Sivut kuvina
PDF

D;», the Ossellz, and the Calli, and gave to Rome tnlny consuls, tribunes, and prætors, who were great supports and ornaments of the commonwealth.

From which of the above branches our Lucretins sprung is not known, there bring nothing any where recorded of his pirentage. There lived, indeed, in those days, one Qiiintus Lucretius, but whether he was brother of our poet Lucretius,or in what degree of relation they were to one another, is altogether uncertain.

It has been observed by some, and the truth of it is uncontested, that the parentage of the best poets of antiquity is almost unknown, as if it had been industriously concealed; and in this they are thought to have affected something of divinity

The thne of his birth is almost as doubtful, some placing it in one year, some in another, in which, as in moll things else, the authors who have deliTcred it down to us, make good that invrrtcd taunt of Seneca, who, in his treatise, De Morte Claudii, says, "Citius inter horotogia quam authores conveniet." Clucks will be found to agree sooner than authors.

Euscbius the son of Pamphilus, brings him forth in the 171st Olympiad, when Co. Domitius Ahenobarbus, and C. C ssius l.onginus were consuls, which was in the 657th year after the building of Rome But Lydiat leaves it doubt fnl, whether these were consul* in the first year of the 171st, or the fourth of the 170th Olympiad. Voflias makes hini born in the second year «f the 171st, whilst others place his birth in the 17xd Olympiad, when L. l.ucinius Crassus, and <^_Mucius Scævola were consuls, that is to fay,in the 653th year of Rome; so that the difference between them is not great, and the age in which he lived is certain.

About rhis time, she Romans began to apply themselves to rhe study of the philosophy of the Greek*. Supposing, therefore, Lucretius to bo nobly descended, and a man of sprightly wit, it is ah easy inference, that he received a suitable education, and, by his parents or other relations, was sect in his youth to ltudy at Athens. This is the more probable to be true, because it was then the custom r.f the Romans to feud their youths thither to be instructed in the learning of the Greeks. Thus, some years after. Virgil too studied there, is we learn from himself, when, writing to Mtsfsla, be fays:

EtC mi vario jactatum laudisamore,.
Irritaque expertum fallacis prxmia vulgi,
Cccropius fuaves expiraus hortulus auras,
f lorcnti, viridi sophi.t compleclitur umbra.

And the learned Propertius too earnestly defired

Illic v*l studiis animum emendare Platonis; — aut hortis, docte Epicure, tuis.

Ztno, together with the courteous good-natured HbaltUi, as Tully calli him, was then nulltt of

the gardens; and these were the preceptors of our ■ Lucretius, as they were likewise ofPomponius Att ticus, Memmius, Vtflleius, Pcetus, Cafsius and mij ny others, who in that age rendered themselves very illustrious in the republic of Rome.

How Lucretius spent his time, how studiously he I improved it, let this poem be witness. That he fitted himself for the best company, is evident by what Cornelius Nepos tells us of the great intimacy between him, Pomponius Atticus, and Memmius , and, no doubt but he was intimate likewise with Tully and his brother, who make such honourable mention x>f him.

If we look into hia morals, we may discover him 'to he a man suitable to the Epicurean principles, dissolved in ease and pleasure, flying public employment, as a derogation to wisdom, and a disturber os peace and quietness, and avoiding those distractive cares which he imagined would make heaven itself uneasy.

