A Note on Lucretius

"A Note on Lucretius," Natur und Geshichte: Karl Lowith zum 70, Geburtsag.  W. Kohlhammer Verlag, 1967.  Reprinted in "Notes on Lucretius," Liberalism Ancient and Modern.


Lucretius’ work is a poetic exposition of Epicurean philosophy. The reader who opens the book for the first time and peruses its opening does not know through firsthand knowledge that it is devoted to the exposition of Epicureanism. The poet leads his reader toward Epicureanism; he makes him ascend to Epicureanism. Accordingly he begins his work by appealing to sentiments which are not peculiar to Epicureans or by making statements which are not peculiarly Epicurean. The reader of the poem is in the first place its addressee, Memmius, a Roman of noble descent. The importance of his being a Roman is shown by the word which opens the poem: Aeneadum. He is to ascend from being a Roman to being an Epicurean.

The ascent from being a Roman to being an Epicurean requires that there be a link between Romanism and Epicureanism. Being a Roman must be more than being a member of one city among many or of any city other than Rome. The Romans, the Aeneads, are the descendants of the goddess Venus who alone guides the nature of things. Being a Roman means to have a kinship, denied to other men, with the guide or ruler of the whole. The goddess Venus is the joy not only of the Romans
but of gods and men simply; she is the only being that guides the birth or growth not only of Romans and beings subject to Roman rule but of all living beings simply; she brings life, calm, lucidity, beauty, smiling, and light everywhere, although not at all times; she arouses fond sexual love everywhere on earth; nothing glad and lovely emerges without her anywhere (1-23). Lucretius opens his poem with a praise of Venus because that goddess — and not, for instance, Jupiter Capitolinus — is the link between Rome and all living beings; through Venus, and only through Venus, does one ascend from Romanism to Epicureanism.

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