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(c. 99 - c. 55 BCE)

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Lucretius was born around 99 BCE as Titus Lucretius Carus. He was a Roman poet and philosopher. One of the narrow group – next to Catullus and comedy writers Plautus and Terentius – poets of the republican Rome, whose works have survived to our times.

The only work of Lucretius known to us is the poem De rerum natura (this title is translated variously On the nature of all things, On reality, etc.), in six books with a total volume of almost 7,500 lines.

This work is considered a masterpiece of Latin literature, and its influence on the development of all poetry following Lucretius, including Virgil, is also emphasized. It is a lecture on epicurean philosophy, and its message is to liberate man from superstition and the fear of death. Lucretius tries to achieve this by gradually moving from the ethical aspects of Epicurus to his physics and psychology. Lucretius, however, did not finish his poem, he published it after Cicero’s death.

Little is known about the life of Lucretius, one of the sources of information is the Chronica Eusebia of St. Jerome. According to her, Lucretius was born in 94 BCE, went mad after an overdose of the love potion, during flashes of the reason he wrote a number of books that were re-edited by Cicero, and Lucretius committed suicide in the 44th year of his life.

St. Jerome can be questioned: Lucretius’ epicureanism presented in his work is strongly rationalist and it is hard to suppose that he treated poison as a means of solving any problems. Moreover, Jerome was an enemy of epicureanism, which denied the existence of an afterlife, so his accounts should be treated with caution. On the other hand, the Polish translator of De rerum natura, Adam Krokiewicz, considered the information about Lucretius’ suicide as probable, given the melancholy that permeates the entire poem, and in particular its third book.

In one of the letters to his brother, Cicero raised the issue of Lucretius’ poem. This is the last reference to the work of Lucretius in the sources, up to the remark of Donat from the 4th century, who in Virgil’s biography, writing about wearing the virilis gown as a sign of coming of age, adds: “on the same day (i.e. October 15 55 BCE) the poet Lucretius died. Assuming that Jerome’s information that Lucretius lived 44 years is true, we get the date of his birth around 99 BCE.

The only thing that can be said with certainty about the life of Lucretius is that he was a friend or client of the poet Gaius Memmius, to whom he dedicated his poem. Moreover, Lucretius probably belonged to the gens Lucretia, as evidenced by his knowledge of the refined life of the Romans. Lucretius was certainly in love with rural life, therefore it can be assumed that he owned some property in the provinces, which was a routine among wealthy Roman families. Certainly, Lucretius was well-educated and fluent in Latin and Greek. He also had to be familiar with philosophy.

He died around 55 BCE.

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