-As most of the o:her poets, he too seems to hava had his share in sensual pleasures; and if the account which Eusebius gives of his death be true, it will strengthen this opinion, but it is hard to fay for certain what fort of death Lucretius died; nor is it much caster to determine in what year of his life his death happened. Some make him die cm the very day when Virgil was born, in the forty-third year of his age, when Pompey the Great was the third time consul, and Cxciliuc Mctel. lus Pius was his colleague, in the year of the city 761, at which time there were great commotions in the republic 1 for C'.odius was then killed by Milo; Mcmmiusand many others being convicted of bribery, were banished from Rome into Greece; and Cxsar, who was then fortyfour years of age, was laying waste the provinces of Guul. According to Euscbius, he died by his own hands, in the forty-fourth year of his age, being dementated by a philtre, which cither hi* mistress, or his wife Lucilia, for so some call her, though without authority, in a sit os jealousy, had given him; not with design to deprive him of his senses, or to take away his life, but only to make him love her. Donatus, or whoever was the author of the life of Virgil that goes under his name, writes, that he died three years before, when Pompey the Great and M. Licinius Crassus were both of them the second time consuls. Others who allow that, having lost his fenses, he laid violent hands on his own life, yet place his deafh in the twenty-sixth year of his age, and believe that his madness proceeded from the cares and melancholy that oppressed him on account of the b-itiilhinent of his beloved Memmius: to which others again add likewise another cause, the fatal calamities under which his country then laboured And indeed it is certain, that a lew years before his death, Lucretius was an eye witness of the wild administration of affairs in the days of Clodius and Cataline, who i»ave such a bio* to the republic of Rome, as not long af er occasioned its total subversion. Of these commotions he himself complains, in the beginning of his lull book, where, addressing himself to Venus, ur. implores her to intercede with the god of war, to restore peace and quiet to his native country.

Hunc tu diva, tua rccubantem eorpore sancto
Circumfusa super, suaves ex ore loquelas
Fundc petens placidam Rnmanis inclyta pacem.
Nam neque nos agere hoc patriai tcmporr iniquo
Possumus zquo aoimo, ncque Mcmmi clara
propago

Tallibus in rebus communi desse faluti.

Lucr. lib. i. v. 39.

These are yet some other accounts given of the time and manner of his death; but since in so great a variety of opinions we can fix on no certainty, nor determine which of them is true, it would be loss of time to dwell any longer upon them.

The only remains this great wit has left os, are his fix books of the Nature of Things, which contain an exact system of the Epicurean philosophy. They were read and admired by the ancients; aud if Ovid could presage,

Carolina sublimis tune sunt peritura Lucrcti,
Ezitio terras cum dabit una dies.

Lucretius' lofty song shall live in deathless fame,-
Till fate dissolves at once this universal frame.

But because some are in doubt concerning the number of books written by Lucretius, and believe that he writ more than fix, it will not be improper to convince them of their error. They ground their opinion chiefly on a passage in VarTo, which, fay they, make it evident that Lucretius left one and twenty books, and that this is rot the beginning of his poem which is commonly taken to be so, since Varro cites a quite different verse as the beginning of it.

The passage of Varro, which they allege in favour of their opinion, is in his fourth book, De lingua Latlna, where we find these words:

Loca secundum antiquam divisionem prima.duo, cerium et terra: i qua bipartita divisione Lucretius suorum unius et viginti librorum initium fecit hoc:

Ætheris et terra; genitabile quscrere tempus.'' These words, indeed, are very plain and positive; nevertheless, I insist, that unless there were another poet Lucretius among the ancients, who was author of the one and twenty books, spoken of in that passage of Varro: and that there was 1 own, no mention is made in any of the records of antiquity, I insist, I fay, that there must be a fault in the above passage of that author, and believe, that instead of Lucretius, it was formerly written Lunlius. Whoever reflects on the following reasons, will, if I mistake not, be of my opinion.

In the first place, it is believed upon good grounds^that Varro writ that treatise of the Latin tongue, about the time that Cæsar was dicta tor. or rather a little before: if so, it is highly probable that copies of Lucretius could not so loon be got abroad, for he died but in the fourth year before .tbe dictatorship of Cajsar; and after

his death, his poem of the Nature of Things, wij first begun to be corrected by his intimate friend Tnlly, a talk which may seem to require some time; and, it may be, even a longer than that which passed from the death of Lucretius to the writing of the treatise by Terentius Varro.

