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Titus Lucretius Carus (99 – 55 BCE) was a Roman philosopher and poet from the Epicurean school of thought. His only surviving work is the epic De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things) which explains Epicureanism to Romans. Very little is known about Lucretius’ life, but De Rerum Natura was highly influential on the Roman poets Virgil and Horace.
Lucretius the Poet
Indeed, it is impossible to piece together anything of Lucretius’ life. What is known is the following:
- Born: 99 BC
- Died: 55 BC
- Philosopher and Scientist
Fragments from the writings of others are inconclusive as the poet’s birth or death, although St. Jerome later wrote that Lucretius went mad from a love poem and took his own life. Modern scholars have dismissed Jerome’s account as fictitious, coming four centuries after Lucretius’ death from whatever cause.
Lucretius and De Rerum Natura
De Rerum Natura is a poem of 7400 dactylic hexameters, which is the same poetic meter employed by Homer and Virgil. Because of this usage, dactylic hexameter was long considered to be the Grand Style of poetry, also called the heroic hexameter. De Rerum Natura, divided into six books, postulates the physics of Epicurus, who held that the purpose of life was to attain happiness and freedom from pain through self-sufficiency. Lucretius used his poem to explain that everything in the universe could be understood through natural laws, discounting the need for a supreme being. Largely forgotten, the poem was rediscovered in 1417 and became a cornerstone of the Renaissance.