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Write a 4-6 pages long essay (double-spaced, Times New Roman, 12 points; Include the title of your essay and page numbers on the right top of each page)You should make a coherent argument (there must be a main thesis) referring to at least three of the assigned readings + one of the assigned movies.It does not matter what claim you make, as long as you are consistent and convincing about what you are arguing and referring to the assigned readings and movie.Your essay/presentation should include Introduction and Conclusion. Ideally, both Introduction and Conclusion should be one paragraph each.Write introduction in first paragraph/slide that includes your main thesis.Write conclusion in the last paragraph/slide that includes the summary of your discussion.Include three direct quotes (no more, no less than three) from the original texts or movie (when it comes to indirect quotes, there is no limitation).Both direct and indirect quotes need to be cited in the text and listed in the works Cited/ References page.The final essay should be based primarily on original readings of the text(s) chosen. This essay does not require outside research (i.e. secondary sources).Don’t shoot for literary elegance. Use simple, straightforward prose. Keep your sentences and paragraphs short. Use familiar words. These issues are difficult enough without your having to muddy them up with pretentious or verbose language. You should make the structure of your paper obvious to the reader. Your reader shouldn’t have to exert any effort to figure it out.Assigned movies :a)”Parasite” by Joon Ho Bong (Available on Hulu & Youtube),b) “Sorry to bother you” by Boots Riley (Available on Hulu & Youtube), orc) “Okja” by Joon Ho Bong ( Available on Netflix).d) “Miss Representation (2011)”e) “The Mask you live in (2015)”f) PBS documentary “The Talk – Race in America (2017)”g)“Gen Slient (2010)”h)”State of pride (2019)”i)“Beyond binary (2016)”
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THE NATURE OF THINGS
TITUS LUCRETIUS CARUS
must have been born soon after 100
BC
and is
likely to have died before his poem was given to the world,
probably in the 50s
BC.
Almost nothing is known about his life. He
was a Roman citizen and a friend of Gaius Memmius, a Roman
politician, and his poem was read and admired by Cicero. It is
doubtful if there is any truth in the story preserved by St Jerome
and immortalized by Tennyson that he died at his own hand after
being driven mad by a love philtre.
A. E. STALLINGS
was born in 1968. She studied Latin at the University
of Georgia, and Latin and Greek at Oxford University. She has
published two collections of poetry, Archaic Smile, which won the
Richard Wilbur Award, and Hapax. Her work has twice been
included in the Best American Poetry series, and has received a
Pushcart Prize among other awards. She lives in Athens, Greece,
with her husband, the journalist John Psaropoulos, and their son,
Jason.
RICHARD JENKYNS
was born in 1949 and educated at Eton and Balliol
College, Oxford. He was a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, from
1972 to 1981, and a lecturer at the University of Bristol between
1978 and 1981. He has been a Fellow of Lady Margaret Hall,
Oxford, since 1981, and Professor of the Classical Tradition since
1999.
LUCRETIUS
The Nature of Things
Translated and with Notes by
A. E. STALLINGS
Introduction by RICHARD JENKYNS
PENGUIN BOOKS
PENGUIN CLASSICS
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
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www.penguin.com
Published in Penguin Classics 2007
1
Translation and Notes copyright © A. E. Stallings, 2007
Introduction and Further Reading copyright © Richard Jenkyns, 2007
All rights reserved
The moral rights of the translator and editor have been asserted
Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject
to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent,
re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s
prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in
which it is published and without a similar condition including this
condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
Contents
Introduction
Further Reading
A Note on the Text and Translation
Acknowledgements
THE NATURE OF THINGS
Book I: Matter and Void
Book II: The Dance of Atoms
Book III: Mortality and the Soul
Book IV: The Senses
Book V: Cosmos and Civilization
Book VI: Weather and the Earth
Notes
Glossary of Proper Names
Introduction
Of all the great poems of Europe – and it is indeed among the
greatest – Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura (The Nature of Things) is
perhaps the most improbable. Here is a poem without people in it,
without any story; instead, it o ers a treatise on science and
philosophy. The philosophy, moreover, is a strict materialism, which
denies
the
existence
of
anything
magical,
mysterious
or
transcendent. It does not sound like promising matter for poetry at
all, let alone for a work of more than 7,000 lines. Yet the result is a
masterpiece. A key to appreciating this most unlikely success is to
understand the nature of Lucretius’ beliefs and the circumstances in
which he decided to expound them.
