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Lucretius in a fantasy from the 19th century
The beginning of the poem De rerum natura in the manuscript Città del Vaticano written for Pope Sixtus IV in 1483, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. Lat. 1569, fol. 1r

Titus Lucretius Carus (German Lucretius ; * probably between 99 and 94 BC; † probably around 55 or 53 BC) was a Roman poet and philosopher in the tradition of Epicureanism . His probably unfinished work De rerum natura (On the nature of things) is one of the main sources on Epicurus' philosophy , which is otherwise only passed down in fragments.


Almost nothing is known about the life of Lucretius. Most of the sparse information comes from late sources and is contradictory and, in some cases, not very credible. Lucretius' origin and social position are not certain; Assumptions that conclude from his Cognomen Carus on a low origin can be proven just as little as the assumption that Lucretius belonged to the nobility . At least his work suggests that he was highly educated.

Lucretius' dates of life have to be made accessible: Hieronymus mentions his birth in his chronicle ; however, the surviving medieval manuscripts pass this event down partly for the year 96, partly for 94 or 93. The year of his death is also uncertain. According to Jerome, Lucretius died at the age of forty-four, making the years 53/52, 51/50 and 50/49 into consideration. However, the late antique grammarian Aelius Donatus reports that Lucretius died on the same day that Virgil put on the men's toga ( toga virilis ) at the age of seventeen , namely on October 15, 53. This probably goes back to Sueton's work De viris illustribus, which is only fragmentarily preserved Information is questionable; Donatus also incorrectly dates Virgil's seventeenth birthday by naming the two consuls of the year 55. The only reliable and at the same time earliest information is provided by a letter from Cicero to his brother Quintus dated February 10 or 11, 54. In it he says that Lucretius' work contains numerous brilliant pieces and is composed with great artistry. It is probably a statement made after the death of Lucretius. It is therefore believed that Lucretius was born between 99 and 94 and died in the mid-1950s, perhaps 55 or 53.

Hieronymus also tells the legendary story that Lucretius went mad after taking a love potion and finally committed suicide. In lucid moments (per intervalla insaniae) he wrote his didactic poem. This report, which is probably based on a legend dating back to the 4th century, has been judged very differently in research. Some scholars considered the news of Lucretius' insanity to be credible and believed that they could support this hypothesis through passages in his work and infer the personality of the poet or, conversely, explain inconsistencies and breaks in the work against the background of his alleged spiritual confusion.

The more recent research is critical of this testimony handed down exclusively by Hieronymus. It is sometimes assumed that the passage originally referred to Lucullus , who is said to have been mentally confused at the end of his life; in the text tradition the two names were confused. Partly one sees in the passage an echo of a poem by Statius , which ascribes Lucretius passionate ( furor arduus ). Other researchers relate the passage to a polemical statement by the church writer Lactantius ; In it he turns against the teaching of Epicurus , on which is based everything that Lucretius “ spins together” ( delirat ). It is also believed that the story of the love potion is derived from the final part of the fourth book of De rerum natura ; in it Lucretius scoffs at love and the madness of lovers. The majority of modern research therefore considers Lucretius' alleged madness to be a Christian legend that was deliberately circulated and intended to bring him into disrepute.

Hieronymus also claims that Cicero later published Lucretius' work ( emendavit ). This news is extremely controversial in research. Cicero's editorial activity is considered possible in principle, but not verifiable; It also remains unclear in what form Cicero is supposed to have published the text and whether he intervened in the text to improve it. In any case, Lucretius is never mentioned or used in Cicero's philosophical writings, especially since Cicero was negative about Epicureanism. However, due to the source situation, this question cannot be answered conclusively.


Lucretius may not have completed his work. This suggests above all De rerum natura 5,155: Lucretius here announces a long treatise ( largus sermo ) on the essence of the gods, which is not carried out. Lucretius either failed to get the chance to write this treatise, or he abandoned that intention and died before he could erase the verse (the majority of scholars tend towards the second possibility).

