Of the Nature of Things
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"Esolen has focused on the poet, translating the Latin hexameters into accented pentameter in order to capture the dynamics, rhythms, and syntax of the original. The results are both satisfying and readable. Esolen includes an elegant introduction on Lucretius, as well as useful notes. A valuable contribution to students of literature as well as philosophy."--'Library Journal' "Esolen has the rare gift of being both a fine poet and a lover of languages. His diction is poetic and natural; he has a fine ear for sound, and the translation benefits greatly from being read aloud--as Latin poetry was meant to be. This translation is clear and forceful. It can, and will, be read."--Kenneth J. Reckford, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
David R. Slavitt is the author of more than eighty books of poetry, nonfiction, fiction, and drama. His "Propertius in Love "is available from University of California Press. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Astoundingly, much of this poem is consistent with scientific models today---invisible and minute atoms forever moving in a void under internal and external forces, joining together in various ways to form the visible objects of the world. The atoms themselves were eternal but the bodies came to an end and the atoms recycled into other bodies so that the mass of the world remains constant. He got it wrong about the speed of " heat atoms" being faster than the speed of "light atoms", but by and large this is the atomic theory of Maxwell and Boltzmann and later physicists, without the math of course.
While not denying the existence of gods of various sorts,Lucretias' view was that the universe goes on without their aid or attention. The world as we know it was brought into being and maintained by natural forces and follows natural laws, not in any degree by divine intervention. Since the world is a conglomerate of atoms and void, it is impermanent and must someday inevitably be destroyed, including the soul upon death. Seeing things thusly, there is no room for the afterlife, no need for gods major or minor, no reason to despair of death, and certainly no reason to forgo the pleasures of this world for a reward in the afterlife. What we see in this life is all there is and we should enjoy it. Small wonder that this view was not welcomed by the Church of Rome upon discovery of the poem.
Although he was basically right on the atoms, Lucretias' labored and today laughable explanations of the causes of physical phenomena in terms of the different properties of "smooth" or " rough" atoms, of differences in "heat" and "light" atoms, the flows of air, etc. only serve to illustrate the fallacies of pure reason without an anchor to empirical observation. Ironically, his Epicurean view of the things that could be seen was altogether wrong--earth, water, air and ether being the basic components of which everything was constituted, the motion of heavenly bodies on circular currents of ether, the size of the sun, moon and stars being as they seemed (totally lacking the concept of perspective that a little knowledge of the available mathematics would have given). It clearly never occurred to the thinkers of his age to check any of these postulated causes by comparison with experiment. However, the speculation on biological evolution through many failures is not far from the modern theory.