TITUS, Lucretius Carus

Born: 95 B.C.

Died: 55 B.C.

Titus Lucretius Carus, c.95-55 BC, Rome's most distinguished philosopher-poet, achieved his place in Latin literature on the basis of one work, De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things), a didactic poem, in dactylic hexameter, comprising six books. This made available to a Latin audience the ideas of the Greek philosopher Epicurus.

The object of Epicureanism was pleasure, but pleasure of an austere kind involving primarily freedom from fear of the gods and of an afterlife. According to Epicurus, although the gods did exist, they had no concern for humans, either to punish or to reward them. Furthermore, because the soul was mortal, dying with the body, to fear the torments of an afterlife was quite unnecessary.

A good part of De Rerum Natura deals with the physical nature of the universe, which Lucretius explains in terms that approximate modern atomic theory and that were based on the theories of DEMOCRITUS. But the purpose of his physical arguments is ethical: to present a universe explicable in scientific terms, and so banish fear of the unknown and free people's minds from superstition.