De rerum natura consists of six books with just over 7400 verses. The introductions (“ Prooemien ”) and the final parts (“Finalia”) of the individual books are clearly delimited . It should also be noted that books 1 and 2, 3 and 4 as well as 5 and 6 can each be combined in pairs to form thematic units. Books 1 and 2 deal with the fundamentals of Epicurean natural philosophy (structure of the world from atoms, movement of atoms, infinite multitude of worlds, transience of the world), which in turn is partly based on the natural philosophy of Democritus . Books 3 and 4 turn to human physiology and psychology. Book 3 deals at length with the mortality of the soul, for which Lucretius presents 28 evidence. Book 4 deals with sensory perception and in the finale also with sexuality and love. In order not to fall into lovesickness, Lucretius recommends that his readers visit the brothel there. Books 5 and 6 are dedicated to scientific phenomena, which for Lucretius (in the finale of the fifth book) also includes cultural history. The work ends with a description of the plague of Athens in the years 430 to 428. Ethics, the most important philosophical discipline after Epicurus, is not dealt with separately. Of course, there are always individual remarks scattered over the text (especially in Proemium to Book 2) that invite the reader to reflect on his lifestyle and to change it if necessary.


De rerum natura , edition by Dionysius Lambinus , 1570

Lucretius was a representative of atomistics . He mainly referred to the teaching of Epicurus . His teacher was probably Philodemus .

Lucretius believed that the soul was mortal (for which he put forward 28 "evidences") and that it was impossible for the gods to interfere in human life. His philosophy was supposed to give people peace of mind and serenity and take away their fear of death and the gods. In contrast to Epicurus, Lucretius took part in the social events of his time, condemned the moral decline of the nobility and denounced war and its horrors.

Significance in literary history

Lucretius and Cicero were pioneers of "philosophical writing" in Latin. They therefore often had to first develop a suitable vocabulary (Lucretius speaks of the poverty of the mother tongue patrii sermonis egestas ) and struggle for independence from the Greek language and literature.

The choice of the form of the " didactic poem " (in hexameters ) distinguishes Lucretius from Cicero. Lucretius has pioneering status for this genre of Latin literature: Although there seem to have been attempts to write Latin didactic poems before Lucretius, these were inedible in Cicero's judgment. Given these assumptions, it is understandable that Lucretius' verses do not achieve the elegance of the later Latin hexameter poetry (especially Virgil , Ovid ).

As an Epicurean , Lucretius stayed away from the politics of his time. It is often referred to as a "risk of his poetry" that he tried to proclaim Epicurus' teaching, especially its physics, in a poem (see above) - although Epicurus himself said that an Epicurean should not or should not write poetry, he did refer to this statement possibly more on the "substance" of the myth ( fabulae ) and not so much on the "form" of a poem itself. Since Lucretius now proclaims a truth, a doctrine, actually even an (Epicurean) doctrine of salvation , he was allowed to do this poetically despite the testimony of his teacher Epicurus. Earlier attempts at philosophical poetry by other authors failed v. a. in aesthetic-stylistic problems (cf. Cic. Ac. II, 5,6 and Tusc. I, 6; II, 7 and IV, 6f.).

He himself describes the Lucretian language as a daedala lingua , an inventive and artistic language. He puts the creative ability of his language next to the mythical inventor ( Labyrinth of the Minotaur ) and artist Daedalus .

Lucretius wants to be a teacher, as an avowed disciple of Epicurus (cf. the external propomies [introductions to the pairs of books] with their hymns to Epicurus). The aim is to free people from superstition through knowledge . In a chaotic time, he wants to stay away from meaninglessness and worthlessness, not least by pointing out the naturalness and transience of all things - including the supposedly divine.


Grave relief (1571) with Lucretian quote: “Vitaque mancipio nulli datur, omnibus usu”, Reichenstein Castle / Upper Austria

Lucretius is considered the archegete of the Latin didactic poem. His influence is not limited to the other Roman didactic poetry (e.g. Virgil's Georgica , Ovid's Ars Amatoria , Manilius' Astronomica , the anonymous Aetna poem), but rather affects the entire Latin epic from the Augustan period through Virgil's Aeneid .

