2018-2019 Catalog

CSLC 145 Meaning in a Material World: Lucretius On the Nature of Things

Lucretius' poem On the Nature of Things is not only a watershed moment in Roman philosophy and Latin poetry, but also a touchstone in world thought and literature from the Renaissance to Postmodernism. Lucretius (c.99-c.55 BCE) was a materialist. For him, reality consisted of atoms and compounds of atoms situated in empty space. We will try to come to grips with Lucretius' answers to questions such as the following: Where, in a purely physical world, is there a place for conscious beings like ourselves? Can we have free will and if so, how? Why do we suffer and what can we do to escape suffering? What makes life meaningful if the soul is not immortal? What does it mean to be a moral person if the gods take no interest in us or our actions? What do we owe each other, as creatures living together in community? As we examine these questions we'll also attend carefully to Lucretius' poetic artistry, to the rhetorical strategies by which he attempts to convert his audience, to his atomic physics, and to his place as a political thinker writing during the fall of the Roman republic.


4 units

Core Requirements Met

  • Pre-1800
  • Regional Focus