Lucretius and Scientific Thought

Lucretius and Scientific Thought

Lucretius and Scientific Thought

Lucretius and Scientific Thought


It is my conviction that Lucretius as a thinker has been too much neglected. The reason for this I have, I think, sufficiently analyzed in The Genesis of Plato's Thought. In a slave-owning society, Plato and the Pythagoreans, Aristotle and the Stoics developed idealism as a defense of social inequality. This outlook proved all too congenial to the thinkers of later feudal and aristocratic societies. It was only with the eighteenth century A.D., and the rise of scientific thinking that Lucretius began to come into his own as the most articulate exponent of the philosophy of science in classical antiquity. But even so, the recognition has been halfhearted. The tendency to depreciate Lucretius has continued on and on. It is time that someone put forward the thesis of Lucretius' philosophical originality and essential profundity. This is the theme of my book.

I am conscious of a throng of obligations, even while I dissent most -- to my great and good friend, William Ellery Leonard, now dead, with whom I enjoyed twenty years of intimacy and almost daily discussion on our poet; and Cyril Bailey, the great English Lucretian scholar; Usener, Guissani and many others who have toiled with the interpretation of Lucretius. From Lambinus to the present day, Lachmann, Monroe and Diels have given me much illumination. Second hand, I have drawn from the studies of Duvau, Hosius and Chatelaine. The Tuebner edition of Martin I have consulted from time to time.

The citations from Lucretius are taken from the translation published as the Roman Poet of Science, New York, 1956, London, 1959, by kind permission of the translator. For this permission I am very grateful to myself.

I should like to pay tribute to the unfailing courtesy and helpfulness of the staff of the University libraries of British Columbia and Alberta (both Edmonton and Calgary).

Mrs. David J. Gravells, Miss Christine Davis and Miss Del Bording have toiled womanfully with the preparation of the manuscript and with reading the proof.

Some readers may prefer to leave the closely-argued scholarly summary of Chapter I to the end. These may plunge immediately into the life and times of Lucretius, the subjects of Chapters II and III.

University of Alberta, Calgary.

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