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On the Nature of the Universe (Penguin Classics) Paperback – December 1, 1994
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Top Customer Reviews
of the Universe by Lucretius, each of them translated by Ronald
Latham. The (out of print) 1951 version also includes an
Introduction by Latham. The 1994 version (currently in print and
for sale here) replaces Latham's introduction with one by John
Latham's introduction is impressive and makes the 1951 version
the one to read. (The front cover of that edition features a
portrait of an ordinary Roman woman from a fresco.) In twelve and
a half pages, Latham concisely introduces Lucretius, his life and
times, outlines the philosophy of Epicurus, and addresses the
difficulties he faced as translator. Penguin classics often
feature an introduction, and Latham's is one of the best I have
read. Why did Penguin replace it?
From what I can read via amazon's Look Inside feature, the Godwin
introduction in the current edition appears adequate. And Godwin
does offer a detailed bibliography absent in the 1951 edition.
However, there are two additional reasons to prefer the 1951
edition. First, both Latham and Godwin offer a synopsis of the
work, yet Latham's is more detailed and useful. Likewise, both
versions offer an index, but Latham's is longer and far more
Its basic philosophy is Epicureanism: `If a man would guide his life by true philosophy, he will find ample riches in a modest livelihood enjoyed with a tranquil mind', because `greed and lust of power make man unhappy. The kings were killed!'
Lucretius adopts the method of logical deduction in his scientific research (e.g., why a centaur cannot exist).
He is a perfect materialist, even a physicalist. For him, there was never a body/mind problem: `the mind, which we often call the intellect, is part of man, no less than hand or foot or eyes.' Mind and spirit are both composed of matter only. `Vain is the suggestion that the spirit is immortal.'
He was even a proto-Darwinist: `monstrous and misshapen births were created. Nature debarred them from increase', and an anti-creationist (see title).
He was fiercely against religion, which he called pure superstition: `Iphigenia, a sinless victim to a sinful rite. Such are the heights of wickedness to which men are driven by superstition.'
`The universe was certainly not created for us by divine power. It is so full of imperfections. Why do changing seasons bring pestilence?'
Piety is pure Phariseism: `This is not piety, this kowtowing and prostration on the ground. For all his prayers, the tornado does not relax.'
He is a fine psychologist: `Look at man in the midst of doubt and danger and you will learn in his hour of adversity what he really is. The mask is torn off.'
His forceful painting of the Athenian plague in 430 B.C. is worth a Boccaccio.
Of course, this book is partly very naïve. But it constitutes a milestone in Western philosophy, as it is the product of totally independent, religion-free speculation, written by a superb free mind.
A must read for all historians of science and philosophy, and lovers of classical literature.
This makes me wonder. If the view that all things are the unplanned results of blind forces is a discovery of modern science, then why were people like Lucretius proclaiming it 2000 years ago? Far from making Lucretius prophetic, this makes some of modern science seem like a type of Epicureanism. It would be interesting to know how much of science's view of the nature of the universe owes its origin to philosophy as opposed to observation.
I appreciate Penguin Classics for putting out a very easy and readable prose version of Lucretius's poem. Unlike some of the other reviewers of this version, I recommend it highly. It's the right choice for anyone who's interested in getting to what Lucretius said without having to wade through a bunch of poetry to do it.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I still do not buy into Epicurean ethics wholeheartedly. But the Epicurean physics as applied to daily living based on Atomism is FANTASTICALLY applicable. Read morePublished on August 25, 2013 by V. Tirumalai
There's not much to say about this, except that it's a good translation of Lucretius' book. It gets the point across well, and is both clear and concise enough to be useful for... Read morePublished on August 21, 2013 by Kevin Sit
I am still reading this tome of Philosophy and early science. It is a lot to digest as a fast read - I have chosen to read it slowly and cogitate on the content.Published on March 22, 2013 by Robin Young
Ordered for student's English Class. Arrived by the scheduled date in great packaged condition. Can't say anything about its content as I am not the one reading the book and they... Read morePublished on September 8, 2012 by Sacristan
Lucretius' work "On the Nature of the Universe" is surely one of the seminal works in the history of science. Read morePublished on December 14, 2003