Read De Rerum Natura: The Latin Text of Lucretius by Titus Lucretius Carus Stanley Barney Smith William Ellery Leonard Online

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Titus Lucretius Carus (ca. 99-55 b.c.) is known primarily as the Roman author of the long didactic poem "De Rerum Natura" ("On the Nature of Things"). In it, he set out to explicate the universe, embracing and refuting ideas of the great Greek philosophers. Now available in paperback, this annotated scholarly edition of the Latin text of "De Rerum Natura "has long been haiTitus Lucretius Carus (ca. 99-55 b.c.) is known primarily as the Roman author of the long didactic poem "De Rerum Natura" ("On the Nature of Things"). In it, he set out to explicate the universe, embracing and refuting ideas of the great Greek philosophers. Now available in paperback, this annotated scholarly edition of the Latin text of "De Rerum Natura "has long been hailed as one of the finest editions of this monumental work. It features an introduction to Lucretius's life and work by William Ellery Leonard, an introduction to and commentary on the poem by Stanley Barney Smith, the complete Latin text with detailed annotations, and an index of ancient sources....

Title : De Rerum Natura: The Latin Text of Lucretius
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ISBN : 9780299003647
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Number of Pages : 896 Pages
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De Rerum Natura: The Latin Text of Lucretius Reviews

  • Manny
    2019-05-30 07:02

    First, an apology for only giving it three stars. I am well aware that this is a brilliant piece of poetry, but my Latin is very poor, and I rapidly abandoned my initial plan of reading it in the original with the English translation alongside. In a way, though, I'm following Lucretius's advice: he explicitly says at one point that it's wrong to allow yourself to be swayed by beautiful words, and you should judge an idea on its merits. Reading him in my barbarian's tongue is certainly one way to do that.I have often debated the question of whether it is right to call atheism a religion, and with Lucretius it seems natural to argue that it is. The poem reminded me rather strongly of Dante - when I got to the bibliography, I was interested to see that Santayana had written a book comparing Lucretius, Dante and Goethe - but while Dante loves the One, Lucretius goes a step further and praises the Zero. His noble goal is to convince you that divine intervention is never required in order to explain what happens in the world, and that, if we just stop and and think carefully enough, we can liberate ourselves from irrational terror of the supernatural. Given that he's writing in the first century BC and science barely exists yet, this is ambitious indeed. But Lucretius has faith in his project; it's hard to avoid using the word. The rest of this review is available elsewhere (the location cannot be given for Goodreads policy reasons)

  • Edward
    2019-06-15 10:59

    IntroductionFurther ReadingA Note on the Text and TranslationAcknowledgements--The Nature of ThingsNotesGlossary of Proper Names

