A new series that challenges the maxim, “You can’t bring [fill in the name] back”.
Today, Lucretius is not exactly a household word. Born Titus Lucretius Carus but like Liberace, Sting, Seal, Caesar and Capone, as his celebrity grew, his name shrunk. He barely reached his 45th birthday but in the century before Christ, that was a reasonable life expectancy. As a Roman philosopher and poet, we know that he was a student and proponent of an earlier Greek thinker, Epicurus who started a philosophical movement—atomic materialism or atomism. Epicurus believed that nature consists of two fundamental principals, atom and void. Lucretius went much further and conceived of the three-age system, the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages, which brought a chronological organization to the historical evolution of man. It wasn’t until the 19th Century, 1,900 years later, that these hypotheses were fully developed, embraced and put into practice by museums and the scientific community.
Lucretius built on Epicureanism and wrote a 200-page poem, De Rerum Natura, [On the Nature of Things] which was the central “character” in Steven Greenblatt’s fabulous book, The Swerve. During the early Italian Renaissance, when the church was chief censor and arbiter of all things teachable (and learnable), science and scientists who challenged church dogma and were a threat. Clearly the Renaissance only allowed a limited amount of enlightenment. The “discovery” of Lucretius’ manuscript, with its scientific approach to life itself, compromised church teachings. If the church could have wiped out all traces of contra-thought, they would have. Galileo was tried by the Inquisition, arrested and imprisoned because of his heliocentric theory—that the planets revolve around the sun. Copernicus was luckier as he escaped arrest and died shortly after his book, on the same subject, was published. In both cases, the church was singularly focused on stamping out heresy and the heretics and cornered the market on these two scientist’s best sellers, confiscating and burning as many copies as they could find.
Here we are into the 21st Century and astonishingly, science is still being beheaded, this time by a learned Wharton School graduate who just happens to be President of the United States with a Evangelically-controlled Vice President. ISIS, an extreme radicalized religious/political movement kills people who do not accept and convert to their beliefs while here in America ignorance kills ideas and stigmatizes the scientists who think them up. We’ve clearly come a long way.
If Lucretius was alive today,
He’d say this not to flatter…
“It’s clear to me in every way,
Atoms really matter!”