"Nothing Can Be Created Out Of Nothing"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Very little is known of the Roman philosophical poet Lucretius. All that can with certainty be said of his life is that he lived in the earlier part of the last century before Christ and that he died at age forty-five or before. His long didactic poem in six books, De rerum natura, remained unfinished at his death. Popular tradition has it that he was rendered insane by a love-potion given him by his wife, and that his masterpiece was written during the lucid intervals of his illness. It is said that he studied Epicurean philosophy in Athens, and that he died by his own hand during a period of madness. De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things) is a large and ambitious work, addressed by Lucretius to his friend Memmius. In it he sets forth a complete and detailed cosmology based upon the philosophies of Epicurus and Democritus; to their thinking Lucretius adds his own originality and his imagination, presenting a result which is eloquent in its demonstration of his great power as artist and thinker. Natural phenomena, arts and sciences, social origins and history, theories of the human senses and of the basic properties of matter are all explored and. discoursed upon. Such difficult materials are not ordinarily considered the stuff of poetry, and that Lucretius was able to make a great and majestic poem of them is testimonial to his stature. He indicates that his purpose in these inquiries is to spare his readers the fear of death, which he blames upon religious superstition. To Lucretius all mysteries have their natural and logical explanation, which can be determined by careful inquiry. In the first part of Book I he takes up the problem of creation and of reproduction:

This terror then of the mind, this darkness must needs be scattered not by the rays of the sun and the gleaming shafts of day, but by the outer view and the inner law of nature; whose first rule shall take its start for us from this, that nothing is ever begotten of nothing by divine will. Fear, forsooth, so contrains all mortal men, because they behold many things come to pass on earth and in the sky, the cause of whose working they can by no means see, and think that a divine power brings them about. Therefore, when we have seen that nothing can be created out of nothing, then more rightly after that shall we discern that for which we search, both whence each thing can be created, and in what way all things come to be without the aid of gods.
For if things came to being from nothing, every kind might be born from all things, nought would need a seed. Firstly, men might arise from the sea, and from the land the race of scaly creatures, and birds burst forth from the sky. . . . Nor would the same fruits stay constant to the trees, but all would change: all trees might avail to bear all fruits. . . . But as it is, since all things are produced from fixed seeds, each thing is born and comes forth into the coasts of light out of that which has in it the substance and first-bodies of each; and 'tis for this cause that all things cannot be begotten of all, because in fixed things there dwells a power set apart.