty in Juvenal—probitas laudatur et alget.

Why he should be praised is clear. He is, pre-eminently, the poet of the intelligible world, of the processes which govern it, and of the intellect by which these processes are revealed. The twentieth century has concerned itself above all else with the physical world, and puts its trust in reason with no less confidence than Lucretius himself. He should be the most widely read, and at all levels, of the Roman poets, but he is not. As pointed out elsewhere, the bimillenary of his death passed without recognition. No Lucretian society exists to foster the study of his work, as is done for Horace and Virgil. Those who deplore the divorce between the literary and scientific cultures could point to Lucretius as an example of how they might be blended; if this has been done I am unaware of it. Indeed, so important a book as Elizabeth Sewell's The Orphic Voice, whose central theme is the relation between poetry and nature, does not refer to Lucretius.

Why, then, is Lucretius out in the cold? Perhaps literary fashions never wholly yield to rational explanation, but at least it is possible to point to some factors which at present operate against him. First, the very qualities of Bailey's great edition (Oxford, 1947) have perhaps had an apotropaic effect on scholars in the English-

Author Advanced search

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.