  • David Sarkies
    2019-06-23 13:57

    Epicurian Physics31 July 2013 Well, here I am, once again sitting in the passenger seat of my Dad's car on our final trek to Melbourne, and since I have been reading, sleeping, or driving for most of the day, I might as well fix up a couple of my reviews while I am sitting here (and since I have a smartphone, and my Dad has this adapter that allows me to plug my laptop into the cigarette lighter, I might as well make use of it – such are the benefits of having an electronic engineer as a father). Lucretius (I wonder if there is a connection with Star Trek) wrote this treatise on the natural world some time during the 2nd century BC. The period is important because it gives us an idea of the background in which the text was written. In a way it is probably one of the last ancient texts that have a scientific feel to it since most later philosophical texts (unless they dealt with medicine) focused mainly on ethics (with maybe the exception of Ptolemy), as opposed to scientific explanation (though there are probably a lot that have been lost). It wasn't until the renaissance that people began to once again question the nature of the world in which they lived. The reason behind this is probably two-fold. Firstly, there was no need for industrial development namely because the culture was a slave based culture. Who needed machines when you had slaves to do all of the menial tasks. This can actually be seen in the United States in the lead up to the civil war, as well as in England, because in the North, where slavery was illegal, there was a lot of industrial development, while in the South, where slavery was legal, the society was still very much an agrarian society. The second reason was simply that nobody saw a need to actually question the world around them. As far as anybody was concerned, if something happened, then it was because the gods had willed it to happen, and there was no need to venture beyond that (and even then, to suggest that the gods didn't exist, even in Rome, was nothing short of blasphemous). Lucretius wrote at an interesting time: it was after the decline of the Greek culture and during the rise of the Roman culture. Lucian wrote in Latin, but at this time Latin was still a very basic language, used mostly for trade and war. However the Greeks had already had a developed language that was being used much more culturally, which suggests that what Lucretius began was the slow morphing of the Latin language, as well as the Roman culture, into the culture that ended up producing the greats such as Cicero and Tacitus, among many others. Lucretius was not the first to write a treatise that was enquiring into the nature of the world. This had been begun centuries early, almost as early as the Seven Sages of antiquity. There were sages like Democritus who developed the idea of the atom, Aristotle who wrote treatises on zoology, and even Plato dabbled in writing a scientific treatise (not that there was a distinct field of study at the time because back then everything was philosophy). The person, however, who influenced Lucretius the most was a guy named Epicurus. Now, during this period there were three popular philosophies: the Epicurians, the Stoics, and the Cynics. I will describe these philosophies in a nutshell: Epicurians pretty much believe 'if it feels good, do it'; Stoics believe 'no pain, no gain'; and Cynics believes 'life sucks, and then you die'. Okay, that is probably being very basic description of each of these philosophies, but that is how I remember them. Mind you, we get the term stoic from the stoic philosophers, and the word cynic from the cynic philosophers. It is interesting to see how Lucretius understands the universe, and in a way there is a lot of what we understand in his ideas: such as the idea of the atom, that everything is made up of atoms, that there is space between the atoms which determines the hardness of the objects. We also know that Lucretius comes to his understandings through observation, something that is done very much today, however there is no well defined scientific method in the way that he performs his enquiries. Another aspect that we see is the idea of the vacuum, which Lucretius suggests is the space between the atoms. However his understanding of a vacuum is different to our understanding because he does not necessarily see the air as molacules. Because he can see anything (despite being able to feel wind, which demonstrates, at least to me, that there is something there) then he assumes that there is nothing there. Further there is no concept that nature abhors a vacuum. Lucretius seems to see everything in the form of atoms, though this is not unusual today in modern physics where certain elements have both wave and particle like properties, however we must remember that much of what Lucretius was writing about was little more than educated guesses. Basically he had come up with a theory, based on observation, and used this basis to try to explain everything. Light (and darkness) are particles that hit the eyes, which allows us to see. Sound is also made up of particles, however we note that he does not seem to understand the concept of waveforms. By saying this I refer to where he tries to understand why one can hear sound through solid objects. We know this because the sound hits the object causing the object to vibrate, which then causes the air behind the object to also vibrate and thus continue the sound wave. We also notice, interestingly, that his concept of colour comes, once again, from particles. An object has a certain colour because the particles on that object also have that colour. It is ideas like this that makes a typical modern like me baulk, namely because even though I may have only completed year 12 physics, I still remember quite a lot of it, and as such know that what he is suggesting is basically wrong. I know that an object has a certain colour because the object absorbs that particular part of the colour spectrum. However, Lucretius was not working from much because there was not all that much before him. In a way Lucretius is no different from the early scientists of the modern era in that much of what he was writing about were educated guesses, and it was only after further study and experimentation that we have come to understand that the beliefs of those that came before us were, well, wrong. Once again I point to the idea of light travelling as a wave. Many of us who do not understand, or have not been taught, advanced Physics believe that is the case, but those of us who know advanced Physics know that light can also travel as a particle (it's called a photon). The funny thing that I have noticed is how much of our science is still actually based on the findings of Lucretius. The wave particle duality of light aside, we still understand sight as working on the basis of things striking the retina in our eyes. Lucretius had an understanding that the eyes were more than simply windows, or doors, that allowed the brain to see out (namely because he points out that if you remove the eyes then, well, you can't see) but rather an integral part of how we see. The same goes with the idea of smell, that we smell things because particles drift into our nose which causes the nerves in our nose to react to the particle. While Lucretius may not have had a full understanding of the nervous system, he still understands the reactions and senses that are caused when the body feels pain. As for religion, I was going to suggest that Lucertius is a 'functional Athiest' namely that while he believed in the gods, he does not believe that they have any power or control over the way the universe functions. However I thought about this for a bit and realised that it is not that he is an Atheist, but more of what one would consider an ancient version of a Deist. The reason I say that is because he still believed in the polytheistic religion of the time, but responded in the same way to the gods that a modern Deist would respond to Christianity, namely that while God may exist, he has little or no influence, or care, over the operation of the universe in which we live. This brings me onto Lucretius' idea of the soul. He believes in the soul but not in its immortality. In fact he goes to great pains to demonstrate that before birth the soul, and the mind, of that particular individual, does not exist, and as such, after death the soul ceases to exist as well. Lucretius has no interest or time for theories and ideas relating to the afterlife (which is probably why he holds to the Epicurian idea of if it feels good, do it). In fact, he seems to think that the whole idea of the afterlife, and in particular Hades, is absurd (and spares no haste in pointing that out). As such, Lucretius does not believe in reincarnation either, so it is clear that his ideas are purely materialistic, in much the same way that modern materialism holds their beliefs. It is interesting to compare some of Lucretius' thoughts to the what modern evolutionists accept today. One of the things that I noted was Lucretius' ideas of the origins of various parts of the body, such as the limbs. The modern belief is that a need arose therefore the body adapted an organ to meet that need. However Lucretius holds the opposite view in that the organ exists prior to the need arising, and when the need became apparent, the body was able to meet that need with the limb. As such it appears that Lucretius is not an evolutionist (and the evolutionists claim that it is the Christians that are backward). Further, Lucretius believes in a young Earth, but his argument in this regard is incredibly flawed. His argument is that because there is no recorded history dating back before the Theban and Trojan wars then, ergo, there must not have been anything, therefore the Earth is young. Obviously he is not an anthropologist (nor has he read Herodotus, which I would find very surprising from such a learned person). Mind you, similar flawed reasonings (and educated guesses) are still made today in relation to the arguments verses the young Earth and old Earth theories. As for me, I find both postulations (namely, the Bible says the Earth is 6000 years old, therefore it must be so, to which I respond by saying, no it doesn't; and it is the best theory we have, so we might as well stick to it, to which I respond, but what if it is wrong) have their flaws. Mind you, Lucretius' section of cosmology seems to read more like an evolutionist's, in that it is suggested that he may have come up with something similar to the big bang theory thousands of years before modern science had postulated it. It seems that he believes, just as the modern cosmologist believes, that the universe began as a chaotic mess and that it was only through the collision of particles (which is the word that I feel obliged to use, because that is what I understand Lucretius' atom to be, though it is interesting that in the modern world we seem to continue to break this building block into smaller and smaller things – these days we have quarks, which are sub-subatomic particles). However, I also notice that Lucretius believes that the Earth is stationary and that the stars, sun, and moon, move around the Earth. In reponse to that, I wonder why the Catholic Church branded Galileo as a heretic when their ideas were actually taken from the pagans. Also, finally, it is interesting to see how he describes that lightning is caused by the collision of particles in the clouds (which themselves are made up of particles) and points to the sparks that are created when certain rocks are smashed together. Once again, it goes to show how many of Lucretius' theories came about through observation and educated guessing, which in many ways is how modern scientists come up with their theories.

