LUCRETIUS - The Nature Of The Universe - BOOK I

October 9 2017


Lucretius starts out with a prayer to Venus. It should be said that despite the tone of the book, he appears to see no problem with prayers - perhaps because his book is all about symbolism to appeal to the average Titus of the day.

“Nothing can ever be created by divine power out of nothing.”

Lucretius begins with explaining that everything requires some kind of seed.

He quickly establishes his idea of atoms. He makes sure to give a handy list of names he will be using throughout his work to address said atoms: particles, seeds, components, bodies, things.

“Nature resolves everything into its component atoms and never reduces anything to nothing.”

For a thing to be, something else most fall into its parts.

“Bodies whose existence must be acknowledged though they cannot be seen.”

Here, Lucretius defends the existence of atoms. He vexes that atoms are just like wind which in its ferocity dearly points to being made of invisible things.

It should be noted that the common wisdom of the day was that there is no common wisdom at all. Lucretius himself points to the schools of thought of his day and their manifold ideas about where stuff comes from. A quick run-down:

  • Heraclitus of Ephesus (The Obscure, everything is always changing, opposites or bust… maybe) = *All things come from fire. *

  • Empedocles of Acragas (Mister Sweatpants, all good things come in fours - also all bad things, love and strife) = Fire, water, air and earth make up all things.

  • Anaxagoras (Should-have-stuck-with-eclipses, things just are, be mindful) = Things are made of (the largest part of) themselves.

“There is vacuity in things.”

There must be empty space for things to move in, things need to move in order to be and to cease, lighter thighs have more vacuum than heavier things and thus, matter + vacuum = movement.

“Nothing exists that is distinct from body and from vacuity.”

If it can be acted upon, it is matter. If it cannot be acted upon, it is vacuity.

“Material object are of two kinds: atoms and compounds of atoms. The atoms themselves cannot be swamped by any force, for they are preserved indefinitely by their absolute solidity.”

This more complicated thought is explained simply: An empty space cannot hold matter or it isn’t empty and vice versa, thus solid bodies must cause the demarcation between matter and vacuity.

It seemed to me that in this section he assumes that patterns in living things remain unchanged and are unchangeable. It is too vague an utterance to be sure.

“Those who think the world made of fire are wrong.”

In a nod to Heraclitus, he explains that the notion is silly, because clearly nothing is just fiery - things change!

“Those who think things grow from two or all four elements are equally wrong.”

If a thing oversteps its own limits, the thing before it dies, thus the two or four element idea would lead to nothing and things would need to continually be born from nothing.

“The universe is not bounded in any direction.”

A thing cannot have a limit, Lucretius easily concludes - unless there is something outside to limit it. There must be an unlimited supply of matter because things must be kept in motion.

“Things do not tend to the ‘centre of the world’.”

The centre of the world idea is that the world rests on itself and things flow up and down midwards. Lucretius sees little reason to take this serious at all.

He ends this first book by flawlessly explaining black holes - ridiculous!