|12-21-2007, 10:42 PM||#1|
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Lucretius: Of the Nature of Things, v1, IMP, 22 Dec 2007.
Lucretius (Titus Lucretius Carus) (c.99-55BCE.)
Of The Nature of Things
(De Rerum Natura)
A Metrical Translation by William Ellery Leonard
A Roman classic from an Epicurean philosopher who wanted to free people from superstition and the fear of death. Little is known about the life of Lucretius but this epic poem has miraculously survived.
‘On the Nature of Things (Latin: De rerum natura) is a first century BC epic poem by the Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius that grandly proclaims the reality of man's role in a universe without a god to help him along. It is a statement of personal responsibility in a world in which everyone is driven by hungers and passions with which they were born and do not understand.
Literally, the title translates as On the Nature of Things. The title is sometimes translated as On the Nature of the Universe, perhaps in order to reflect the scale of its subject matter. Lucretius' view is austere, but nevertheless he points out that a few enlightened individuals can escape periodically from their own hungers and passions and look down with compassion on poor humanity, including themselves, who are on average ignorant, unhappy, and yearning for something better than what they see around them. Personal responsibility then consists of speaking and living personal truth.
Accordingly, On the Nature of Things is Lucretius' personal statement of truth to an ignorant audience. He hopes that someone will hear, understand, and pass on a seed of truth to help improve the world.
The poem consists of the following main arguments.
Substance is eternal.
Atoms move in an infinite void.
The universe is all atoms and void, nothing else. (Hence, Lucretius' view is labeled as atomism.)
The human soul consists of minute atoms that dissipate into smoke when a person dies.
Gods exist, but they did not start the universe, and they have no concern for men.
Likely there are other worlds in the universe much like this one, likewise composed of changing combinations of atoms.
Being mere shifting combinations of atoms, this world and the other worlds are not eternal.
The other worlds out there are not controlled by gods any more than this one.
The forms of life in this world and in the other worlds change, increasing in power for a time and then losing power to other forms.
Humankind went through a savage beginning, and there has been noticeable improvement in skill and ability, but even this world will pass away.
Humankind know by either the senses or by reason.
Senses are dependable.
Reason infers underlying explanations, but reason can reach false inferences. Hence, inferences must be continually verified against the senses.
(Compare to Plato, who believed that senses could be fooled and reason was reliable.)
The senses perceive the macroscopic collisions and interactions of bodies.
But reason infers the atoms and the void to explain what the senses perceive.
Humankind avoid pain and seek what gives them pleasure.
The average person then is driven to maximize pleasure while avoiding pain.
People are born with two big vulnerabilities for hurt, the fear of gods and the fear of death.
But the gods will not hurt you, and death is easy when life is gone.
When you are gone, the atoms in your soul and the atoms in your body will still be here making up something else, a rock, a lake, or a flower.’
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