Moreover, faults of the like nature were very frequent in the writings of the ancients, where Lucilius, Lucretius, and Lncullus, in like manner as Cælius and Cccilius, and the like, were often put by mistake one for another. Thus, for example. Priscian, lib. xviii. observes, that in Sallust, Hist lib. v. there was a mistake of this nature: "At Lucilius audito Marium regem proconfulem per Lycaoniam cum tribus Legionibus in CiHciam tenderc," &c. which that grammarian thus corrects: "At Luculius audit" Marium regera proconsulem," &c.; for Salhist there treated of the war that Luculius was carrying on against Mithridates. In like manner, Macrobius, lib. hi. Saturnal. cap. xv. M M. Vajro in lib. de agricultura refert M. Catonem, qui Utica: periit, cam haeres testameuto Lucilii esset relictus," &c f read, fays he," Testamento Luculli," &c Macrobius, nevertheless is there mistaken in one thing, for, as Plutarch witnesses, Lucullua left not Cato his heir, but only appointed him to be guardian of his son, as being his uncle. And many the like instances might tnsily he produced.

But to remove all manner of objections concerning the beginning of this poem, and to evince beyond reply the first book now extant to be the first book Lucretius writ, besides the invocation, with which, according to the custom of all pocti, he begins his poem, I will, in opposition to the above passage of Varro, produce the authority of old Priscian, whp, after having said that words of the first declension form the geniti»e plural in inn, and by contraction in y/w, by way of elample, adds atnpharum for ampljorarum. entzim for entadamm. For ib, fays he, Lucretius has it in his first verse :"" Ita enim Lucretius in primo versu."

Æneaduni genitrix, hominum divsimq voluptai.

Besides, is there the least ground of probability that Lucretius ever writ above fix books, since not one of the ancient grammarians, or other writers, neither Festus, Nonius, Diomcdes. Priscian, Frobus, Carisius, Donatus, Servius, Tertullian, Arnobius. nor Lactantius. who so frequently bring quotations from the fifth, sixth, and all the foregoing boohs of this poet, ever cite so much as one single verse from the seventh, eighth, Ac This, morally speaking, would be impossible, had Lucretius written fifteen books, of the Nature of Things, more than are now extant. This roakei me the rather wonder at the poCtivenefi with which some assert, that the seventh book of Lacretius is praised in Priscian, who, nevertheless, does not so much as mention any such book.

Moreover, in my opinion, Lucretius hinvMf sufficiently determines this controversy, for, "> his sixth book, reminding his reader of what h: had been treating of in the first, he fays,

JCimc amnes repetam quatn daro coi-pore fint res Commcmorare, quod in primo quoque carmine claret. Lucrtt. lit, vi. v. 936.

This sufficiently proves the first of the books now extant to be the first he writ, since in that he has endeavoured to evince," omnes—quam claro corpore sint res," that no bodies are so solid as not to contain some void; "quod in primo qooejae carmine claret." See Book I. ver. 404. Aud he stem* expressly to call the sixth book his last, in these excellent verses,

To mini suprenue præscripta ad Candida calcis Current! se-itiuni prxmonstra, callida musa, CiiU pe, requies hominum, divnmque voluptas, Tc duce ut iiisigni capiam cum iaude coronam.

Laurel, lii. V(. 91.

From whence we may easily infer, that he never so much as proposed to himself to write above six cooks, since he tells us he is now hastening, "ad przfcripta Candida supreme calcis," to the end of the race he had determined with himself to run; and therefore le invokes his muse,

To lead him on, and show the path to gain
The race and glory too, and crown his pain.

1 Creech.

Lastly, To strengthen all the foregoing arguments, we may observe, that in these six books only is contained the whole doctrine, and all the philosophy of Epicurus, in as much as it relates to the explication of nature, or natural causes and eff.cts; and there is nothing left for any one to lay farther upon that subject.

