Lucretius (Titus Lucretius Carus), a Roman philosophical poet, concerning whose personal history little is known. According to the Eusebian chronicle, which is almost the sole authority, he was born in 95 B. C, was driven mad by a philter, composed in his intervals of reason several works which were revised by Cicero, and died by his own hand in 52. There are no other particulars concerning his life from authentic sources. He is known only as the author of De Rerum Natura, which is by universal consent the greatest of didactic poems. It is in six books, in heroic verse, extends to 7,400 lines, and is addressed to C. Memmius Gemellus, praetor in 58 B. C. It is designed to develop clearly and to illustrate in an attractive way the atomic theory of the universe; to show that there is nothing in the history or condition of the world which requires the creative agency of a supreme power, but that all objects may be formed by the union of elemental particles governed from all eternity by certain laws. The first book contains a magnificent apostrophe to Venus, as the allegorical representation of the reproductive power, an invective against the monster superstition, an elucidation of the formula that nothing can be produced from nothing, and a statement of the doctrine of ultimate atoms.
The development of the atomic theory occupies the second book. The third book aims to prove that soul and body are one and indistinguishable, and live and perish together, and closes with a fine exposition of the folly of fearing death, which is to extinguish feeling for ever. The fourth treats of the senses, of sleep, dreams, and love. The fifth and most impressive book discusses the origin of the world, the movements of the heavens, the changes of the seasons, and the progress of man, society, institutions, inventions, and sciences. The sixth book explains extraordinary natural phenomena, as thunder, lightning, storms, earthquakes, and volcanoes. Throughout the work the most abstruse speculations are clearly rendered, and the dryness of the subject and the inherent weakness of the views are relieved by the sublimity of the poetry and by digressions of remarkable power and beauty. The best editions are those of Havercamp (2 vols. 4to, Leyden, 1725), For-biger (Leipsic, 1828), and Munro, with notes and translations (2 vols. 8vo, 3d ed., London, 1873). There are complete English translations in verse by John Mason Good (1805) and Thomas Busby (1813), and in prose by the Rev. J. S. Watson (1851), which forms with the version of Good one volume of "Bohn's Classical Library,' and 0. F. Johnson (New York, 1872).