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Holdings : Four little poems, op. 32, piano solo / | York.


We know virtually nothing, beyond what little can be inferred from the poem itself, of Lucretius' biography. There is just one contemporary reference to him (or near contemporary, depending on the date of his death): it is found in a letter of Cicero, written in 54 BCE, where he briefly agrees with his brother about the ‘flashes of genius’ and ‘craftsmanship’ that characterize Lucretius' poetry.

What we can say for sure is that the poem is dedicated and addressed to a Roman aristocrat named Memmius, although it is not altogether certain which member of the Memmius family this was. Lucretius expresses a hope for Memmius' friendship, but that does not rule out the possibility of an asymmetric client-patron relation, as distinct from one of genuine social equality.

The other biographical data are late and untrustworthy. They put his birth in 94 BCE, his death in either 54 or 51. (A case has even been made, by Hutchinson 2001, for dating his death later still, to the early 40s BCE). We can, at all events, say with some confidence that Lucretius wrote his poem in the mid first century BCE.

Whether or not the poem is altogether in the finished state that Lucretius would have wanted, its six-book structure is itself clearly a carefully planned one. It falls into three matching pairs of books:

The sequence is one of ascending scale: the first pair of books deals with the microscopic world of atoms, the second with human beings, the third with the cosmos as a whole. Within each pair of books, the first explains the basic nature of the entity or entities in question, the second goes on to examine a range of individual phenomena associated with them. A further symmetry lies in the theme of mortality, treated by the odd-numbered books. Book I stresses from the outset the indestructibility of the basic elements, while books III and V in pointed contrast give matching prominence to the perishability and transience of, respectively, the soul and the cosmos.

In addition to this division into three matching pairs of books, the poem can also be seen as constituted by two balanced halves, orchestrated by the themes of life and death. It opens with a hymn to Venus as the force inspiring birth and life. The first half closes, at the end of III, with Lucretius' long and eloquent denunciation of the fear of death. And the poem as a whole returns at its close to the theme of death, with the disquieting passage on the frightful Athenian plague during the Peloponnesian War: whether or not this, as we have it, is in its finished form, there can be little doubt that the placing of its theme itself somehow represents the author's own orchestration.

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We know virtually nothing, beyond what little can be inferred from the poem itself, of Lucretius' biography. There is just one contemporary reference to him (or near contemporary, depending on the date of his death): it is found in a letter of Cicero, written in 54 BCE, where he briefly agrees with his brother about the ‘flashes of genius’ and ‘craftsmanship’ that characterize Lucretius' poetry.

What we can say for sure is that the poem is dedicated and addressed to a Roman aristocrat named Memmius, although it is not altogether certain which member of the Memmius family this was. Lucretius expresses a hope for Memmius' friendship, but that does not rule out the possibility of an asymmetric client-patron relation, as distinct from one of genuine social equality.

The other biographical data are late and untrustworthy. They put his birth in 94 BCE, his death in either 54 or 51. (A case has even been made, by Hutchinson 2001, for dating his death later still, to the early 40s BCE). We can, at all events, say with some confidence that Lucretius wrote his poem in the mid first century BCE.

Whether or not the poem is altogether in the finished state that Lucretius would have wanted, its six-book structure is itself clearly a carefully planned one. It falls into three matching pairs of books:

The sequence is one of ascending scale: the first pair of books deals with the microscopic world of atoms, the second with human beings, the third with the cosmos as a whole. Within each pair of books, the first explains the basic nature of the entity or entities in question, the second goes on to examine a range of individual phenomena associated with them. A further symmetry lies in the theme of mortality, treated by the odd-numbered books. Book I stresses from the outset the indestructibility of the basic elements, while books III and V in pointed contrast give matching prominence to the perishability and transience of, respectively, the soul and the cosmos.

In addition to this division into three matching pairs of books, the poem can also be seen as constituted by two balanced halves, orchestrated by the themes of life and death. It opens with a hymn to Venus as the force inspiring birth and life. The first half closes, at the end of III, with Lucretius' long and eloquent denunciation of the fear of death. And the poem as a whole returns at its close to the theme of death, with the disquieting passage on the frightful Athenian plague during the Peloponnesian War: whether or not this, as we have it, is in its finished form, there can be little doubt that the placing of its theme itself somehow represents the author's own orchestration.


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