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The Proem to Book I: Philosophy and the City

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Part of the Recovering Political Philosophy book series (REPOPH)

Abstract

The proem to Book I establishes how the philosophic life stands in relation to the life of the poem’s addressee Memmius, a man who lives in accord with the fundamental duties and responsibilities of a citizen of Rome. Most importantly for Lucretius’s intention, Memmius’s mind is formed by the governing and foundational myths of the city authored and advanced by its poets and priests. Given Lucretius’s intention, the proem has as its overarching aim to limn the depth and breadth of the chasm that separates the philosophic life from the political and religious life of the city. In so doing, it begins to reveal the tension between the competing demands of philosophic and political life. An indication of this tension is that over the course of the poem, Lucretius explains that his primary allegiance is to Athens, not Rome (VI, 1–8). Athens is initially personified by the nameless “man from Greece,” and synonymous with the “dark discoveries of the Greeks” and the philosophic life (I, 137). The proem therefore begins to set the stage for Lucretius’s justification for choosing Athens over Rome and a preparation for the defense of the philosophic life that constitutes the heart of the poem. The materialist physics of the first two books should therefore be regarded as the preliminary means by which Lucretius justifies his way of life.

Keywords

True Nature Political Life Philosophic Life Religious Opinion Contradictory Demand 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    See Leo Strauss, “Notes on Lucretius” in Liberalism Ancient and Modern (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1989), 76–80.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See Cyril Bailey, Lucretius: De Rerum Natura, vol. 2 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1947), 588–591, for a variety of standard interpretations of the invocation of Venus.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Pierre Bayle, The Dictionary Historical and Critical of Mr. Peter Bayle, trans. Pierre Des Maizeaux, vol. 3 (London: J. J. and P. Knapton, 1735), 922.Google Scholar
  4. 9.
    Montaigne, The Complete Essays of Montaigne, trans. Donald Frame (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1958) , 379–380.Google Scholar
  5. 10.
    Bayle, The Dictionary of Historical and Critical of Mr. Peter Bayle, trans. Pierre Des Maizeaux (London: J. J. and P. Knapton, 1735 vol. 3, 923.Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, trans. J. E. King, vol. XVIII, (Cambridge: Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 2001) ii, 1, 4.Google Scholar
  7. See also St. Augustine, City of God (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), VI, 10 and I V, 31. Augustine’s account of Varro and Seneca reveals that they too had to take measures to hide their true opinions from the multitude.Google Scholar
  8. See Ernest Fortin, Dissent and Philosophy in the Middle Ages (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2002), 11Google Scholar
  9. 12.
    Cicero, Letters to Quintus and Brutus, trans. D. R. Shackleton Bailey (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002),118–119. See also ClydeGoogle Scholar
  10. Murley, “Cicero’s Attitude towards Lucretius,” Classical Philology 23, no. 3 (July 1928): 289–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 15.
    Leonard and Smith note that when Lucretius remarks that at this time of Rome’s troubles, he cannot do his part with an untroubled mind he uses an expression that has certain religious connotations: Agere hoc. They draw the attention of the reader to a passage in Plutarch’s Life of Numa where it is remarked that when consuls began to take auspices and make sacrifices they would exclaim these words. It may be that Lucretius, in using such a phrase, invests his own task, the investigation into the nature of things, with a religious sanction. See, Leonard and Smith, De Rerum Natura (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1979), 41.Google Scholar

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© John Colman 2012

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