Add to this the manifest and pertinent connection rf one book to another, the judicious method be has observed to handling the several subjects of which he treats, aad his artfulness in the disposition of them. They seem naturally to follow one another. In the first book, he treats of the principle* of things; in the last, of meteors and of the heavens. Has not this method been constantly practised by all who have treated of the knowledge of nature? Even Epicurus himself observed the very lame disposition, as appears by the few surviving remains of that philosopher, hit three epistles to Herodotus, Mœnecœus, and Pythocles.

But as, for the reasons above alleged, I am verily persuaded that Lucretius never writ more than these six books es the Nature os Things; so,

on the other hand, I am readily jnclined to believe, that some of his verses are,' perhaps, wanting; for, as with almost all the ancient authors, so more especially with this poet, some have assumed to themselves too great a liberty, and altered, added, or taken away many things, as we have made it appear in several places in oar notes. Servius cites this fragment from Lucretius:

——Super! spoliatus luminis aer.

which may perhaps have been his, though it be no where found in any of his books; nor can it easily be discovered where it has been left out. To restore it to its due place, would require an accurateness of judgment as great, if poflible, as was their disingenuity who first left it out.

I now return to Lucretius, who, as Eufebiuj declares, wrote these six books of Epicurean philosophy, in hi» lucid intervals, when the strength of nature had thrown off all the disturbing particles, and his mind, as it is observed of madmen, was sprightly and vigorous. Then, in a poetical rapture, he could fly with his Epicurus beyond the flaming limits of this world; frame and dissolve seas and heavens in an instant. and, by some unusual sallies, be the strongest argument of his own opinion; for it seems impossible that some things which he delivers should proceed from reason and judgment, or from any other cause but chance, and unthinking fortune.

Aster hi; death, as I hinted before, Cicero, as Euscbius witnesses, revised and corrected his writings. Lambinus contradicts this; but the arguments he brings against the assertion of Euscbius are but weak, and of little validity.

Virgil, who was eager and assiduous in the study of them, has borrowed from him in many places: as both Macrobius and Gellius testify: the last of whom calls him "Pne'tam ingenio et facundia "prxcellcntem;" and Cornelius Nepos has placed him *' inter elegantissimos poe'ras." So that if some great divines have given him the ill name of Cams, it was not for any rudeness in his verse, but due rather to his Grecian master; the eternity df matter, and the like absurd assertions, having corrupted most of the philosophies of Athens. • As a corollary to these few remaining memoirs) of the life of Lucretius, I will here give the opinions of several learned men, concerning him and his writings.

Yiii

TESTIMONIES OF ANCIENT AND MODERN LEARNED MEN, CONCERNING LUCRETIUS AND HIS WRITINGS.

&f. ClUro to bit Brother 9, Cicero, look ii. episi. 11. 1 He poems of Lucretius, as yon observe, are not written with much brightness of wit, but with a great deal of art.

Upon which passage of Cicero, the learned P. Victorius, in his Castigations on Tully's Epistles, makes the following remark:

If any one, fays he, thinks it strange that some have been of opinion, that the poems of the most elegant and excellent poet Lucretius, are written •with no great brightness of wit, let him blame the judgment >« Quinctus; fur we may reasonably mistrust, that, since M. Cicero defends and commends him in the manner he docs, he was not al-, together of his brother's opinion, though he seems indeed, to cmfirai it; but that he would not thwart a testy man, who, perhaps, because he writ verses himself, was blinded with envy, and did not perceive the truth: Besides, he might be of that oiiinion, because Lucrcrius composed not his poem to boast his shining wit, hut to explain, with his utmost art and industry, the whole philosophy of jV.picurus.

The same Vi&triovt Var. Led, lib. xvii. cap. I 6. The copiousness and purity of the Latin tongue, appear chiefly in Luerctius.

Jkf> Vitrvvivt, in hit Treatise os Arcbiteflure, bcoi ix. thafi. 3.