  • Clif Hostetler
    2019-06-21 11:25

    The antiquity of this book calls for respect and appreciation. However, for a modern reader it is very boring to read. It's a long (300 pages) poem written in the first century BC in which the author pontificates about the physical sciences for the purpose of defending Epicureanism philosophy. It is of some interest for the modern reader to see where the author is correct and not so correct when judged from the perspective of modern science. However, Lucretius was a poet in his day, not a mathematician or noted natural philosopher, and thus he is not necessarily a qualified spokesperosn for his era's understanding of the physical universe. For example, in this poem Lucretius makes fun of the absurdity of people walking upside down on the other side of the earth. Well, it so happens that Eratosthenes of Cyrene who lived approximately 100 years before Lucretius calculated the circumference of the Earth (and tilt of the Earth's axis) to a remarkably level of accuracy. This is an example of the poet (Lucretius) not being the best spokesperson for the science of his day.The purpose of this poem was to explain to the Romans in Latin verse the ideas of Epicurus who lived approximately 300 years before Lucretius. Lucretius honors the teaching of Epicurus with the use of richly poetic language and metaphors. He presents the principles of atomism; the nature of the mind and soul; explanations of sensation and thought; the development of the world and its phenomena; and explains a variety of celestial and terrestrial phenomena. The universe described in the poem operates according to these physical principles guided by probability, not by the divine action of the traditional Roman deities.Most of what may be original and creative with regard to science contained in this book should probably be credited to Epicurus. Lucretius' role is to give it poetic form in Latin.

  • Jan-Maat
    2019-06-25 07:22

    The Nature of Things is a long narrative Latin poem which sets out Epicurean philosophy. This I read in an English prose translation. The Epicureans believed in atomic theory and so this aspect of the work feels most familiar and recognisably modern and one can be impressed that people through speculation, raw brain power, and idle after dinner conversations over olives and watered wine had a perception of reality very close to what scientists have achieved today after much experimentation and great efforts and expenditures. Lucretius is also recognisable in his handling of the gods, the Epicureans were rather sceptical over the traditional stories of gods chasing each over about full of adulterous intent pausing only to swallow their own children, rape their nieces, aid mortals to abduct beautiful women and so on.On the other hand his teachings on the causes of winds (view spoiler)[ not the type due to human digestion (hide spoiler)](view spoiler)[ the meteorological variety are caused he teaches by subterranean caves collapsing (hide spoiler)] or dreams (view spoiler)[ much too curious for me to explain in a spoiler(view spoiler)[ even if I use nested spoilers(view spoiler)[ (hide spoiler)] but he thinks something along the lines of things slough off an outer layer that permeate the mind and the combination of which produce dream images, as these outer layers can float about and collide, before physically drifting in through our eyes and catching on our brains, this is how we come up with ideas of centaurs (view spoiler)[or rainbow sparkly flying unicorns I suppose (hide spoiler)] (hide spoiler)] (hide spoiler)]seem all the odder by comparison.Despite which his rediscovery in the Renaissance made an impact by opening up new worlds of scepticism, doubt and atoms. The most impressive and moving section for me was towards the end when he describes the descent of man from the age of Gold, to the silver age to his own age of iron when men fight in armies and train animals as weapons of war, he wrote and died it seems just before the series of vicious civil wars which would give birth to Rome's Imperial era.I came to this book in a curious way, tempted by Brian Aldiss who bookends his Helliconia Trilogy with quotes from Lucretius which acted on my imagination as the taste of honey lures the child to drink the bitter wormwood medicine. Beware of reading and where it leads you!

  • Jeremy
    2019-06-26 13:08

    Wow, this was a real surprise. Lucretius was just so shockingly ahead of his time. It's probably more important than Newton in terms of the sheer range of thought he originates. His conception of atomic theory is surprisingly accurate, down to recognizing that atoms are composed of about three different parts. He also figured out the law of conservation of matter, realized that the majority of matter is made up of empty space, recognized the basic principles of gravitation, heat, light, relativity, hell, he even realized that chaos and randomness played a role in atomic activity, several millennia before Heisenberg and Schrodinger. On top of that he tears down religious dogmatism as a means of understanding the natural world and replaces it with a system of secular observation and understanding, all while creating a totally original synthesis between hard science and humanism centuries before either would really be codified. Oh, and did I mention the whole fucking thing is a poem?

