Last Updated on August 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1084
Lucretius’s scientific and philosophical poem, On the Nature of Things, is arranged in six books, each with a different purpose in his overall theme: explaining the physical and spiritual worlds as they affect man and defining the Epicurean lifestyle centered on the pursuit of pleasure.
Book I explain the laws that govern atoms, as well as the nature of things we can consider immortal:
If time utterly destroys things when they age, and eats up all their elements to nothing, out of what does Venus bring back into the light of life all living things, each after its kind? Or, as we see that living things are brought back, out of what does the earth give them nourishment and growth? Out of what do the earth’s fountains and rivers keep full the sea? Out of what does nature feed the stars? For infinite time has gone by already, and the passing of days would necessarily have consumed all things to nothing if they were composed of mortal elements. So if despite the eternity of time that has gone by those things which we see today continue to exist, then those things are no doubt composed of immortal elements which cannot return to nothing.
Book II explains atoms more in depth, including the science behind their movement and structure, as well as expounding on Epicurean philosophy:
O miserable minds of men! O blinded hearts! In what darkness of life and in what great danger you pass this term of life, whatever its duration. How can you choose not to see that Nature craves for herself no more than this: that the body feel no pain, and the mind enjoy pleasure exempt from care and fear?
Book III explores the rules that govern the human mind and spirit in relation to the body, suggesting that we should not fear death:
You can best test the man when he is in doubt and danger, and when he is amid adversity learn who he really is. For then, and not until then, are the words of truth are forced out from the bottom of his heart. His mask is torn off, and the reality is left. Avarice and blind lust for honors lead unhappy men to overstep the bounds of right, and as partners and agents of crime to strive night and day with tremendous effort to struggle up to the summit of power. Such sores of life are in no small measure fostered by the dread of death. For foul scorn and knawing [sic] needs are seen to be far removed from a life of pleasure and security, and are thought to be the same as loitering before the gates of death.
Later in book III he questions:
To those who mourn for the dead, this question should be asked:
“What is there in death so extremely bitter, if it comes in the end to sleep and rest, that anyone should pine over the dead in never-ending sorrow?”
Book IV includes the explanation of how our senses work, including commentary on the role sexuality plays in the Epicurean life:
You will find that it is from the senses that comes all knowledge of the true, and that the senses cannot be refuted. For that which is of itself able to distinguish the false from the true must from the Nature of the case be proved with a higher certainty...We therefore must perceive what is soft and cold or hot by one distinct faculty, and by another perceive the different colors of things and thus see all objects which have color. Taste too is a separate faculty; smells spring from one source, sounds from another. It therefore must follow that any one sense cannot confute any other. Nor can any sense take itself to task, since equal credit must be assigned to it at all times. What therefore has at any time appeared true to each sense, is true.
Of sexual relationships, Lucretius states that although they can hinder us as humans, the act does bring physical pleasure:
Do you not see how those whom mutual pleasure has chained together are often both tortured in their common chains?...This they would...
(The entire section contains 1084 words.)
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