Lucretius Biography


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)


Almost nothing is known about Lucretius (loo-KREE-shuhs). What little is known is contradictory and largely mythical, apart from the fact that he was a Roman poet who composed in epic Latin verse the monumental poem De rerum natura (c. 60 b.c.e.; On the Nature of Things, 1682). This explained the entire philosophical system of Epicurus, whom Lucretius praises as a savior rescuing humankind from superstition and fear, especially fear of death and divine anger. Cicero praised the poem, which still survives, as a work of art and genius.


On the Nature of Things is the most important and extensive treatise on Epicurean philosophy to survive, thanks largely to the brilliant poetic talent of Lucretius. It had a significant impact in the ancient world (particularly on Vergil) both as poetry and as philosophy. Rediscovered in 1417, it had an enormous influence on Renaissance rationalism and the scientific revolution. Among other things, it gave the idea of the social contract to English philosopher Thomas Hobbes and French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau and of atomism to French scientist and philosopher Pierre Gassendi and British scientist Robert Boyle.

Further Reading:

Bailey, Cyril. “Late Republican Poetry.” In Fifty Years (and Twelve) of Classical Scholarship, edited by Maurice Platnauer. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1968. This article discusses Lucretius with special emphasis on editions and translations of his poem, possible sources, textual criticism, and Lucretian thought, philosophy, and natural science.

Dalzell, Alexander. The Criticism of Didactic Poetry: Essays on Lucretius, Virgil, and Ovid. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997. Explores how Lucretius used poetic forms to express his philosophical views.

Donohue, Harold. The Song of the Swan: Lucretius and the Influence of Callimachus. New...

(The entire section is 810 words.)