About Titus Lucretius Carus himself we know almost nothing. A
very few supposed facts about his life come down to us from
antiquity, but they appear in sources many centuries later than his
time, and they seem to be at best guesswork, at worst pure
fabrication. Only one
rm date can be attached to him: in 54
BC
Cicero slipped a sentence into a letter to his brother praising ‘the
poems of Lucretius’ – presumably the poem that we have or some
version of it – for their combination of imagination and skill. Some
verbal echoes indicate that Catullus was reading Lucretius while he
was writing his own longest poem – Poem 64, commonly known as
Peleus and Thetis – datable to somewhere in the
fties
BC.
Though
The Nature of Things is usually supposed to have been written in the
fties, it has been dated to the sixties, and even to the forties. While
it is possible that Lucretius was still tinkering with it at the start of
the forties, the bulk of it must be earlier. Since there is no trace of
him having written anything else, it may have been a lifetime’s
work, composed over a decade or more, with portions of it
circulating while it was still incomplete. The poem is indeed
un nished. For example, a passage from the rst book reappears at
the beginning of the fourth, evidence that Lucretius had not
decided where to place it. And the last book breaks o
nally
abruptly in
the middle of an account of the plague which swept through Athens
in 430 BC.
The fact which we can most con dently assert about Lucretius is
one drawn from his poem itself: that he had been converted to the
philosophy of Epicurus (341–270
BC)
and was possessed with the
desire to persuade others of its truth. To understand Lucretius we
need to consider what Epicurus taught, and to understand Epicurus
we need to set him in his context within the development of Greek
thought.
One of the achievements of the Greek mind between the eighth
and the
fth centuries was a process which might be called
separation or di erentiation. They discovered that fact is di erent
from
ction and that history is di erent from myth, that theology
and philosophy are di erent ways of talking about the world, and
that each of these is di erent from natural science. These
distinctions may seem very obvious to us, but they were not then.
Take Homer’s Iliad and Hesiod’s Theogony, poems datable probably
to the later eighth century. Homer was both poet and historian, and
Hesiod saw no
rm distinction between story-telling about the
origin of the gods and explaining how the world came into being in
physical terms. Similarly, we may nd it hard to decide whether the
Greek intellectuals of the seventh and sixth centuries are best
described (in our terms) as philosophical or as scienti c thinkers.
But gradually the discovery that science and philosophy are
di erent modes of enquiry was made, and in the later fth century
Socrates made the distinction absolute.
This distinction has prevailed in our thought ever since. To put
the matter in very simpli ed terms: the dominant tradition of
Western philosophy descending from Socrates’ pupil Plato and
Plato’s pupil Aristotle tells us to look inwards and work out the
nature of reality within our own minds by a process of abstract
reasoning. By contrast, Epicurus held that natural science is the
route to philosophical understanding, and his system, from one
point of view, can be seen as the revival, in a transformed shape, of
an older tradition of Greek thought. He begins not with abstract
cogitation but with the external world. On his account we can
deduce from the physical phenomena around us that all matter is
made up of small indivisible particles – atoms – and that nothing
exists except atoms and empty space. No atom can be created and
none can be destroyed; space is in nite, as is the number of atoms
that move within it.
All events and processes are merely the e ects of the movement
of atoms. All existence is material; everything that exists is part of
nature, and therefore there can be no supernatural realm. It is
disputed in what sense Epicurus believed in the existence of the
gods: the usual view is that he believed the gods to exist as
independent entities, but some think that he believed them to exist
merely as concepts. This much is sure: insofar as the gods exist, they
must be made of atoms, like everything else; they did not create the
world, they play no part in its governance and they take no interest
in us.
Epicurus argues that certain moral truths follow necessarily from
these scienti c facts. No one can rationally pursue anything other
than his own pleasure. Epicurus is thus in the strict sense a hedonist.
However, he places a fairly low value on pleasure as the homme
moyen sensuel or man in the street is likely to conceive it. Hunger,
thirst and sexual desire are necessary appetites, but we should try to
moderate them as far as our natures allow. Romantic love, for
example, is to be avoided, as it involves a loss of rationality and selfcontrol (Lucretius makes this argument in the later part of his fourth
book). All pleasures of the senses are inferior to such abstract
pleasures
as
friendship
and
philosophical
contemplation.
Accordingly, this philosophy, often caricatured as a religion of
sensuous self-indulgence, is in reality rather austere. No one could
be less of an epicure than Epicurus.
