Through the epic poem On the Nature of Things, the first-century BC philosopher Lucretius explores reality through the eyes of Epicurean philosophy. As a student of Epicurus, he adheres to the main principles of a materialist worldview, lack of divine beings, and that the pleasure of a balanced and simple life is the greatest human happiness. Epicureanism is similar to hedonism in that it sets forth individual pleasure and avoidance of pain as the foremost good, but the approach taken is infused with the Grecian philosophical realization that things like reason, moderation and friendship actually bring about more pleasure for human beings, as opposed to selfish overindulgence.
It is in this mindset that Lucretius sets to explain the natural world and to convince his Roman audience of Epicureanism. The foundational theme of his work is atomism, set forth by the Greek thinker Democritus. Atomism, essentially a materialist view, is the idea that the atoms and the void (matter and space) are in constant flux and responsible for the phenomena around us, and indeed explain our very selves. Lucretius expounds upon various terrestrial and celestial happenings to illustrate how the atom interactions are great but utterly natural. This is radically opposed to the ancient view that fortune and misfortune were lessons from the gods that human action had either pleased or displeased them. In setting forth an explanation that does not involve divine beings, Lucretius believed that he was freeing the minds of his contemporaries of this constant terror of living according to the whims of gods, rather than pursuing a simple life of happiness. Lastly, he argues that death is not to be feared, since we did not experience suffering before we existed and will not after we cease to exist.
The Gryphon Editions leather-bound volume of On the Nature of Things is on sale this week! Order your edition today.