On the Nature of Things

On the Nature of Things
2008 translation of De Rerum Natura, by David Slavitt, described as “Lucretius's majestic elaboration of Greek Epicurean physics and psychology in an epic that unfolds over the course of six books. This sumptuous account of a secular cosmos argues that the soul is mortal, that pleasure is the object of life, and that humanity has free will.” [3]
In famous publications, On the Nature of Things (De rerum natura), or “On the Nature of the Universe”, is a circa 60BC six part book, written in poem-style, by Greek philosopher Lucretius, which outlined the basics of the atomic theory, as developed earlier by Leucippus, Democritus, and Epicurus in which the universe, and humans, are comprised of and worked by the operation of atoms and voids.

In circa 60BC, Greek philosopher Lucretius (99-55BC) published the multi-millennium famous On the Nature of Things, wherein he gives a physical science based explanation of all "things", such as the mind and the soul, cold, heat, free will, love, sex, the stars, the motion of the moon and the sun, etc.; the following is an abstract: (Ѻ)

De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things) is an unusual poem as to its content. The Roman poet Lucretius (94(?)-55 BC) wrote it to convince his audience that man need not fear the whims of the Gods or punishment in the hereafter, because the universe is governed by mechanical laws.

It is therefore not surprising that his work was hardly ever read in the Middle Ages. Characteristically, the text was copied at least twice in the first half of the 9th century, when all things from Antiquity were collected as fully as possible. The two manuscripts that have come down to us from that period are now both kept in Leiden, where for the sake of distinction they have been named after their dimensions the codex quadratus (the square manuscript) and the codex oblongus (the rectangular manuscript).”

Lucretius was a student of the work of Epicurus, outlined the basics of atomic theory in his lengthy poem De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things), chapter two on 'movement and shapes of atoms'. [10] On heat in relation to atoms, Lucretius states: [2]

“Clothes hung above a surf-swept shore grow damp; spread in the sun they dry again.
Yet it is not apparent to us how the moisture clings to the cloth, or flees the heat. Water, then, is dispersed in particles, atoms too small to be observed.”

On atomic volition he comments:

“For surely the atoms did not hold council, assigning order to each, flexing their keen minds with questions of place and motion and who goes where. But shuffled and jumbled in many ways, in the course of endless time they are buffeted, driven along, chancing upon all motions, combinations. At last they fall into such an arrangement as would create this universe.”

This talk of the absence of atomic volition, to note, is similar in context to the earlier circa 450 BC human chemistry views of Greek philosopher Empedocles, who famous stated that people related tend to mix like water and wine; whereas enemies mix or rather separate like oil and water.

The following are two selections of Lucretius from the 1947 three-volume set of prolegomena, text, translation, and commentary by Cyril Bailey. [7]

Lucretius (pg. 211)Lucretius (pg. 307)
Lucretius on the origin of "being" of all "things" out of nothing; and on the "raving frenzy" idea of Heraclitus that "fire is all things".Lucretius on mind-body dualism.

(add discussion)

Lucretius' aim, according to American chemist-theologian Edwin Slosson, was to abolish belief in all gods from the mind of mankind. [4]

Free will
See main: Epicurean swerve
Determinism, in Lucretius’ physical science theory of the universe, appears to conflict with the concept of free will. This is similar to others like-minded reductionist thinkers such as C.G. Darwin (1952) and Mehdi Bazargan (1956). Lucretius attempts to allow for free will in his physicalistic universe by postulating an indeterministic tendency for atoms to swerve randomly (Latin: clinamen) or the "swerve of the atom" as it is sometimes phrased. This indeterminacy, according to Lucretius, provides the "free will which livings things throughout the world have." [2]

Lucretius' description of atomic theory was revived most-significantly French philosopher Pierre Gassendi who, during his writing on the philosophy of Epicurus, began to elaborate on atomic theory, introducing and coining the concept of the molecule, in 1649, as a structural attachment of two or more atoms.

English physicist Isaac Newton included ninety lines of De Rerum Natura in the early drafts of his Principia. [5]

The 1417 re-discovery of On the Nature of Things, according to American literary critic Dwight Garner, was "recognized as a bold work of philosophy, one that helped recalibrate thinking when it began to recirculate during the Renaissance. Among those who admired and drew from it were Galileo, Freud, Darwin and Einstein. Thomas Jefferson owned at least five Latin editions of On the Nature of Things, as well as translations into other languages." [6]

The following are noted quotes:

“What law defines the power of things.”
— Lucretius (55BC), On the Nature of Things (translator: Frank Copley) (pg. 2) (1:76-77)

“They do not know the nature of the soul: if it is born or at birth slipped into us; whether, destroyed by death, it dies with us, or goes to see hell’s broad and lightless pools, or by some miracle passes to other creatures [see: transmigration], as our loved Ennius sang, who first brought down from lovely Helicon garlands evergreen to grow in fame wherever Italians live.”
Lucretius (55BC), On the Nature of Things (translator: Frank Copley) (pg. 3) (1:112-19)

“All religions are equally sublime to the ignorant, useful to the politician, and ridiculous to the philosopher.”
Lucretius (55BC), On the Nature of Things (Ѻ)

“None of this happens, we know, for every thing; is made of certain seeds, by certain parents; And in their growing they preserve their kinds. Of course they must; a fixed law makes it so.”
— Lucretius (55BC), On the Nature of Things (pg. 77) [8]

“So nature makes all food to living flesh / and from that food gives birth to animal senses / in much the same way as she make dry tinder / explode in flames and turn all into fire.”
— Lucretius (55BC), On the Nature of Things (pg. 82) [8]

“When after all our world is made by nature; Of her own, by chance, by the rush and collision of atoms; Jumbled together any which way, in the dark, to no result,
But at last tossed into combinations which; Became the origin of things, Of the earth and the sea and the sky and all that live.”
— Lucretius (55BC), On the Nature of Things (pgs. 86-87) [8]

1. Lindley, David. (2001). Boltzmann’s Atom: the Great Debate that Launched a Revolution in Physics (Greek atomic theory, pg. 3-11). The Free Press.
2. In particular, De rerum natura 5.107 (fortuna gubernans, "guiding chance" or "fortune at the helm"): see Monica R. Gale, Myth and Poetry in Lucretius (Cambridge University Press, 1994, 1996 reprint), pp. 213, 223–224 online and Lucretius (Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 238 online; free will, ii. 251.
3. Lucretius. (2008). De Rerum Natura (abs). University of Chicago Press.
4. Slosson, Edwin. (1925). The Sermons of a Chemist (pg. 11). Harcourt, Brace, and Co.
5. Hitchens, Christopher. (2007). God is Not Great (pg. 259-60). Twelve Books.
6. (a) Garner, Dwight (2011). "An Unearthed Treasure That Changed Things", (Ѻ) New York Times, Sep 27.
(b) Greenblatt, Stephen. (2011). The Swerve: How the Renaissance Began (abs). Random House.
(c) The Swerve: How the World Became Modern – Wikipedia.
7. Lucretius. (c.60BC). On the Nature of Things (translator: Cyril Bailey) (Ѻ) (txt). Oxford, 1910; three-volume set, 1947.
8. (a) Lucretius. (55BC). On the Nature of Things (translator: Anthony Esolen) (fixed law, pg. 77; chance, pg. 86-87). John Hopkins University Press.
(b) Hecht, Jennifer M. (2003). Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas (§:Leucritius, pgs. 146-51). HarperOne.

Further reading
● Lucretius. (55BC). On the Nature of Things (translator: Frank Copley). W.W. Norton & Co., 2011.

External links
De rerum natura – Wikipedia.

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