He also o ers to free us from anxiety about death. This is the
argument worked through in Lucretius’ third book. Mind and soul
are purely material, and death is merely the dissolution of a
temporary combination of atoms. ‘Then Death is nothing to us’, says
the poet, translating the
rst of his master’s Sovereign Maxims
(III.322). Liberated from this fear, and converted to the truths of
Epicureanism, we can live in serene and secure pleasure – as
Lucretius says in another place, we can have a life worthy of the
gods.
The philosophies of the Hellenistic age (that is, the period of three
centuries following the death of Alexander the Great in 324
BC),
such as Epicureanism and its rival Stoicism, founded by Zeno of
Citium (335–263
BC),
o er mankind salvation. In other terms, they
perform some of the functions that in our world are performed by
religious belief. We can divide people into those who believe in the
existence of a god or gods, and those who do not; and today we
usually expect believers to have a more hopeful view of life than
unbelievers. There is another division, however, which may seem
similar but is in fact di erent; this is between those who believe that
the order of things o ers some ultimate comfort or safety, and those
who have no such con dence. The pious Sophocles (c. 495–406)
believes in the gods, but seems to recognize that there is no horror
so great that they will protect us from it. The materialist Epicurus,
by contrast, denies the existence of providence, but nevertheless
holds that we can be assuredly safe. Both Stoicism (which does
believe in a divine providence) and Epicureanism assert that the
mind of the wise man, enlightened by philosophy, is an impregnable
citadel. This is the doctrine that Lucretius expounds at the start of
his second book. It is pleasant, he says, to watch a boat struggling at
sea while one is safe on shore, or to look down from one’s
philosophical height upon armies clashing in the plain below – not
because the wise man is a sadist, but because his mind is impassible,
and no torment can touch it. The goal of Stoicism was apatheia, not
feeling, the goal of Epicureanism ataraxia, not being disturbed –
both negative ideals. If we were to look for an analogy in modern
spirituality, we might turn to Buddhism sooner than to Christianity.
Lucretius distributes three grand passages in praise of Epicurus
symmetrically across his poem. After the hymn to Venus that opens
the rst book, he celebrates his master as a man; at the start of the
third book he praises him as a father, and at the start of the fth as
a god. Epicurus himself might not have disapproved: he seems to
have wanted his followers to form a kind of ‘church’, encouraging
them to share their lives together. He even appears to have devised
a kind of Sunday and a kind of Christmas: once a month he enjoined
his disciples to gather together, and once a year, on his birthday, to
commemorate their founder. When Lucretius declares, in the
fth
book, ‘He was a god, a god indeed’ (V.8), we can take that as a
metaphor, even though the poet is describing the saving power of
his master’s teaching. More remarkable, perhaps, is Lucretius’
description, in the third book, of the divine delight and shiver that
grip him when he contemplates the master’s words (III.28–9), for
that combination of joy and something like fear seems to evoke a
religious sense of the numinous.
There is an obvious paradox in calling Lucretius religious. His
denial of the supernatural is absolute, he extols Epicurus for
trampling religion underfoot, he declares that religion has often led
people into wicked and cruel acts and he illustrates this with the
story of Iphigenia, killed by her father Agamemnon as a sacri cial
victim so that the Greeks might obtain a fair wind for their voyage
to Troy. He sums this up in a line as famous as any in the entire
poem: ‘So potent was Religion in persuading to do wrong’ (I.101).
And yet it is hardly less obvious that his work is su used with
religious language, and he opens it with a hymn to Venus – the most
magni cent and spectacular act of worship in classical Latin
literature. What is his purpose?
Scholars have commonly been puzzled or embarrassed by this
opening. Some even suggest that Lucretius means to mislead his
readers, luring them into the poem by a false idea of the gods which
will later be corrected. But it should be plain that this glorious
beginning sets the tone of the poem as a whole, that it expresses in
metaphorical form his most intensely held beliefs, and that it is
central to his purpose that he invites the reader, from the very rst
line, to a posture of adoration. Earlier poets had found the gods
within or behind or beyond nature; Lucretius uses and yet
transforms this tradition by coming in a spirit of worship to the facts
of nature themselves. It is mere atoms and the movement of atoms
that we are to adore.
