Lucretius on the nature of things (De rerum natura)
translated with an analysis of the six books by H. A. J. Munro
The title of Lucretius’s work translates that of the chief work of Epicurus, Peri physeōs (On Nature), as also of the didactic epic of Empedocles, a pluralist philosopher of nature, of whom Lucretius spoke with admiration only less than that with which he praised his master Epicurus.
Lucretius distributed his argument into six books, beginning each with a highly polished introduction. Books I and II establish the main principles of the atomic universe, refute the rival theories of the pre-Socratic cosmic philosophers Heracleitus, Empedocles, and Anaxagoras, and covertly attack the Stoics, a school of moralists rivaling that of Epicurus. Book III demonstrates the atomic structure and mortality of the soul and ends with a triumphant sermon on the theme “Death is nothing to us.” Book IV describes the mechanics of sense perception, thought, and certain bodily functions and condemns sexual passion. Book V describes the creation and working of this world and the celestial bodies and the evolution of life and human society. Book VI explains remarkable phenomena of the earth and sky—in particular, thunder and lightning. The poem ends with a description of the plague at Athens, a sombre picture of death contrasting with that of spring and birth in the invocation to Venus, with which it opens.