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LUCRETIUS


the well-known description of the charm of a rustic meal (ii. 29) speak of kindly socialite rather than of any austere separation from his fellows.

Other expressions in his poem (ag. iii. ro, &c.) imply that he was also a student of books. Foremost among these were the writings of Epicurus; but he had also an intimate knowledge of the philosophical poem of Empedocles, and at least an acquaintance with the works of Democritus, Anaxagoras, Heraclitus, Plato and the Stoical writers. Of other Greek prose writers he knew Thucydides and Hippocrates; while of the poets he expresses in more than one passage the highest admiration of Homer, whom he imitated in several places. Next to Homer Euripides is most frequently reproduced by him. But his poetical sympathy was not limited to the poets of Greece. For his own countryman Ennius he expresses an affectionate admiration; and he imitates his language, his rhythm and his manner- in many places. The fragments of the old tragedian Pacuvius and of the satirist Lucilius show that Lucretius had made use of their expressions and materials. In his studies he was attracted by the older writers, both Greek and Roman, in whose masculine temperament and understanding he recognized an affinity with his own.

His devotion to Epicurus seems at first sight more difficult to explain than his enthusiasm for Empedocles or Ennius. Probably he found in his calmness of temperament, even in his want of imagination, a sense of rest and of exemption from the disturbing influences of life; while in his physical philosophy he found both an answer to the questions which perplexed him and an inexhaustible stimulus to his intellectual curiosity. The combative energy, the sense of superiority, the spirit of satire, characteristic of him as a Roman, unite with his loyalty to Epicurus to render him not only polemical but intolerant and contemptuous in his tone toward the great antagonists of his system, the Stoics, whom, while constantly referring to them, he does not condescend even to name. With his admiration of the genius of others he combines a strong sense of his own power. He is quite conscious of the great importance and of the difficulty of his task; but he feels -his own ability to cope with it. It is more difficult to infer the moral than the intellectual characteristics of a great writer from the personal impress left by him on his work. Yet it is not too much to say that there is no work in any literature that produces a profounder impression of sincerity. No writer shows a juster scorn of all mere rhetoric and exaggeration. No one shows truer courage, not marred by irreverence, in confronting the great problems of human destiny, or greater strength in triumphing over human weakness. No one shows a truer humanity and a more tender sympathy with natural sorrow.

The peculiarity of the poem of Lucretius, that which makes it unique in literature, is that it is reasoned system of philosophy, written in verse. The prosaic title De Rerum N alum, a translation of the Gr. frepi daiioews, implies the subordination of the artistic to a speculative motive. As in the case of nearly all the great works of Roman literary genius, the form of the poem was borrowed from the Greeks. The rise of speculative philosophy in Greece was coincident with the beginning of prose composition, and many of the earliest philosophers wrote in the prose of the Ionic dialect; others, however, and especially the writers of the Greek colonies in Italy and Sicily, expounded their systems in continuous poems composed in the epic hexameter. Most famous in connexion with this kind of poetry are Xenophanes and Parmenides, the Eleatics and Empedocles of Agrigentum. The last was less important as a philosopher, but greater than the others both as a poet and a physicist. On both of these grounds he had a. greater attraction to Lucretius. The fragments of the poem of Empedocles show that the Roman poet regarded that work as his model. In accordance with this model he has given to his own poem the form of a personal address, he has developed his argument systematically, and has applied the sustained impetus of epic poetry to the treatment of some of the driest and abstrusest topics. Many ideas and expressions of the Sicilian have been reproduced by the Roman poet; and the same tone of impassioned solemnity and melancholy seems to have pervaded both works. But Lucretius, if less original as a thinker, was probably a much greater poet than Empedocles. What chiefly distinguishes him from his Greek prototypes is that his purpose is rather ethical than purely speculative; the zeal of a teacher and reformer is more strong in him than even the intellectual passion of a thinker. His speculative ideas, his moral teaching and his poetical power are indeed interdependent on one another, and this interdependence is what mainly constitutes their power and interest. But of the three claims which he makes to immortality, the importance of his subject, his desire to liberate the mind from the bonds of superstition and the charm and lucidity of his poetry-that which he himself regarded as supreme was the second. The main idea of the poem is the irreconcilable opposition between the truth of the laws of nature and the falsehood of the old superstitions. But, further, the happiness and the dignity of life are regarded by him as absolutely dependent on the acceptance of the true and the rejection of the false doctrine. In the Epicurean system of philosophy he believed that he had found the weapons by which this War of liberation could be most effectually waged. Following Epicurus he sets before himself the aim of finally crushing that fear of the gods and that fear of death resulting from it which he regards as the source of all the human ills. Incidentally he desires also to purify the heart from other violent passions which corrupt it and mar its peace. But the source even of these-the passions of ambition and avarice-he finds in the fear of death; and that fear he resolves into the fear of eternal punishment after death. The selection of his subject and the order in which it is treated are determined by this motive. Although the title of the poem implies that it is a treatise on the “ whole nature of things, ” the aim of Lucretius is to treat only those branches of science which are necessary to clear the mind from the fear of the gods and the terrors of a future state. In the two earliest books, accordingly, he lays down and largely illustrates the first principles of being with the view of showing that the world is not governed by capricious agency, but has come into existence, continues in existence, and will ultimately pass away in accordance with the primary conditions of the elemental atoms which, along with empty space, are the only eternal and immutable substances. These atoms are themselves inhnite in number but limited in their varieties, and by their ceaseless movement and combinations during infinite time and through infinite space the whole process of creation is maintained. In the third book he applies the principles of the atomic philosophy to explain the nature of the mind and vital principle, with the view of showing that the soul perishes with the body. In the fourth book he discusses the Epicurean doctrine of the images, which are cast from all bodies, and which act either on the senses or immediately on the mind, in dreams or waking visions, as affording the explanation of the belief in the continued existence of the spirits of the departed. The fifth book, which has the most general interest, professes to explain the process by which the earth, the sea, the sky, the sun, moon and stars, were formed, the origin of life, and the gradual advance of man from the most savage to the most civilized condition. All these topics are treated with the view of showing that the worldis not itself divine nor directed by divine agency. The sixth book is devoted to the explanation, in accordance with natural causes, of some of the more abnormal phenomena, such as thunderstorms, volcanoes, earthquakes, &C., which are special causes of supernatural terrors. The consecutive study of the argument produces on most readers a mixed feeling of dissatisfaction and admiration. They are repelled by the dryness of much of the matter, the unsuitableness of many -of the topics discussed for poetic treatment, the arbitrary assumption of premises, the entire failure to establish the connexion between the concrete phenomena which the author professes to explain and these assumptions, and the erroneousness of many of the doctrines which are stated with dogmatic confidence. On the other hand, they are constantly impressed by his power of reasoning both deductively and inductively, by the subtlety and fertility of invention with which