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Notes and Reflections on Books and Media

by Hannah Leitheiser

Epicurian Philosphy

On the Nature of Things


99 BC-55 BC; 1851



Finished reading On the Nature of Things by Lucretius. I'm posting here because 'Thomas Jefferson owned at least five Latin editions and English, Italian and French translations.' (Wikipedia). I'm no Jefferson, so of course, I'm taking an English translation.

This book expressed the Epicurean perspective. Now, Lucretius was around about 200 years after Epicurus, but as a surviving work related to the school, On the Nature of Things is a significant account.

One of the main ideas was that because the mind is expected to die with the body, you have no reason to fear death, and it is that fear which causes much suffering. He writes, "...while men, not submitting to die to avoid those evils [I think he means, not willing to commit suicide to escape infamy or poverty], but restrained by a false terror of death and its consequences, wish that they may escape far, and remove themselves to a distance, from disgrace and want, they increase their property with civil bloodshed, and greedily double their riches, heaping slaughter on slaughter ; they cruelly rejoice at the sad end of a brother, and hate and dread the tables of their relations."

And on the Gods and their relation to nature, he writes, "But the phenomena which men observe earth and the heavens, when, as often happens, they are perplexed with fearful thoughts, overawe their minds with a dread of the gods, and humble and depress them to the earth ; for ignorance of natural causes obliges them to refer all things to the power of the divinities, and to resign the dominion of the world to them; because of these effects they can by no means see the origin, and accordingly suppose that they are produced by divine influence. For if those who have fairly understood that the gods pass a life free from care, nevertheless wonder, meanwhile, how things can severally be carried on, especially in those matters which are seen in the ethereal regions above, our heads, they are carried back again to their old notions of religion, and set over themselves cruel tyrants whom they unhappily believe able to do all things." Very similar or perhaps exactly the same as Jefferon's view of a clockwork universe and watchmaker God.

Lucretius also discusses the topics of whether the universe had a beginning and end, what matter is made of, and puts forth his ideas about sound, light, water, stars, and so on -- topics which occupied the minds of many Greek philosophers [edit: Lucretius was Roman -- so on the minds of both Roman and Greek philosophers], but are less relevant given our greater experimental evidence on those topics.