Lucretius

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Lucretius

Lucretius (Titus Lucretius Carus) (lōōkrē´shəs), c.99 BC–c.55 BC, 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.

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

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