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On the Nature of Things

by Titus Lucretius Carus

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5,256462,021 (3.8)1 / 104
One of a major new Classics series - books that have changed the history of thought, in sumptuous, clothbound hardbacks.Lucretius' poem On the Nature of Thingscombines a scientific and philosophical treatise with some of the greatest poetry ever written. With intense moral fervour he demonstrates to humanity that in death there is nothing to fear since the soul is mortal, and the world and everything in it is governed by the mechanical laws of nature and not by gods; and that by believing this men can live in peace of mind and happiness. He bases this on the atomic theory expounded by the Greek philosopher Epicurus, and continues with an examination of sensation, sex, cosmology, meteorology, and geology, all of these subjects made more attractive by the poetry with which he illustrates them.… (more)
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 Ancient History: Lucretius vs Intelligent Design17 unread / 17Garp83, February 2010

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The philosophy of Epicurus is not presented any better than in the classic poem, On the Nature of Things (De Rerum Natura) by Titus Lucretius Carus. We know little about his life. He was probably born in the early first century B.C. This meant that he lived during the turbulent era of the end of the Roman Republic and beginning of the Empire that saw the rise of Sulla and Pompey and, ultimately, Julius Caesar. On the Nature of Things, posthumously edited by Cicero, was his poetic plea to the Roman elite that they change course.

The poem by Lucretius has the goal of explaining Epicurean philosophy to a Roman audience. It was written in some 7,400 dactylic hexameters, divided into six untitled books, and explores Epicurean philosophy and physics through richly poetic language and metaphors. It is a rational and materialistic view of the world that 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 fortuna, "chance", and not the divine intervention of the traditional Roman deities. He extols the life of contemplation as seen in these lines from the opening of Book Two:
"But nothing is sweeter than to dwell in the calm
Temples of truth, the strongholds of the wise." (II, 7-8)

Thankfully we can still enjoy the vision of the good life as presented in this beautiful poem. The basics of Lucretius' philosophy include acknowledging pleasure (or the absence of pain) as the highest good, basing ethics on the evidence of the senses, and extolling plain living and high thinking. He also is a committed atheist, denouncing the gods in Book I of the poem, advocating free will in Book II, and reassuring his readers that they have nothing to fear from death in Book III. This lucid translation by Anthony M. Esolen reminds me why Lucretius is still worth reading. ( )
  jwhenderson | Nov 7, 2023 |
Versified philosophy isn't poetry--it's versified philosophy. ( )
  judeprufrock | Jul 4, 2023 |
This is one of those classics that has always looked too hard even though it's widely quoted and I was a bit reluctant to start on 7000 lines plus of poetry. But finally made the effort...and it wasn't so difficult in this translation anyway. And it's certainly been an eye opener for me. As Richard Jenkyns says in the introduction ..it's a poem without a story, without people; instead it's a treatise on science and philosophy. And....amazingly modern.
Essentially, Lucretius sets out to explain the universe and we who live in it.
He was a convert to the philosophy of Epicurus who died in 270BC and Lucretius was writing about 40AD ...so a difference of about 300 years. And I find it remarkable that Lucretius was able to absorb and maybe transform the ideas of Epicurus into a major statement of how the world works. In many ways, he is amazingly modern...especially with his rejection of the gods and religion; "it is religion breeds wickedness and that has given rise to wrongful deeds".
Basically he espouses the atomic theory and explains how atoms can pretty much account for every phenomena that we observe in the world. Commencing with his evidence for the existence of particles which" ARE but cannot be seen"...as evidenced in the squalls and sweeping hurricanes.
And there is an amazing passage p43 explaining why "all things fall at equal speed through the still void. (although they fall at different speeds through water or thin air). It took another 1400 years for Galileo to show this.
From simple reasoning he claims that the atoms of things that flit about must come in many a shape.....and this is more or less what the periodic table combined with quantum theory tells us.Though he does suggest p55 that there is nothing that's composed of atoms of a single kind.....which seems to wipe out the chances of isolating the pure elements such as oxygen or gold.
It's a remarkable tour de force......not perfect: but given that nearly 2000 years have elapsed since he wrote the work it is astonishing to me how closely he was able to explain so much of the natural world. His explanation of magnetism p119 is rather fanciful but if you replace "seeds flowing out from the lodestone" by magnetic lines of force...you come fairly close to the truth.
I love his analysis of lightning....and his put-down of the superstitious: "If the gods can throw lightning bolts in whatever direction they like, why don't they smite the scoundrels ?...and why do they waste good throws on deserted places?...and why does Jupiter never hurl one of his blows in fine weather? And why does he smite the sea?.... what have the whitecaps ever done him? Great questions.
All in all, I was mightily impressed by his thoughtful rationality and his explanatory powers. Just amazing really. I'm surprised that it never really seemed to have more impact and we still have people today seeing God's justice in lightning bolts.
Oh, and I think the translator, A.E. Stallings, has done a great job. I'm not qualified to check his Latin but it certainly flows well. No mean feat translating poetry and keeping something of the metre etc.
Happy to give this book five stars. ( )
  booktsunami | Jul 24, 2022 |
Enjoyed reading Ronald Melville’s verse translation of De rerum natura in a concentrated burst over the past week. Here are a couple of thoughts on the poem as a whole.

