On the nature of things - PDF (1919) by Carus Lucretius

On the nature of things

On the nature of things
On the nature of things

This book was published in 1919, it is a translation of the great poem "on the nature of things"  by the Roman poet Lucretius who was a follower of Epicurus.

The book is full of wisdom and scientific explanation of the world, I remember a saying from it" the future after death will be no more than the past before death"

Excerpt from the Introduction:

of Titus Lucretius Carus, one of the world's great poets, we know hardly anything. One of the maxims which his beloved Master, Epicurus, impressed upon his followers was, ' Hide thyself, and pass through life unknown'; and so successfully has his pupil followed his advice, that no details of his life and works have come down to us. 

Although the contemporary of Cicero and Catullus, we know nothing of him beyond the fact, which Mr Monro thinks certain, that he was born in Rome in 99 B.C., and died at the age of forty-four in 55 B.C.! A story is told, on which Tennyson has founded his poem on Lucretius, how, after being driven mad by a love potion administered by a jealous woman, possibly his wife, he committed suicide in the forty-fourth year of his age. The story, originating as it does some three or four centuries later, and otherwise unsupported, may be dismissed. .

On the same authority, we are informed that Cicero edited his unfinished work. We have indeed a letter* from the great orator to his brother Quintus, written a few months after the poet's death, in which he says (I follow the rendering of Mr Shuckburgh): 

 The poems of Lucretius are, as you say, full of brilliant flashes of genius, yet very technical.' In  Cf. Letter DXXX. Tyrrell's Edition. these words he is probably contrasting the fine poetical passages with the dry details of the long philosophical disquisitions with which the poet's work abounds, which have led some to assert that out of the twelve thousand lines, seven hundred only can be termed poetry.

 But there is nothing to lead us to suppose he edited it, and indeed it seems unlikely he should edit a work which in its main doctrines conflicts so strongly with his own on the existence of the Gods, and the fear of death. In one of his letters, he calls Epicureanism 'the philosophy of the kitchen. That Lucretius left his work unfinished and without his final revision is certain, and there are passages in the poem which seem to render it not impossible that he died by his own hand. Thus in his third book (iii. 941), he says: 'If life itself disgusts Why seek to add to it, to lose again And perish all in vain? Why not prefer To make an end of life and labour too?' And again (iii. 79): From the fear of death, disgust of light and life Seizes on men, and with a saddened heart They do themselves to death/ 

He was, we cannot doubt, disgusted with the world he saw around him, with the squalid passions and disputes unloosed on every side, and in his very first lines he calls upon the goddess of peace and love to supplicate the god of war to still the wild tumult of the surging storm, and once more to bring backrest and concord to the troubled world :
" Oh, while he lies within thy fond embrace, Pour low sweet words from thy soft lips, and ask Peace, gentle peace for Rome."

But the peace so earnestly longed for came not, and Lucretius alone, apart, hangs like one of his own storm clouds 'Such are the clouds Which oft we see to gather in the sky, Blot the fair face of heaven, and as they go Caress the air. Oft giant forces seem 

To hurry past, their shadows leave behind 't the troubling scenes of the closing years of the great republic with profound sadness, a countenance of sorrow rather than of anger, which is the dominant note of his great poem. 

If ever there was a mind in earnest it was that of Lucretius. He saw around him the decay and dissolution of that old regime which had been so great a power in the ancient world he felt something had gone wrong, and he endeavoured to apply a remedy to all the ills and troubles of mankind.

It is by a stroke of irony, that of Caius Memmius, to whom the poem is dedicated, and for whose instruction it would seem to have been written, we know far more than we do of the author of the work, who seems, however, to have been his friend and admirer. He was the son and nephew of well-known public men at Rome, and himself took a considerable part in the political life of the State, having been tribune in 66 B.C. and praetor in 58 B.C. 

On this latter occasion, he opposed the plans of Julius Caesar, and it is in reference to this that we have an allusion in the poem when it says: 'Nor yet can Memmius' son At such an hour be wanting to the state.'* It was probably after his praetorship that he was assigned the province of Bithynia, whither he was accompanied by the poet Catullus, who gives a not very favourable account of his life and character. In 54 B.C. he was a candidate for the office of Consul, and being accused of bribery was exiled and afterwards lived in Athens. 

the book details :
  • Author:Carus Lucretius
  • Translator: Robert Andrew Allison
  • Publication date: 1919
  • Company: London, A. L. Humphreys

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