Lucretius’ Poetic Epicureanism

There once was an Epicurean Roman named Titus Lucretius Carus, who lived in the 1st Century BC. I say “Epicurean” as a follower of the philosophy of Epicurus. Epicureanism began as a combination of an empirical epistemology (we can know things only insofar as we can observe them), atomistic materialism (there is nothing but atoms and the void) with concomitant naturalistic evolution, and a kind of agnostic Deism which early Buddhism would find agreeable. The simplistic reduction of all this, “seek pleasure, avoid pain” made the word “epicurean” a synonym for “libertine”. Mass awareness always destroys nuance.

Lucretius was an Epicurean of the old school, however, and composed a poem to Preach the Good News of Epicurus, called On the Nature of Things . It is not the most entertaining of works. Poetry can be a good vehicle for philosophy, but overall Lucretius appears to be one of those fellows in love with the sound of his own voice. I don’t mind volubility in Virgil; he’s telling a ripping yarn, and while the plot of the Aeneid moves slowly from point A to B, there’s plenty of action on the way. But listening to Lucretius tell me how good his arguments and sound his proofs are gets old quickly. Roman Stoics, at least going by Seneca, had at least the good sense to be laconic.

That said, one or two passages do leap off the page as good analogies:

Men shot; the hills
re-echoing hurl their voices toward the stars;
the cavalry whele, then suddenly post and pound
with earthquake power across the open fields.
Yet high in the hills there is a place from which
They seem a motionless bright spot on the plain.

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, II.327-332

This perspective-shift serves to explain a problem with atomism described several lines above (II.309-310), that of “why, though all the basic particles are in motion, their total seems to stand at total rest.” Lucretius is at his best at moments like this, painting a picture to honor the bright and illumine the dark parts of his adopted philosophy. I argued in my post about “Cuties” (remember that? That was only a few months ago. This year is a lifetime) that Art achieves its highest form as a vehicle for ideas. It does not have to do that consciously in order to be successful, but it can aim for immortality that way. There’s no reason that someone in 21st-Century America should have found this in the poetry section of a Barnes & Noble, other than its a higher and nobler form of Art. Stylistic quibbles aside, that merits the consideration.

Caligula will have things to say about him, as I have mentioned.

Incoming Unnamed Journal

The next issue of Unnamed Journal has been set, and we’re just organizing materials. At present, it’s looking like:

  • Two, possibly three chapters of Ulysses & the Fugitive
  • The third Meditation of Caius Caligula
  • A smuggler tale set in the same universe as Chamber of Pain
  • Something lighthearted involving banjos and zombies.

Also, the cover’s going to be awesome. It’s looking like Bastille Day for the launch. Watch this space.

The Yuletime Haul of Books: Trenches, Emperors, and the Knave Doth Abide

Like a Bandit, I made out. Like a bandit.

“Hand over the Literature and No one Gets Hurt”

The list:

  1. William Shakespeare’s Star Wars – Still reading it, and while i detect clunky moments, when it’s on, it sizzles.
  2. Two Gentlemen of Lebowski – A friend of mine summed it up as “so much more spot-on than necessary.” I concur.
  3. World War One: A Short History – “In four years the world went from 1870 to 1940.” If anyone’s written a better sentence about this cataclysm, I have yet to read it.
  4. Poitiers 732: Charles Martel Turns the Islamic TideThe Dark Ages have always fascinated me. Still working on it, but the expansion of Odo of Aquitaine’s role in the conflict is refreshing.
  5. TiberiusAs part of the ongoing Caligula Project. It’s a quick read, and plausible. I always figured Tiberius got a bum rap, and it was nice to see a veering from Livia as the all-powerful Spider Queen.
  6. Camp of the SaintsControversial books that get translated into English? What’s not to love?
  7. And Another Thing… Well, I asked for it, didn’t I?