  • Darwin8u
    2019-06-01 07:05

    There are a handful of books that seem to float above the rabble. They are certainly not scripture, but belong on a shelf above philosophy. Reading Lucretius is like reading the dreams of Darwin or Newton interpreted by the hand of Shakespeare. On the Nature of Things belongs on the shelf next to Bacon, Dante, Montaigne, Marcus Aurelius and the rest of my demi-Gods.

  • Jesse
    2019-05-29 09:06

    "True piety lies in the power to contemplate the universe with a quiet mind." This is a truth even C.S. Lewis, a sincere Christian, assented to, remarking that only the atheist can believe. So it is with Lucretius, whose poetry here anticipates many scientific discoveries, including several of Galileo's and Newton's, along with the general structure of atomic theory, although widely missing the mark in the theory of "films" (supposedly an explanation of what Locke would later call secondary substances). However, apart from the schooling in atomic physics and natural phenomena, the book's main task is to rid the reader of superstition, that is, to end the fear of the gods that causes our moral characters to sacrifice human happiness for some strange, quite illusory dream (depending upon your cultural location). Using "honeyed" words to allow the layman to swallow the "bitter draught" of Epicureanism, Lucretius weaves a deft tapestry, interspersing beautiful phrases with dry explanation, denouncing romance and religion as both stupid and insane, and strangely ending it all with a description of a horrifying plague.Lucretius logically notes that, since the earth had a birth, it will have a death; there is nothing eternal about our surroundings, so why do people infer that human beings are eternal? It's a very good question, but the answer is simple: fear. The question for our times is, will the enlightenment, based on Epicurean philosophy, that has advanced science thus far quash religious fear before it destroys us all in order to confirm its belief? I think so; in the meantime, this belongs on every scientific atheist's bookshelf, and for those believers wavering in delusion, pry your mind open just enough to appreciate the contents of this book - proof that science contains a philosophy and beauty more moral and aesthetically pleasing than any religious morality and concomitant artistic outgrowth.

  • Andrew
    2019-05-27 11:20

    When was the last time you read an ancient Roman text that predicts quantum theory and genetics, promotes sustainable agriculture, and is written in the form of an epic poem? Anyone? Anyone?Jesus Christ this was weird. And good. And nothing like it will ever be written again. I dig all wildly interdisciplinary, utterly anti-parochial writers (see also: Sebald, Vico, Browne), and Lucretius joins their ranks in my mind. A poetically beautiful, prescient, coruscant puzzle-box of a book.

  • Bruce
    2019-06-09 14:57

    Lucretius wrote this explication and celebration of Epicureanism in the first century BCE. The text was lost for many years but apparently rediscovered during the Renaissance, and it has been influential ever since. There is probably no translation from the Latin that perfectly combines the poetic beauty and the philosophical insights of the original, although there have been many attempts to do so. I was particularly interested during this reading in having as clear a delineation of Lucretius’ arguments as possible, and so I chose the translation (with notes) by Martin Ferguson Smith. I discovered, in fact, that Smith was able to write surprisingly poetically, with alliteration and creative metaphors as well as pleasing meter, despite the prose format.The work is divided into six books, each addressing different topics. Lucretius appeals to the Muses for help and refers on occasion to the gods, but it is clear that he views them as being removed from the realm or concerns of the world and humanity, uninterested in and inattentive to them. In Book I, Lucretius outlines his theory of atomism, basing all of material existence on the presence of indivisible particles in a surrounding and interpenetrating void. His ideas are prescient, and if the theory cannot truly be described as a scientific one, it at least can be classified as a natural philosophy that he uses in subsequent books to develop a cosmology and anthropology. In Book II he further describes the motions and characteristics of atoms, their shapes and functioning, and he posits the evanescence of all material objects, including the earth and celestial bodies themselves. Book III describes the soul, comprised of both mind and spirit, that is limited to the existence of the body, having no existence apart from or subsequent to the latter, and in this book, the most interesting to me, he discusses death and why there is no reason to fear it. Any kind of personal afterlife is rejected. In Book IV Lucretius explains thought and sensation as well as various vital functions such as locomotion, sleep, nourishment, sex, and the like. He moves on in Book V to discuss the formation of the earth and astronomical phenomena, the beginnings of life on earth, and the development of civilization. Finally, in Book VI, he talks about meteorological phenomena and plagues, ending rather abruptly – was the work truly finished, or did Lucretius die before completing it?The work is interesting on several levels. It allows a view into an important philosophical tradition of the Greco-Latin period, Epicurianism, and it allows the reader to gain insights into how this particular philosophical school contrasted with other intellectual strains of the times. It is also interesting as a description of natural philosophical thinking that formed the background for subsequent more rigorous scientific reasoning. I found myself most interested in the portions of the work addressing philosophical issues of relevance to humankind in whatever era, including death and meaning in life. There are admittedly parts of the treatise that are less interesting, and many parts of Lucretius’ cosmology can now be seen as fanciful and scientifically not only implausible but obviously incorrect. Nonetheless, the work is well worth reading and is not so lengthy as to be tedious. It is an important work, the rediscovery of which several hundred years ago was fortunate.

