Titus Lucretius Carus


What is attracting me from Lucretius is that in spite having to live in an atmosphere where all people believed in a large quantity of gods, he could have thought what he wrote, which is easier to understand from people of our time than from those with whom he had to deal every day. I can imagine how difficult must have been his life.  It is said he committed suicide, but I don’t believe it.  Having the courage he had to publish his ideas that were totally contrary to the beliefs of the time, how could he feel fear to live, how could he kill his life, when he was acting as if he were the light itself, a personification of fighting for his beliefs?


He was born around the year 94 before Christ, and died around the 51. We know little of him because he was not well accepted in his time; they did all to eliminate what could remember him. Now, I am reading in a web page in Spanish language that I came across today, cinicos.com, that, apart his great work De rerum natura, “the only news from him that had reached us are the disturbing words of Saint Jerome, saying that Lucretius became insane because of a love potion he drank, and that his long poem was written in the intervals of lucidity allowed by his insanity; and that finally he committed suicide. It is also said that Cicero corrected his work “. What is true in all that? I find normal that a saint from the Catholic Church sees demons where things are not according his faith; but, what he said that Lucretius drank a love potion looks like sorcery.


I will try to find that Saint Jerome, to know at what time he was born, and something about his thoughts. … I have it ! In the Salvat encyclopaedia it is mentioned that he was born around the year 342 a. C.; and that he died in Bethlehem, around the year 420;  that he was a Doctor of the Church. Moreover, he learned literature in Rome, where it is said he was living carelessly.  Passing the time, some friends brought him to be baptised, and until then he continued stepping up on the religious life scale. He had a very complete life, making all kind of labour; he was even eremit. It is said he was very illustrated but that he had very bad temper, what is confirmed in the more of 150 conserved letters of his brilliant correspondence. The encyclopaedia adds that his thoughts lacked of originality. Nevertheless there is something that I find out of the common for a Saint: he said with his own words that “the monarchical bishopric is an ecclesiastic institution, not a divine one”. Another thing that may interest us and that can be find in the same encyclopaedia, is that he had to flee Rome because “one of his spiritual pupils succumb to jerome fasts”, and the population began to ran riot wanting to expulse “the detestable race of the monks”. That was in 385, after he was made secretary to Pope Damasus who commanded him the translation of the Bible into Latin.  For what I read, he was pro corporal sacrifices like flagellation, cilice, etc… What seem to me remnants from the antique beliefs to multiple gods and goddesses, who even did not exist, and who the population made guilty of all tragedies on hearth, offering them sacrifices to calm their mood. Worshipping them, they hope to go with them and live in happiness for ever, after death. Compared to that aim, the biggest sacrifice is so little! ...


Now, with the continuous discoveries of the science, we keep on knowing, little by little, how and why the nature forms those cataclysms; why there are hunger in the world, particularly where people are very poor and not only because of lack of money, but because of lack of tuition, of solidarity; because of the power abuse from more fortuned, more rich countries. In former times all these thinks were attributed to the anger of gods, of one of them, depending on the trouble it was; because there were many gods and goddesses, each one reigning on different items. Now, we know quite more about creation, about the beginning of universe, galaxies, stars and planets; but still, we know very little. We do not know, for example, what was before the big bang. … All will be known sometimes, all will have an explanation, its logical or accidental way of standing; Thus without need of any entity with supernatural power. The world is expanding and performing and changing; but, sadly, there are always people who think all must remain the way it is or it was, for centuries and centuries, and I don’t say amen.


There are so many things, so many images coming to my mind that I find difficult following the same thread. I wanted to say that poor Lucretius must have had a very harsh life searching for the truth in every thing, specially in the nature; wanting to know and experiment how all kind of lives are created. He was a very accurate investigator for his epoch; he knew about atom and void; he knew atoms were everywhere never touching one another; he knew about their eternal movement in the void; in the void that is not nothingness. I am not the only one to say that nothingness does not exist. In the first  book  of  his big and great poem  “De rerum natura”, he alludes to it almost on each of its pages: Nothing is born from nothing (verse 211); From nothing, nothing can be done (verse 219); Nothing can reduce to nothing / nor something be made from nothingness (verses 1071 and 1072); and I could go on writing pages and pages resuming the fact that Lucretius did not believe in the existence of nothingness.


Lucretius was a disciple of Epicurus and, returning to the web page I found today, I copy: “ The poem of Lucretius, De rerum natura is an unique case in the ancient philosophic panorama, the same for his extension as for his literary quality: the whole work, six books, is completely written into verses in which he exposes the doctrine of Epicurus. We may consider it the more complete physic work of the antiquity. An actual author like Michel Serres, situates this work as the birth of physics”.


Lucrecio is a man who deserved and deserves all honours, all possible commodity and all what is necessary to investigate, in order he could enjoy his life and what he is discovering in favourable circumstances. Nevertheless, this was not the case. They destroyed his life to the point of making from him a depressed person, as some said. However, after having read his first book, I don’t believe it. At least, he was not depressed when he wrote it. In this book he looks secure of himself, wanting to share his beliefs with his friend, Memmio, with all possible readers, with all people who have access to the book; because we must not forget books were codex in that time, a one copy manuscript. With the time going on and luck, that unique copy may be reproduced one and more times, as interest for the book is growing.


In this first book of De rerum natura, Lucretius reveals himself as a passionate man. But it is said that in the whole of his work – that remains for me to read --, he reveals himself as passionate, but also exalted and pessimist.  I don’t doubt the possibility Lucretius could change into a melancholic and pessimist person. It was so difficult for him to remain sane among all that “blind” people, unable to distinguish what is worth and what has no worth at all; among those people full of selfishness and evil intentions to his regard. I cannot say they materially killed him, but if it is true he committed suicide it was because of them. In a sense or another, I firmly believe they are his murderers; and they did it with premeditation. They couldn’t recognise he was cleverer than them; they couldn’t support he could see among the darkness. I know that all, the whole all, he could not see; neither we could see it today; but what no doubt is true, is that he knew much more than others of his time, and with the additive merit that, putting apart Epicurus, he had no example to follow, no codex was written before on the matter so much interests him. He made all his discoveries completely by his own. There is a very beautiful phrase that Epicurus said: “To discuss philosophy is vain when it is not able to cure some illness from the soul”. Epicurus was teaching friendship as a doctrine. He said man is born to be happy. He said we must fight to be happy with what we have, not longing for things that are out of our reach. He uses this kind of thought as a therapy. And it is true: when we are happy in mind, the body feels good. It functions. Try and see! … And the sorrow, sorrow comes without calling. We have to take importance out of it, to look for its positive side that always  exists.   To  look  for positiveness in all things is a

good method. If you practice it, you will be much happier.


To end with my paper, I have to tell something about De rerum natura. I tried to translate it; but it is so an extensive work that a whole life is needed to do it, and I have little time. There are six books written in verses in Latin language. I have only two of these books, in a Spanish version, and I confess I did not finish reading them. I wanted to do it before writing my paper, and not only the two I have but the whole six tomes. Time passed too quickly and still, I am afraid the book would not be ready for the Convention; and it must and shall be.


For that I cannot do but going on working.

I will see you at the CIELE – ICWEL.


                                                     Always yours,

                             Mariette Cirerol




Saint Jerome translating the Bible

Medieval codex miniature


(See Epicuro in the Spanish version)