The two things that most impressed me were:
1. Lucretius’ bottom-up thinking: His general approach is to explain natural phenomena without recourse to outside agency and this method, allied with technological advances, has been essential to the progress of science. That Lucretius and the other atomists were read by so many of the greatest minds such as Newton, and may have been influential in his thinking about the laws of motion, is enough to secure him a valuable place in the history of western thought, in my eyes.
2. Lucretius’ poetry and spirit: There are so many wonderful passages, especially as the poem progresses, notably the lyrical codas to Books 3 and 5, the latter containing Lucretius’ potted history of the evolution of prehistoric man, probably my favourite section of the entire poem. I also enjoyed his irreverent spirit, notably the passage where he shamelessly advocates sexual permissiveness (“And by avoiding love you need not miss / The fruits that Venus offers, but instead / You may take the goods without the penalty”).

Only disappointment I had, apart from some of the comical explanations (i.e. a rough voice is caused by rough atoms, a smooth one by smooth atoms) and the occasional misogyny, was the way the poem ends abruptly, in an unsatisfying way. That said, I don’t feel that there’s enough in the text itself to suggest he was going mad; it’s fair to say that the first two books of the poem come across as more rigorous than the other four, but he seems lucid to me throughout and the greater freedom he enjoys in Books 3-6 is to the benefit of the poetry. ( )
  dbredford | Feb 1, 2022 |
Enjoyed reading Ronald Melville’s verse translation of De rerum natura in a concentrated burst over the past week. Here are a couple of thoughts on the poem as a whole.

The two things that most impressed me were:
1. Lucretius’ bottom-up thinking: His general approach is to explain natural phenomena without recourse to outside agency and this method, allied with technological advances, has been essential to the progress of science. That Lucretius and the other atomists were read by so many of the greatest minds such as Newton, and may have been influential in his thinking about the laws of motion, is enough to secure him a valuable place in the history of western thought, in my eyes.
2. Lucretius’ poetry and spirit: There are so many wonderful passages, especially as the poem progresses, notably the lyrical codas to Books 3 and 5, the latter containing Lucretius’ potted history of the evolution of prehistoric man, probably my favourite section of the entire poem. I also enjoyed his irreverent spirit, notably the passage where he shamelessly advocates sexual permissiveness (“And by avoiding love you need not miss / The fruits that Venus offers, but instead / You may take the goods without the penalty”).

Only disappointment I had, apart from some of the comical explanations (i.e. a rough voice is caused by rough atoms, a smooth one by smooth atoms) and the occasional misogyny, was the way the poem ends abruptly, in an unsatisfying way. That said, I don’t feel that there’s enough in the text itself to suggest he was going mad; it’s fair to say that the first two books of the poem come across as more rigorous than the other four, but he seems lucid to me throughout and the greater freedom he enjoys in Books 3-6 is to the benefit of the poetry. ( )
  dbredford | Feb 1, 2022 |
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» Add other authors (329 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Lucretius Carus, TitusAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bailey, CyrilTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Büchner, KarlTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Centrangolo, EnzioEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Eiduss, JāzepsTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Farrington, BejaminIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fowler, DonIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Higginson, Thomas WentworthTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Humprhries, RolfeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jenkyns, RichardIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Latham, RonaldTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Melville, RonaldTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Munro, Hugh Andrew JohnstoneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Radice, BettyEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rouse, W. H. D.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schrijvers, PietTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Smith, Martin FergusonContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stallings, AliciaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
W.E., LeonardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Mother of Rome, delight of Gods and men, Dear Venus that beneath the gliding stars Makest to teem the many-voyaged main And fruitful lands- for all of living things Through thee alone are evermore conceived, Through thee are risen to visit the great sun- Before thee, Goddess, and thy coming on, Flee stormy wind and massy cloud away, For thee the daedal Earth bears scented flowers, For thee waters of the unvexed deep Smile, and the hollows of the serene sky Glow with diffused radiance for thee!
Mother of Aeneas and his race, delight of men and gods, life-giving Venus, it is your doing that under the wheeling constellations of the sky all nature teems with life, both the sex that buoys up our ships and the earth that yields our food.  [translated by R.E. Latham]
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One of a major new Classics series - books that have changed the history of thought, in sumptuous, clothbound hardbacks.Lucretius' poem On the Nature of Thingscombines a scientific and philosophical treatise with some of the greatest poetry ever written. With intense moral fervour he demonstrates to humanity that in death there is nothing to fear since the soul is mortal, and the world and everything in it is governed by the mechanical laws of nature and not by gods; and that by believing this men can live in peace of mind and happiness. He bases this on the atomic theory expounded by the Greek philosopher Epicurus, and continues with an examination of sensation, sex, cosmology, meteorology, and geology, all of these subjects made more attractive by the poetry with which he illustrates them.

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