Lucretius’ Venus may seem to have too many functions: she is the
mother of the Romans, the Epicurean pleasure principle, the season
of spring, the sexual drive, the goddess of peace and a kind of muse
invoked to impart beauty to the poet’s language. How, it may be
asked, can a single
gure symbolize so many disparate things? But
that is precisely Lucretius’ point: everything that happens – the
experience of pleasure, the winds blowing, the owers blooming in
the spring, the beasts rutting, the poet composing – has the same
essential cause. Every action, all creation and all destruction are
alike the product of the push and pull of atoms, of these elementary
particles colliding, cohering or ying apart.
Lucretius brings his hymn to its climax with a picture of the
sexual union between Venus and Mars, the god of war. This again
may seem ba ing. Some of the poet’s language suggests harmony,
balance and equality between the two deities; some of it suggests
peace prevailing over war, Mars yielding and Venus victorious. But
this paradox too contains a profound meaning. Lucretius is drawing
on a symbolism used by Empedocles, a
fth-century cosmologist-
cum-philosopher who wrote in verse and whose poetry Lucretius
praises later in the
rst book. Empedocles held that the universe
was governed by an interplay between two forces, Love and Strife,
and he gave his theory a mythological dress by calling these forces
Ares and Aphrodite. These two deities became lovers in a famous
story told in the eighth book of Homer’s Odyssey; their Roman
equivalents are Mars and Venus. Strife or Ares, it appears, is the
force that dissevers, Aphrodite or Love the force that unites. Both, it
would seem, are necessary for the world to
ourish: without Love
there would be no coherence or continuity, without Strife no
activity or new creation. So Love and Strife need to be in balance or
harmony. But the universe as totality needs to cohere, and so the
sum of things, we may infer, is the prevailing of Love over Strife.
Such, at least, seems to be Lucretius’ idea. Epicurus himself had
the reputation of being a dry and crabbed writer, with no care for
the poetry of things, but his Roman disciple nds the romance in his
conception. On the largest and the smallest scale there is
immutability: the universe is the sum of in nite space and an
in nite number of atoms, and nothing can be added to it or
subtracted from it; and each single atom is immortal, indivisible and
indestructible. In between, everything is activity and mutability, for
the atoms are in ceaseless energetic motion. The drama lies in this
combination of change and changelessness, and Lucretius’ erotic
metaphor celebrates this grand paradox. The sexual act can be
described both as union and as an experience of conquest and
surrender; Venus both unites with Mars and conquers him; the
universe is on one view a balance of strife and love, peace and war,
while on another it is the sum of innumerable lesser strifes within
an ultimate and unassailable peace or love.
There is power and splendour in this vision of the world, but one
may still wonder how far Lucretius’ master would have approved it.
Epicurus seems to have had a rather low opinion of poetry, and it is
natural to ask why his faithful follower should be so keen to
poeticize his teachings. Lucretius gives one reason openly: as we
smear honey round the rim of the cup to disguise a medicine’s bitter
taste, so the charm of verse can make di cult or rebarbative
material seem less unappealing. But this suggests that the poem’s
literary quality is distinct from most of its content, whereas most
readers feel that the poetry and the philosophy in Lucretius form an
indivisible whole. Part of his purpose, indeed, may have been to
persuade us that Epicureanism is, after all, a poetical creed. It was
easy to feel that as a materialist philosophy Epicureanism sucked
the glory, wonder and mystery out of the world, and that as a
philosophy of pleasure it was ignoble: Cicero sometimes talks as
though whatever the intellectual case its adherents might make, it
was no philosophy for a Roman gentleman. Lucretius’ argument in
itself aims to show us that the teachings of Epicurus are true; the
manner in which he puts that argument aims to show that they are
also beautiful and lovable.
There is a deeper reason, however, why Lucretius needs to do his
philosophizing in verse: beneath the overt argument another
implicit argument runs as an undercurrent, and this implicit
argument attempts to meet two of the greatest di culties of the
Epicurean system. These are the problem of death and the problem
of altruism. The Epicurean claim about death is a very strong one: it
goes beyond saying that death should not be feared, declaring it to
be a matter of pure indi erence. This runs counter to ordinary
intuition: if life is good, and death is the end of life, death would
seem to be an evil, even though it may be an evil that we should
face calmly. Epicurus, however, asserts that it is not an evil at all.
The problem of altruism is that Epicureanism gives each one of us
no reason to consult anything other than our own pleasure; and yet
Lucretius’ project seems plainly altruistic: he wants to convert and
save us. And in this he was, once again, faithful to his master:
Epicurus’ purpose was not only to achieve happiness for himself but
to lead others to the same goal.
It may be that these problems are insoluble, but Lucretius’ poetry
can be seen as a power …
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