Of the many things I have read recently, one thing stands out in my mind in high relief. It is the opening of Lucretius’ masterwork on Epicurean philosophy, De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things). Here Lucretius invokes Venus to help him craft this work, identifying her as the governor of all nature and the one through whose light all else comes into being. With her help, Lucretius trusts that he can write his truths with confidence and ability in defiance of dominant philosophical norms.
Lucretius goes on to extol the great wisdom of that ancient Greek, Epicurus, claiming that the philosopher saved humankind from foully groveling upon the ground by liberating people from religious superstition. Superstition, he goes on to say, is the source of true impiety and criminality, made manifest in Lucretius’ example in the sacrifice of child virgins.
Why do people succumb to religious superstition and such horrible deeds, he queries rhetorically. Because of fear of death, terror at the anticipation of penalties in the afterlife, and the desire to avoid tribulations during life. So great is the fear of suffering that it makes people susceptible to religious exploitation and subordinate to the authority of priests, whose power rests exclusively on superstition. Such a ruinous condition can only be countered by the philosophical examination of nature, including all things celestial and terrestrial, spiritual and material. Having prayerfully introduced his case and the reason for his critique, Lucretius proceeds to explore the basic tenets of Epicurean metaphysics and ethics. Continue reading “Venus and Mary by Natalie Weaver”