(PHILOSOPHY, ROME and its EMPIRE – continued)
Amid the variety of attitudes among the Romans was that of their distinguished poet T. Lucretius Carus. He was a contemporary of Julius Caesar, having lived from around 99 BCE to his death around 54 BCE. At this time there was a plague in Athens and his writing came to a sudden end. Lucretius denounced conventional morality and the traditional mythology that he believed supported it. He was anti-establishment. He turned in disgust from the strife he found in Rome and found solace in Epicureanism. He had the Epicurean's awe for the beauties of nature. He wrote a book titled On the Nature of Things (De Rerum Natura), which described the ideas of Democritus and Epicurus. The Epicurean view was empirical – basically scientific, at odds with the view of magic by the gods that was a part of establishment beliefs. Lucretius described death as including the dissipation of mind rather than our minds living on in torment in hell or wherever. He described neither the mind nor spirit surviving independent of the body.
Another contemporary, the notorious Stoic philosopher-politician Cicero (106-43 BCE) wrote that: "The poems of Lucretius ... exhibit many flashes of genius, and yet show great mastership." The poet Virgil (70-19 BCE) was referring to Lucretius when he wrote, "Happy is he who has discovered the causes of things and has cast beneath his feet all fears, unavoidable fate, and the din of the devouring Underworld."
Lucretius was the first writer to introduce Roman readers to Epicurean philosophy. Knowledge of Epicurean philosophy would pass into modernity from a German monastery's copy of On the Nature of Things, which was discovered by a former papal secretary, Poggio Bracciolini, who was searching monasteries in Germany and Switzerland for forgotten scripts. This was described by Stephen Greenblatt in his book, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern.
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