Since the teachings of Epicurean philosophy propagated by Lucretius (denial of divine providence and divine intervention in world events, finiteness of the world, mortality of the soul) are incompatible with the Christian religion, a sharp distance from Lucretius began in late antiquity from Arnobius. At the same time (e.g. by Laktanz ) Lucretius is used as a rationalist witness to the silliness of the pagan gods cult. The frequency of Lucretian quotations among Christian writers also shows that they recognized the literary quality of De rerum natura very well.

The first page of the Lucretius edition by Tanaquil Faber (1675)

In the Middle Ages, Lucretius was almost completely forgotten until the humanist Poggio Bracciolini in 1417 or 1418 discovered a copy of De rerum natura in an unspecified German monastery . After the publication of the first printed Lucretian edition in 1473, the Renaissance saw a lively reception in which poets dealt with Lucretian subjects in Latin didactic poems (e.g. Aonio Paleario (executed 1570), De Animorum Immortalitate (1536), Scipione Capece (1480-1551) De Principiis Rerum (1546), Daniel Heinsius De Contemptu Mortis (1621)). The production of Latin didactic poems with Lucretian themes also boomed in the 18th century. Cardinal Melchior de Polignac wrote an Anti-Lucretius sive De Deo et Natura (“Anti-Lucretius or About God and Nature”), which Goethe held in high regard, and Bernardo Zamagna wrote an educational poem entitled De Nave Aeria (“The Airship”) ) over the Montgolfière .

The materialistic philosophers of later times, such as de la Mettrie in the middle of the 18th century , referred to Lucretius in particular . In his On the Interpretation of Nature, Denis Diderot started with an introductory sentence from De rerum natura by Titus Lucretius Carus. Karl Marx , co-founder of Marxist socialism , wrote his dissertation in 1841 on the topic of the difference between the democritical and Epicurean natural philosophy, in which he referred to Lucretius. Even Michel de Montaigne read extensively in De Rerum Natura and marked many passages in the in his possession issue, adding asides. In his essays there are many quotations from Lucretius' work or he referred to it.

In his theory of perception , Lucretius coined the term simulacrum, which was influential in postmodern philosophy .

It was not until the 19th century that the first German translation of Lucretius appeared, inspired by Goethe, by Freiherr von Knebel . Albert Einstein was also fascinated by Lucretius , who contributed a preface to the Lucretian translation by Hermann Diels .

Among the individual passages of De rerum natura , the end of the work is likely to have been received most intensely. The description given there of the plague in Athens at the beginning of the Peloponnesian War, which in turn is closely based on that of Thucydides (2.47–53), is imitated by Virgil, Ovid, Manilius, Seneca and other ancient authors as well as by authors of the Modern times (e.g. in the Decameron by Giovanni Bocaccio , in the didactic poem Syphilis by Girolamo Fracastoro or in Albert Camus ' La peste ).

Editions and translations

see: De rerum natura #Editions and translations


Overview representations


  • Carl Joachim Classen (Ed.): Problems of Lucretian Research . Olms, Hildesheim / Zurich / New York 1986, ISBN 3-487-07660-8 .
  • Diskin Clay: Lucretius and Epicurus . Cornell University Press, Ithaca (New York) 1983, ISBN 0-8014-1559-4 .
  • Donald Reynolds Dudley (Ed.): Lucretius . 2nd Edition. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London 1967.
  • Baldur Gabriel: image and teaching. Studies on the didactic poem of Lucretius . Frankfurt 1970.
  • Monica R. Gale (Ed.): Lucretius . Oxford University Press, Oxford 2007, ISBN 0-19-926034-6 .
  • James H. Nichols: Epicurean Political Philosophy. The De rerum natura of Lucretius . Cornell University Press, Ithaca (New York) 1976, ISBN 0-8014-0993-4 .
  • Petrus H. Schrijvers : Horror ac divina voluptas. Études sur la poétique et la poésie de Lucrèce . Hakkert, Amsterdam 1970, ISBN 90-256-0991-0 .
  • Charles Segal : Lucretius on Death and Anxiety. Poetry and Philosophy in De Rerum Natura . Princeton University Press, Princeton (New Jersey) 1990, ISBN 0-691-06826-7 .
  • David West: The Imagery and Poetry of Lucretius . University Press, Edinburgh 1969.


