Monday, February 21, 2011

Becoming a Writer: Lucretius' De Rerum Natura

Creech's LucretiusImage by philobiblon via Flickr

Lucretius life

Titus Lucretius Carus (approx. 100-ca. 50 BCE) left no biographies, and no major sources from which scholars can reconstruct his life. Like the marks of two parentheses, two pieces of information has reached us: that having drunk a love potion, he became insane from it, and that he committed suicide. Some information may be inferred from his long poem De rerum natura —translated as On the nature of things and also as On the nature of the universe— which alludes to his own person. In addition, Cicero referred to him in a letter to his brother.

What the poem De rerum natura is about

In classical times, poetry was used as method of teaching, propaganda, and transmittal of general information, there being no clear delineation among science, philosophy, and the arts. So, Lucretius deals at length and passionately on Epicurean physics. Because he openly admitted that he based his work on Epicurus, Democritus, and Leucippus, critics and scholars considered his work non-original.

Epicurean denied the existence of supernatural forces mediating human life. Epicurus held that that the world and all things in it are the result of the random accommodation of atoms. Lucretius interprets this materialism in a systematic manner, explaining the universe with incipient scientific principles.

Religion and ethics

Being an atheist, he cleansed and rid the world of big God, little gods, and other creatures in between. No allowances did he make for superstitions of any kind. Although his system depends heavily on a deterministic materialism, he manages to salvage man’s free will.
In addition, besides offering a dissertation of biology, physics and cosmology, he isn’t shy about tying into it a treatment of sexuality, ethics, the pursuit of happiness—and death.


Virgil cited Lucretius in his own poems, and had planned, upon his retirement, to study him more in-depth. Through the Renaissance his work was much read and translated into many languages. The French essayist Michel Montaigne loved to quote him.

To become a writer I write essays every day. Since English is my second language, in writing essays I consult Mary Duffy's Sentence Openers. When I write fiction --or fiction writing of novels and short stories-- I consult Toolbox for Writers.
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