Matters of Life and Death
Lucretius, On the Nature of the Universe
before you start:
- The course
reader includes all of On the Nature of the Universe book III. You only need to read the passages
indicated by the marginal numbers in the greensheet. To make these
easier to find, I've marked the passages with brackets. (For example,
the first passage, III.26-95, runs from the bottom of page 67 to the middle
of page 69.)
is an atomist. He thinks all that exists in the universe
is atoms (little bits of matter) and void (empty space). This means
people are just composed of matter and empty space. Understanding
atomism will help you understand Lucretius' take on what death really is
to a human being.
Lucretius is an Epicurean.
He thinks that the only things that are good are those that bring us awareness
of pleasure, and the only things that are bad are those that bring us awareness
Here are some questions to help guide your reading
of these selections.
to Lucretius, how is spirit related to body?
to Lucretius, what happens when we die?
to Lucretius, why do we fear death (i.e., why do we think it's bad for us)?
to Lucretius, why is death really nothing to worry about? (Why does
he claim that such worrying is actually bad for us?)
- Do you
disagree with Lucretius' claims or conclusions? How?
Strategy for reading these selections:
- Read the
questions before you start reading the assigned passages so you
know what to pay attention to.
- When you
see a part of the reading that seems to relate to one of the questions,
write down the question, the page number, and the answer you think you're
getting from this passage.
- If you
can, try to give the author's answers to the questions in your own words.
- Jot down
quotations that you find especially striking -- whether because they seem
exactly right, dead wrong, or very hard to understand.
jot down words or phrases in the passages whose meanings you don't know.
after you have read the whole assignment, go back to the questions and try
to give at least a partial answer to each. (Don't go back to particular
sentences you underlined for this -- try to answer based on what has
stayed with you from the reading.)