  • Alison Brown: The Return of Lucretius to Renaissance Florence. In: I Tatti Studies in Italian Renaissance History. Harvard University Press, Harvard (Massachusetts) 2010, ISBN 978-0-674-05032-7 .
  • Stephen Greenblatt : The Swerve: How the World Became Modern . Norton, 2011, ISBN 978-0-393-06447-6 ; German: The turn. How the renaissance began. Siedler, Munich 2012, ISBN 978-3-88680-848-9 .
  • Luciano Landolfi: Lucretius (Titus Lucretius Carus). De rerum natura. In: Christine Walde (Ed.): The reception of ancient literature. Kulturhistorisches Werklexikon (= Der Neue Pauly . Supplements. Volume 7). Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2010, ISBN 978-3-476-02034-5 , Sp. 475-508.
  • David Norbrook et al. (Ed.): Lucretius and the Early Modern. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2016, ISBN 978-0-19-871384-5


  • Manfred Wacht: Concordantia in Lucretium (= Alpha - Omega. Series A 122). Olms-Weidmann, Hildesheim et al. 1991, ISBN 3-487-09404-5 .


  • Alexander Dalzell: A Bibliography of Work on Lucretius, 1945–1972 . In: The Classical World. Vol. 66, 1972/1973, pp. 389-427 and The Classical World. Vol. 67, 1973/1974, pp. 65-112.
  • Cosmo Alexander Gordon: A Bibliography of Lucretius (= The Soho Bibliographies 12). Hart-Davis, London 1962 (editions and translations only)
  • Petrus H. Schrijvers: Lucretius (bibliography) . In: Lampadion. Vol. 7, 1966-1968, pp. 5-32.

Web links

Commons : Lucretius  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Lucretius  - Sources and full texts (Latin)
Wikisource: Lucretius  - sources and full texts

Text output




  1. Erler (1994), p. 399f.
  2. Donatus: Vita Vergilii 6.
  3. Cicero: Ad Quintum fratrem 2,9,3.
  4. For a discussion of the life data see Erler (1994), p. 397f.
  5. For the history of research see Erler (1994), pp. 383–385.
  6. Erler (1994), p. 398 with a brief overview of the research opinions.
  7. Plutarch , Lucullus 43.
  8. Statius: Silvae 2,7,76.
  9. Lactantius: De opificio Dei 6.1.
  10. Lucretius 4: 1141-1191.
  11. See Konrat Ziegler , Der Tod des Lucretius . In: Hermes 71, 1936, pp. 421-440.
  12. Erler (1994), p. 398f.
  13. Marcus Deufert offers a total of 7415 hexameters in the 'reading text' of his latest Teubneriana in 2019 : 1117 verses for book I, 1174 verses for book II, 1094 verses for book III, 1287 verses for book IV, 1457 verses for book V and 1286 verses for book VI.
  14. After Otto Danwerth in: Wulf Köpke; Bernd Schmelz (Ed.): The Common House Europe. Handbook on European Cultural History. Frankfurt am Main 1999, pp. 895-905. The wording is published with the kind permission of the author under Death and Beyond in Europe, A cultural-historical outline from antiquity to the present -
  15. Bible of the Enlightenment . In: Jakob Moser . Retrieved November 17, 2016.
  16. VITAQUE MANCIPIO NULLI DATUR OMNIBUS USU "Life is not given to anyone as possession, but only given to everyone for use." ( De rerum natura III, 971)
  17. ^ David Butterfield: The Early Textual History of Lucretius' De rerum natura . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2013, ISBN 978-1-107-03745-8 , p. 14 and note 47.
  18. Stephen Greenblatt: The Turn. How the renaissance began. Siedler, Munich 2012, ISBN 978-3-88680-848-9 .
  19. Theo Kobusch : History of Philosophy Vol. 5: The philosophy of the high and late Middle Ages. CH Beck, Munich 2011, ISBN 978-3-406-31269-4 , p. 472 ( limited preview in Google book search).