  • G.R. Reader
    2019-06-17 12:02

    Why doesn't anyone write pop science books like this any more? You know, full of cutting-edge particle physics and cosmology (who cares if it's all wrong? it's magnificently wrong) but with bits about earthquakes and evolution, mixed up with hot sex tips and complaints about why women are all such fucking bitches. And the whole thing done as exquisite poetry. Brian Greene, eat your heart out. No one's going to be reading you a couple of thousand years from now.

  • Nemo
    2019-06-12 09:59

    Philosophy is Supposed to be Fun!Cicero, because of his personal aversion to the Epicurean philosophy, didn't quite do it justice in his book The Nature of the Gods, which introduced the Greek philosophical schools to the Romans (He all but made the Epicurean the laughing-stock of all the other philosophers). However, he also prepared and edited the transcript of this book by Lucretius, arguably the best exposition of Epicureanism, as a counterpoint.Lucretius made a strong case for Epicureanism with epic poetry and systematic reasoning. His thoughts and presentation with creative use of analogies are eminently clear and logical to a modern reader, in spite of his relative lack of scientific knowledge. In this book, he sought to dispel the notion of gods governing the universe, and demonstrate the natural causes of all things based on a few premises, from thunderbolts to earthquakes, from the nature of disease to the nature of the mind, from the beginning of the earth to the development of society.Highly recommended for its epic scope, clarity of thought, beauty of narrative, richness of humor and compassion.

  • Evan Leach
    2019-05-28 11:59

    The De Rerum Natura is the sole surviving work of Lucretius, a Roman poet writing in the 1st century BC. The book summarizes and explains the principles of Epicureanism, a philosophy founded by the Greek philosopher Epicurus around 300 BC. Epicureanism emphasized that while gods existed, they did not interfere in human affairs, and free will instead of fate governed people’s lives. Epicurus also rejected the existence of an afterlife, believed in a rudimentary kind of atomism, and argued that the pursuit of pleasure was the most important goal in life. This focus on pleasure led critics of Epicurus to characterize his philosophy (often unfairly) as a kind of irresponsible, hedonistic creed that was against the best interests of society. Lucretius’ poem, presented as a long letter to a man named Memmius, aims to convert its recipient to the Epicurean way. Lucretius adopts two main strategies. First, he effectively skewers traditional explanations for natural phenomena based off of mythology and legend. Now Lucretius was writing in the first century BC, not the ninth. The Greeks had been poking holes in the logic of mythology for centuries, and Lucretius is taking aim at low-hanging fruit by setting out to explain that creation was not in fact contingent on Zeus cutting Cronus’s balls off and volcanoes in Sicily are not explained by giant fire breathing monsters chained beneath a mountain. But his arguments are logical and very clever at times, and enjoyable to read. Second, Lucretius attempts to provide a better explanation for “the way things are” using the atomic principles of epicureanism. This stuff is less effective. Lucretius’ explanations are usually closer than mythology’s to the truths we know today, but he obviously did not have the benefits of modern technology and was flying by the seat of his pants a bit. Nobody in the modern world should read this book for its scientific knowledge. Also, atomic theories had been kicked around for a couple hundred years by Lucretius’s time, so he doesn’t get major originality points here either. The De Rerum Natura is probably the oldest “must read” Roman text, in the sense that it makes virtually every shortlist of the Roman classics. I would recommend it to any reader interested in Latin literature for a few reasons. Epicureanism was a big-time philosophical wave in the last century of the republic, and this book does an excellent job in describing its tenets. Also, while I wouldn’t put Lucretius in Virgil or Ovid’s class, aesthetically the poem is well put together and pleasant to read. Most of all, I enjoyed this poem’s enlightened attitude towards the world and its dogged determination to tear down superstition wherever it could. It cheers the human spirit to think how Lucretius and his successors fought and clawed to drag their unwilling societies that much closer to the light of reason and all that good stuff. Progress! Of course, Lucretius’s accomplishments were kind of short lived: just a few short decades after his death, the Roman Republic was no more and reason was largely out to lunch for the next 1500 years. But I guess you can’t win ‘em all.We’re left with an odd poem that doesn’t have any real characters and nothing in the way of plot. It’s basically a versification of a largely forgotten belief system, and its scientific forays seem well-intentioned at best and silly at worst. But for all that, there is a lot to enjoy here. I read the Rolfe Humphries translation, which was excellent, and I’ll leave you with a quote from him. “It is poetry without illusions: sober and manly, a Roman poem republican in its modesty and imperial in its domains and claims.” 4 stars, highly recommended for readers interested in the history of philosophy or Roman literature.

