CC 302: Introduction to Ancient Rome (Unique # 28450)
CC 347: The Cultural History of Rome (Unique # 28560)

Lucretius, Book 3: Study Guide

General guidelines

  1. Remember that Lucretius is a philosopher with a specific aim in mind: he wants to prove that there is no life after death, and therefore we do not need to fear death. At each step of the way, keep track of where his argument is going. How is he building his case against beliefs in immortality?
  2. At the same time, Lucretius is a poet. Pay attention to how he strives to make his text not only persuasive, but at the same time impressive and beautiful. What kinds of images does he use? What kind of language? What other poetic techniques do you notice?
  3. Pay particular attention to the words in your text in italics. They keep track of the basic arguments.

Notes and questions to consider

  1. humans have a vital spirit in them
  2. mind and spirit are interconnected
  3. mind and spirit are both composed of matter
  4. this matter is atoms, scattered sparsely throughout the whole body

Why are these arguments important for Lucretius' general argument that we should not be afraid of death? What do you think of them?

  1. Why is death nothing to us, according to Lucretius? Do you agree?
  2. On pp. 122-124 Lucretius evaluates various ways humans respond to the prospect of death. What does he think of these responses? Do you agree with him?
  3. What arguments does Nature make to humans in her speech (pp. 124-126)? Do you agree with them?
  1. Tantalus, according to Lucretius, has a boulder hung over his head
  2. Tityos spends eternity having his liver eaten by birds
  3. Sisyphus spends eternity pushing a huge stone up a slope. Every time he gets near the top, the stone rolls back down.
  4. The maidens to whom Lucretius refers are the daughters of Danaus, who spend eternity carrying water in sieves.

Lucretius argues that these figures are allegories for what humans actually experience in life. What do you think of this argument?


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