Those, whose minds arc instructed with the delights of learning, cannot, but with veneration, carry in their breasts, as they do the images of the gods, so, too, that of the poet Ennius. Those, who arc pleasingly diverted with the poems of Attius, stem to have ptesent with them, not only his virtues, but his figure and rt semblance likewise. Id Jike manner, many will, in after agc«, s;em to dispute, as it were, fare to face with Lucretius, concerning the Nature of Things, a9 they will with Cicero, ot the Art of Rhetoric,

£)uint\liin, bcoi X. For Macer and Lucretius are, indeed, worth the reading: but not as if they contained the whole body of eloquence. Each of them is elegant in the subject he treats os; but the one is low, the other crabbed and obscure.

Us on which passage es ^uintilian, Gisanittj shut: This opinion-of Quintilun is, the greatest part •f it, unanimously condemned by the ancients aud

znodercs.

Bartbittt.

There are many things in Lucretius, that are not to be found elsewhere.

The fame Author. So great is the beauty of the pure and simple, that is to fay, of the ancient, and almost only L»tinity, that it easily prevails with intelligent readers, and such a« are not superstitious, to contemn, in comparison of it, the . borrowed charms of a gaudy and painted diction. This comes into my mind, chiefly when I read the poems of Catullus and Lucretius; for, of all the Latin poets, who have survived to our days, these two deserve the preference; and, therefore, no diligence can be misemployed, no pain nor study superfluous, that may tend to the right understanding of them, or to prevent their being corrupted.'

Laiiantivt.

All the errors that Lucretius advances, were long before asserted by Epicurus. . .

Pctrus Crinittts.

T. Lucretius Carus is believed to be descended of the family of the Lucretii, which, at Rome, was held to be very ancient and noble. He wa«i little older than Tcrentius Varro, and Marcus Cicero, as some have written: this is the rather to be taken notice of, because in the annals which we have from the Greeks, there are many things erroneously related, and perversely set down, contrary to the truth of chronology. He is represented to have been a man of a vast and soaring wit, in writing of verses. He was wont to apply himself to the muses at several intervals of time; not without a certain fury and rupture of mind, as the authors of antiquity deliver. Quintiltan witnelfes, that Æmilius Macer, and Titus Lucretius, eiccl in elegance of style; but that the poem of Lucretius is very difficult and obscure: this was occasioned not only by the subject itself, but by reason of the poorness of the tongue, and the rewnefs of the doctrine he taught, as he himself testifies. He writ fix bocks of the Nature of Things; in which he has followed the doctrine of Epicurus, and the example of the poet Empedocles, whose wit and poetry he praises with admiration. There are some who write, that the poem rf Lucretius was corrected by fully: it is not, therefore, improbable, that, by reason of his sudden death, he left ic incorrect and imperfect. Quinctus, the brother of Cicero, held in high esteem tit poetry of Lucretius; and allows his work to have a great deal of artfulness and wit: besides, that it ought not to be wondered at, that some of his verses seem rough, and almost like prole. This was peculiar to the age in which he writ, as Furius Alkinus fully witnesses in Macrobius, whose words are as follows: No man ought to have the worse esteem for the ancient poets upon this account, because their verses seem to be scabrous; sor that style was then in greatest vogue; and the following age had much ado to bring themselves at length to relish this smoother diction. Thcrejbre, even in the days of the emperors the VcfpaCans, there were not wanting some, who chose to read Lucretius rather than Virgil, and Lucilius than Horace.

Franciscut Floridui Sabinut. T. Lucretius was an excellent philosopher, and often gives very satisfactory reasons of the things that seem to happen contrary to nature.

Hicromymut Afcrcurialii. Lucretius was the first who explained the Nature of Things in the Roman tongue ; and he burrowed many things from Democritus, Epicurus, and Hippocrates.

yu/ii/j Scaligtr. Lucretius was a divine man, and an incomparable poet.

