While I was dimly aware of the Roman writer, it wasn't until reading Stephen Greenblatt's book about the Renaissance, "The Swerve," that I learned more about him. The book, which takes its title from Lucretius's theory of atomic movement, is centered on the rediscovery of "On the Nature of Things" by a 15th century Florentine. The subtitle of Greenblatt's book is "How the World Became Modern" and for him, Lucretius is not just a great poet, but a radical thinker whose ideas helped man emerge from the dark ages. He, perhaps, overvalues Lucretius's contributions, which isn't to say there aren't some fascinating ideas in here. Lucretius develops both a scientific line of inquiry, using the theory of atoms developed by the Greek Democritus, and a philosophical one, based on Epicurus. The upshot is that all is material, avoiding pain is desirable, and while there are gods, they are in no way involved in our lives. These certainly would have been subversive ideas in their time and at the end of the middle ages, but it does feel more as if Lucretius is synthesizing many ideas rather than offering original thoughts. A compelling and provocative read, nonetheless. Translator Frank O. Copley provides a useful introduction and helpful footnotes.
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