The Proem to Book I: Philosophy and the City

Part of the Recovering Political Philosophy book series (REPOPH)


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.


True Nature Political Life Philosophic Life Religious Opinion Contradictory Demand 
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© John Colman 2012

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