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Lucretius did not deny the existence of god

December 23, 2007

Lucretius

Lucretius did not deny the existence of gods either, but he felt that human ideas about gods combined with the fear of death to make human beings unhappy.

He followed the same materialist lines as Epicurus, and by denying that the gods had any way of influencing our world he said that humankind had no need to fear the supernatural.

Quotations On The Nature Of Things

This terror, then, this darkness of the mind,
Not sunrise with its flaring spokes of light,
Nor glittering arrows of morning can disperse,
But only Nature’s aspect and her law,
Which, teaching us, hath this exordium:
Nothing from nothing ever yet was born.

Fear holds dominion over mortality
Only because, seeing in land and sky
So much the cause whereof no wise they know,
Men think Divinities are working there.

Meantime, when once we know from nothing still
Nothing can be create, we shall divine
More clearly what we seek: those elements
From which alone all things created are,
And how accomplished by no tool of Gods.”

Whilst human kind
Throughout the lands lay miserably crushed
Before all eyes beneath Religion- who
Would show her head along the region skies,
Glowering on mortals with her hideous face-
A Greek it was who first opposing dared
Raise mortal eyes that terror to withstand,
Whom nor the fame of Gods nor lightning’s stroke
Nor threatening thunder of the ominous sky
Abashed; but rather chafed to angry zest
His dauntless heart to be the first to rend
The crossbars at the gates of Nature old.

And thus his will and hardy wisdom won;
And forward thus he fared afar, beyond
The flaming ramparts of the world, until
He wandered the unmeasurable All.

Whence he to us, a conqueror, reports
What things can rise to being, what cannot,
And by what law to each its scope prescribed,
Its boundary stone that clings so deep in Time.

Wherefore Religion now is under foot,
And us his victory now exalts to heaven.

Reason is a goal that often eludes pure faith.

LUCRETIUS

THE ROMAN EPICUREAN SCIENTIST

Titus Lucretius Carus was born at the very beginning of the first century B.C., he lived a life about which we know almost nothing except the odd fact that he died at the age of forty-four as the result of a “love potion” or drug of some sort. These were bad times politically, life was insecure and the future uncertain; the old religion had largely faded, and for the first time the full force of the Greek philosophical tradition, especially the work of Epicurus, was available for Roman eyes. In such a world Lucretius came to maturity, soaked himself in volumes of Greek thought largely unavailable to us now, and put together in poetry of grand design and remarkable execution a major philosophical treatise. This is all the more remarkable because Romans generally has small patience and talent for philosophy. Lucretius stands out as the first and last Roman philosopher worthy of the name.

Observations and conclusions made by Lucretius, before Christianity existed, are impressive because he disdained “blind superstition”. 

The stress and tumult of his times stands in the background of his work and partly explains his personal attraction and commitment to Epicureanism, with its elevation of intellectual pleasure and tranquility of mind and its dim view of the world of social strife and political violence. His epic is presented in six books and undertakes a full and completely naturalistic explanation of the physical origin, structure, and destiny of the universe. Included in this presentation are theories of the atomic structure of matter and the emergence and evolution of life forms – ideas that would eventually form a crucial foundation and background for the development of western science. In addition to his literary and scientific influence, Lucretius has been a major source of inspiration for a wide range of modern philosophers, including Gassendi, Bergson, Spencer, Whitehead, and Teilhard de Chardin.

Some scholars have imagined that this lack of information is the result of a sinister plot – a conspiracy of silence supposedly conducted by pious Roman and early Christian writers bent on suppressing the poet’s anti-religious sentiments and materialist blasphemies. Yet perhaps more vexing for our understanding of Lucretius than any conspiracy of silence has been the single lurid item about his death that appears in a fourth century chronicle history by St. Jerome:

94  BC. . . The poet Titus Lucretius is born. He was later driven mad by a love philtre and, having composed between bouts of insanity several books (which Cicero afterwards corrected), committed suicide at the age of 44.

Lucretius (c.99—c.55 BCE)

Certainly the possibility that Lucretius (whose blistering, two hundred line denunciation of sexual love comprises one of the memorable highlights of the poem) may himself have fallen victim to a love potion is a superb irony.

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