  • Gary
    2019-06-17 08:05

    If I were to try to prove that time machines were possible, this is the book I would submit as exhibit one for my evidence. There is really no other explanation for this book than the fact that Richard Feynman had built a time machine and had the opportunity to talk with Lucretius for one hour (but no more) and explain to him what he (Feynman) has said is the most important statement he could say in the fewest words, "that all things are made of atoms—little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another".Lucretius gets the concept. I once learned a long time ago that to understand the universe one must understand entropy, and nobody really understands entropy. There are many ways we explain entropy the most succinct is "heat always goes to cold", or another is "order goes to disorder", and Lucretius clearly gets those two explanations better than most modern people. Technically the real definition of entropy involves Boltzmann's constant, a temperature and a rearrangement of possible states, but that doesn't really let one understand what entropy is but just defines it. Lucretius uses the language of his time period, with abstract thinking, and the belief that everything is made up of atoms in motion but repelling upon being squeezed into one another and is able to get at the essence of reality better than most modern people do. It's clear why this book was suppressed by the superstitious and myth believers of various religious tribes. The arguments made for using reason instead of pretending to know things you don't know (i.e. faith) in understanding are devastating and even when they might be wrong they are better than citing authority based on nothing but faith. Lucretius hits it out of the ball park on many things. His explanation and effects about outer space, pre-explaining Newton's optics, physics and gravity in terms that are remarkably spot on, and his discussion of the nature of the human senses as all being separate attributes of nature as perceived by humans and can be explained by 'everything is made of atoms'. (I've just read Spinoza's Ethics and Lucretius' discussion on the five senses gave me insight into Spinoza's "one substance" and its infinite attributes of that substance but only two are known by us, extension (body) and thinking (mind), but each are separate but reside with in the one substance (God or Nature depending on how you read Spinoza). It's clear why Thomas Jefferson had multiple copies of this book in his library, because in 1800 what was said in this book was vastly superior to what was being preached by others. I would say that no myth believer could appreciate this book and its incredibly brilliant spin on the essence of reality.A point or two: Democritus has the atom part correct hundreds of years before Lucretius, but he doesn't know how to take it further. Epicurus has a philosophy built around pursuit of pleasure (of the contemplative type) and avoidance of pain (of any kind), but leaves the essence of reality alone. Lucretius doesn't dwell too much on ethics except a couple of statements to the effect that learning about the world and its true nature is our highest calling. What he does do is writes a book that destroys the Gods, demonstrates (he says proves) that the after life is a fairy tale best left for children and sets about explaining the world better than any other single writer until Newton comes along. That is no mean feat. (Yes, Copernicus takes the earth out of the center of the Universe, and Lucretius is wrong regarding the firmament, but Lucretius touches about everything with in nature and gives a marvelous way to think about them. It takes Newton (or perhaps Galileo) to get it as well.

  • Caroline
    2019-06-08 07:12

    Wonderful translation by AE Stallings, one of my favorite poets. Lots of playful language. The lines flow nicely, and the sentence structure to get the rhymes is not obtrusive. Quite startling prescience at times about atomic structure, while other explanations of natural occurrences are pretty amusing. The section on death and its aftermath--or not--is very good.

  • Barry
    2019-06-17 09:13

    The importance of reading influential classic books as original texts is an idea that has been drummed into me by well-meaning academics, but I have long been skeptical of the value of this practice. I have come to believe that I can often learn more from an expert on a particular thinker than reading the actual writings of the thinker himself. This book is further evidence. Yes, it’s interesting that 2000 years ago Lucretius had these ideas about all matter consisting of similar atoms, etc, but I think a knowledgeable expert on his writings and philosophy could have more effectively brought the important details to life. And that would be better, because frankly, this treatise is just too longwinded and boring. There I said it. I’m sorry Lucretius, but it’s true. Maybe next I’ll try The Swerve by Greenblatt.

  • Laurent
    2019-06-15 07:26

    At first, The Nature of Things seemed to me quite an extensive attempt at explaining the world without the use of mythology. Although undoubtedly interesting, Lucretius’ poetry read like a manual, a compilation of rational thought processes which ultimately jumped to barely founded conclusions — to be expected from a two thousand year-old epic philosophical poem. And it seemed to me as though the poem lacked just that: philosophy. However, as I dragged myself through the endless explanations of natural phenomena ranging from magnetism to lightning, a more subtle aspect of the book became apparent, and indeed the aspect I had set out to discover.Between his endless explorations and rationalisations of the ’nature of things,’ Lucretius draws out what I consider to be the real value of his work: the tenets of Epicurean philosophy. Although in modern terms an ‘epicure’ is someone who takes pleasure in fine food and drink — material things, in other words — Epicurus and Lucretius, his disciple, were anything but epicures. In fact, at the basis of Epicureanism lies an austere lifestyle and an exploration of human existence without the constant pursuit of personal gain. Besides advancing Epicureanism, Lucretius’ poetry serves another, more controversial purpose: to dismiss mythology as the fundaments of nature and of human existence, making The Nature of Things, in my opinion, one of the first recorded works of atheism in modern literature. Many of Lucretius’ arguments, in fact, could be recognised in any modern theological debate. Needless to say, he was centuries ahead of his time. One passage I found surprisingly avant-garde and quite humorous:Men observed the orderly movements of the heavens, And beheld the cycling of the year with its returning seasons, But could not fathom how these came about, and lacking reasons, Found an escape by handing these things over to the gods, And supposed that all things came about from supernatural nods. Ultimately, this poem not only seeks to explain then unexplainable natural phenomena, but to explore human nature from an Epicurean perspective — to expose the insatiable greed in each of us, our interminable quest for all but temporary pleasures and material possessions, and, essentially, our inherent inability to be satisfied.