Cafavbt*.

Lucretius is the best author of the Latin tongue. Jujlut Lipstui.

There are some antiquated, and almost obsolete words to be sound in Lucretius, Ennius, and other ancients; but, though they are now out of use, and banished from our present way of speaking, yet, out of the respect due to antiquity, they ought to be carefully retained, and religiously preserved in the writings of the aucients.

J\fcLbier jsuniui. The diction of Lucretius is pure, plain, and elegant, tbuugh he defends the opimous of Epicurus.

Aldus Phi.

Lucrctiu», even in the judgment of the ancients, is both a very great poet and philosopher, but full of lies; for, having followed the Epicurean sect, kit opinions concerning Ood, and of the creation of things, are quite different from the doctrine of Plato, and of the other academics; for which reason, some believe that he ought not to be read by Christians, who adore and worship the true Pod. But since truth, the more it is inquired into, shines the more bright, and appears the more venerable, Lucretius, and all that are like Lucretius, even though they be liars, as they certainly are, oughts hi my opinion, to he read.

AJrianut Tvrnihut. Lucretius, in his plcaGng poem, has seasoned his series with a certain delightful relish oi anti

tjuuj.

Dionjstut Lmabhui, in bit Epiftlt Dedicatory H Clarlt' IX. the Most Christian King. If among the few remains of the writings of the ancients, which have escaped as from a shipwreck, there be any sort of learning, from whence many and great advantages have accrued to us, it is from their poems, &c. But you will fay, that Lucretius argues against the immortality of the soul, denies the providence of the gods, overthrows all religion, and places the chief good in pleasure. This is not the fault of Lucretius, but of Epicuru,, whose doctrines Lucretius followed. His poem, though he advances in it some opinions that are repugnant to our religion, is, nevertheless, a poem; nay, and a beautiful noble poem too, distinguished, illustrated, and adorned with all the brightness of wit, ttx.—What though Epicurus and Lucretius were impious; are we, who read them, therefore impious too? How many assertions are there in this poem, that are consentaneous to the opinions and maxims of the other philosophers I How many probable! How many excellent and almost divine! These let us lay hold on; these let us seize; these let us approve of.— Besides, are we so credulous and easy of faith as to believe, that what assertions soever all manner t>£ writers have left recorded in their works, are as true as if they had been pronounced from the o. racle of Apollo? And since we daily read many things that are sabulous, incredible, and false, either to give some respite to our minds, or t<i make us the more willingly acquiesce in, and the most constantly adhere to such as are uncontro^vertibly ttue; what reason is there, that we should contemn or neglect Lucretius, a most elegant and beautiful poet} &c.—1 return to our great and excellent poet Lucretius, the most polite, most ancient, and most elegant of all the Latin writers; from whom Virgil and Horace have in many places borrowed not half, but whole verse;. He, when he disputes of the indivisible corpuscles, or first principles of things; of their motion, and of their various figuration; of the void; of the images, or tenuitous membranes that fly off from the surface of all bodies; of the nature of the mind and foul; of the rising and setting of the planets; of the eclipse of the fun a: d moon; of the nature of lightning; of the rainbow; of the Averni; of the causes of diseases, aud of many other things, is learned, witty, judicious, and elegant. In the introductions to his books; in his Comparisons; in his examples; in his disputatious against the fear of death; concerning the inconveniences and harms of love; of steep and of dreams, he is copious, discreet, eloquent, knowing, and sublime.—We not only read Homer, but even get him by heart, because, under the veils of fables, partly obscene, and partly absurd, he it, deemed to have included the knowledge of ail natural and human things. Shall we not then hear Lucretias, who, without the disguise of fablefc, and such trifles, rot truly indeed, nor piously, but plainly and openly, and as an Epicurean, ingeniously, wittily, and learnedly, and in the most corrtct and purest of styles, disputes of the prin

« EdellinenJatka »