Lucretius and the Nature of Things

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(Sean Adams, PhD) This month the CSCO classical texts reading group discussed Lucretius’ ‘On the Nature of Things’ (De Rerum Natura). This 1st century BC text, written in Latin poetic metre, is an import document for delineating Epicurean philosophic thought.

     The session opened with classicist Margaret Williams providing a succinct and fascinating introduction to Lucretius and Epicurus, which help situate this text in its social and literary context. Of particular interest were her comments on the adoption of Epicureanism by a number of prominent Roman politicians (e.g., Julius Caesar, Cassius, Otho), even though Epicurean thought attempted to dissuade political involvement as it leads to mental disturbance and the loss of tranquility.

     Turning to De Rerum Natura, our discussion began with the idea espoused by Lucretius that the gods are not to be feared, as their involvement in human affairs would disrupt their tranquility. Moreover, Lucretius argues that we can know that the gods did not create the world and humanity, because if they did the world would have been a better place. On a related note, Lucretius claims that death is not something to be worried about, not only because it is natural, but also because once you are dead you will have nothing to worry about as there is no afterlife. Other points of conversation consisted of Lucretius’ discussion of gender and visual appearance in book 4 based on the relationship of a man and woman during intercourse and the similarities and differences between Christianity and Epicureanism.

     Next month we are going to be reading Philo’s important work Legatio ad Gaium (‘Embassy to Gaius’), so stay tuned.

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