  • Genni
    2019-06-17 10:08

    3.75 stars. Lucretius thoroughly convinced me that Roman mythology is bosh. :-) But his materialistic apologetics failed to convert me. Lucretius's poem follows the general outline of epicureanism as presented in Epicurus's Letter to Herodotus. His ontology begins and ends with atoms. While he is not the first in the ancient world to propose the existence of atoms, he is the first (that I could find) who posited their existence while insisting on a sensory epistemology. The way he "proves" their existence in this way makes for a fascinating, and sometimes amusing read.Ultimately, though, it seems Lucretius is not really concerned with completely understanding how things work as much as he is interested in debunking paganism and the fear of death by positive evidence for materialism. This is the heart of his entire work. I felt a certain affinity for this ancient man, trying to make sense of the world around him and attempting to bring others to his "truth". The struggle was real then, and it is real now. This aspect of his work really resonated with me (especially my second time through). I cannot fault him too much for some of his wild expositions. This work is also of historical interest as he fleshes out Epicurean doctrine with didactic poetry (a form I was not aware of until reading this). I had a lot of incorrect assumptions about Epicureanism coming to this work, namely, that Epicureans were hedonists. But Lucretius does not see sensory pleasure as the highest good as much as he does the absence of pain. Any activity that brings pain for self or others is to be avoided. So the drunken orgies I pictured them participating in were way off base. Where did these assumptions come from anyway? I cannot remember. Anyway, reading these philosophical considerations in poetic form was a new and interesting experience for me. I was also under the impression that Epicureans were atheists. Not so. Basically, I liked it. Read and enjoy!

  • Nicholas Whyte
    2019-06-10 12:03

    http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/1391691.htmlThis is one of the best-argued cases for atheism I have read (speaking as a non-atheist). Millennia before Dawkins, Hitchens, or even Bertrand Russell, Lucretius argued the nature of the universe from first principles, concluding vigorously that there is no God and no afterlife, just matter made of atoms. There is no tedious sniping at current beliefs (apart from a rather funny bit towards the end about why Jupiter does not hurl thunderbolts; and he has a go also at the beliefs of Heraclitus and Empedocles about elements), just an explanation in detail of the philosophy of Epicurus and how that helps us understand the way the world around us works. As with all such books, it is tempting to give the author marks out of ten for the accuracy of his scientific explanations as compared to our current understanding, but that would be a mistake; it is amazing how far Lucretius got given his starting point. It reminded me a bit of Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, but is of course much shorter; also Lucretius, writing in 55 BC or thereabouts, had two millennia less of scientific research to fit in. Unfortunately he doesn't appear to have finished it; the text ends rather abruptly after a description of the effects of plague.

  • Kristen
    2019-05-27 13:20

    It's easy to read this book and snicker at all the things he got wrong, all the while being impressed and amazed at the bit he got right. He figured out that ball of wool and a ball of metal would fall at the same rate in a vacuum and yet he couldn't quite wrap his head around how a mirror works. But what makes this book great is the insight it offers into the thinking of someone trying to understand the universe without the aid of superstition and religion well over two millennia ago. Truly a human experience! My favorite part was the section on sex, which of course wasn't about sex at all but rather love. Oh God, Lucretius, you have been hurt. You have been hurt by somebody, that much is clear. Who hurt you? Who hurt you? Who hurt you?

  • Erik Graff
    2019-05-27 08:22

    Whatever happened to didactive poetry?The instance of De Rerum Natura shows one of many ways the Romans were different from us. Lucretius was known to his contemporaries as much for his poetic style as for the Epicurean atomism he preached. While I tried with my little Latin to appreciate this style by reading much of the reconstructed original's text aloud, I was unable to confirm Cicero's positive judgment and had to satisfy myself with appreciating the scope of the author's "science" and, let's face it, hubris. Will our own science someday be viewed as being similarly naive?My favorite portion of the poem is Lucretius' description of the felicity of grazing cattle.

  • Beluosus
    2019-06-13 09:05

    Cum Lucretii librum De Rerum Natura perlegissem, pagina evoluta ultima multa de doctrina, scientia et disciplina epicurea in mente animadverti. Carmen legere diu volueram, quod libri in quo physica et philosophia per poemata explicantur me maxime delectaret. Insolitum videtur, saltem temporibus hodiernis ; nemo nisi doctrinae infantum carmina de physicis nunc componit.Scientia antiqua me semper adlicet. De philosophiis religionibus scientiis antiquis legere soleo, Aegypticis praecipue et magis magisque Romanis ac Graecis. Amor enim historiae « classicae » est ex comparatione in vita mea recens ; donec annos habui XXVI lectionem historiae annos CCC ante natum Romulum desinere solebam.Sed digredior. Has sententias nunc seponam ; de rebus epicureis cogitem.Carmen quidem me valde percussit. Non semper philosophicae eius adsentiebar, tamen pulchritudo verborum numerorumque persaepe commovebat. Igitur subito intellexi : fieri epicureus statim debeo. Sed non discipulus bonus sicut Lucretius carissimus, immo solum nomine epicureus fiam, sicut isti nobiles Romani qui philosophiam adopinabantur excusationem luxuriae libidinisque. Fortasse debeam ad Martialis carmina adhaerere...

  • Jon
    2019-06-15 09:23

    Sometimes boring, sometimes astonishing in its perception, sometimes silly because it is a very early attempt at seeing the entire universe (including our minds and spirits) as made up entirely of tiny seeds. Nothing exists except the seeds and the void. Various combinations of these atoms (Lucretius doesn't use that word) make the world we perceive seem to be made up of different things. Everything eventually perishes; there is no immortality. The only proper attitude towards this truth is the calm acceptance encouraged by Epicureanism. The work only seems silly and primitive because it is an early attempt at so much of the scientific view of things that we now take for granted. Widely admired for its passionate poetry, which only barely peeks through this literally accurate prose translation. I'm now looking forward to reading secondary works about the poetry and influence. Stephen Greenblatt (very good book on Shakespeare: Will in the World) has a book on Lucretius coming out this month titled Swerve, referring to the only thing that caused the first atoms to collide and start to form the world we know. I'm looking forward to that book as well as several others.

  • Ben
    2019-05-27 13:21

    If I had to choose one ancient text for ancient / medieval people to look to as a guide for living I would probably choose this work. The physics and biology and neuroscience (particularly) are way off and the aesthetics are far more cold and austere than those of a mystery cult, but the depth at which Lucretius - and the other Epicureans before him - investigated the workings of the world is truly staggering compared to say Plato or even Aristotle. Along the same thread, the backbone of the philosophy is that everything has an explanation in nature, which is an idea far ahead of its time. An idea that wouldn't be adapted for another 1700 years in the West (and with phenomenal success when it was adopted). The other aspect of De Rerum Natura that I find rather inspirational is how Lucretius attempts to put philosophy and science into poetry. How come no one does this now? The universe is much more fantastic than even Lucretius imagined so it seems a waste that no one has capitalized by capturing the beautifully transcendent beauty of science in beautifully transcendent poetic verse since Lucretius. He must be given a lot of credit for trying in my opinion.

  • Thomas
    2019-06-24 08:24

    The only way to read Lucretius is slowly, preferably in Latin. Most of us can't manage the latter, so we lose the poetry -- but all is not lost for the Latin-less. Reading it slowly, analyzing the shape of Lucretius's thought, and finally putting the pieces together with an eye to the purpose of the poem can make an otherwise arduous experience rewarding. Lucretius wanted to make Epicurean materialism palatable to a society bolstered by state-sanctioned religion. This took some daring in the late Roman republic, and his denial of an interventionist divinity is as offensive to some today as it was then. But it was an inspiration to Montaigne, and to Thomas Jefferson, because his arguments on that point make sense. Some of his other claims are a little more difficult to swallow, perhaps because he thinks it necessary to explain everything, including the human soul, in terms of particles. But he isn't afraid to be wrong -- in a criticism of what sounds like Socratic skepticism he says it is better to trust the senses and be wrong than to to doubt what is evident. And so he is wrong, about a lot of things, but his courage is inspiring nevertheless.

  • William Herbst
    2019-05-27 13:12

    This spring I read Greenblatt's book "The Swerve" which argues (unconvincingly) that the discovery of a manuscript of Lucretius'' De Rerum Natura led to the Renaissance. It made me recall a course I took on Lucretius many years ago at the CUNY graduate center. This summer, for a sight reading session with some other local Latin teachers I chose Lucretius' lines on the swerve to read and discuss. Wow - tough job working through the Latin and then trying to piece together the threads of what seemed to be to be a very tendentious argument. Not Lucretius as I remembered him but that was probably because we were dealing with a technical passage rather than one of the more poetic sections.

  • Borum
    2019-06-09 14:56

    review to be resumed latera mighty shame it was not fully recovered, though. guess we're lucky to have it at all. stole the thunder from darwin, einstein, kinsey and countless many.

  • Alex
    2019-05-30 10:26

    Review forthcoming...I'll probably wuss out on all the quote-heavy analysis I plan to do and end up half-assing it anyway.

  • Cristian
    2019-06-15 13:07

    Poemul lui Lucrețiu e o curioasă combinație între poezie, filosofie și știință. Expunerea amănunțită a doctrinei epicuraniene, cu tot alaiul ei de atomi și vid, e uneori într-atât de abstractă în termeni, încât stihuirea pasajelor poate fi ușor suprimată fără vreo pierdere; teorie lipsită de valoare poetică. Mereu cu teoria mecanicistă a atomilor la îndemână, ca un far ce-i luminează traseul prin versuri, poetul nostru filosof se avântă în explicații științifice în ale naturii, atent ticluite, limpede exprimate, având totodată multe dintre ele încă validitate științifică.Ce ne reamintește că-i vorba până la urmă de poezie (formal, ne dăm seama dispunerea specifică a propozițiilor) sunt nelipsitele imagini din natură și din viață, adânc pătrunse de suflul grandios al poetului uimit de orizontul înțelegerii, care acompaniază în număr mare teoretizările. Forța rafalelor de vânt, cutremure, lupta permanentă dintre foc și apă(da, apare așa ceva), dar și lucruri mai puțin zgomotoase în simțire, sigur, apar și peisaje dulci, bebeluși și alte cele. Ca idee pentru valoarea artistică a poemului pot da ca exemplu faptul că Botticelli s-a inspirat într-una dintre compozițiile sale din descrierea făcură de Lucrețiu unui anotimp, Molière l-a citat într-o piesă de-a sa. Lucrețiu e probabil singura sursă Antică pentru doctrina lui Epicur într-o formă unitară și coerentă. Interesul e clar mai puțin etic și mai mult îndreptat spre partea de fizică, un subiect, cum se vede, care se pretează foarte bine la lirism.

  • Julian
    2019-06-06 08:19

    reads like what Lovecraft would've written if he cared about being happy