NaNoWriMo and Lucretius

November 3, 2008

First, I’d like to note that National Novel Writing Month has officially begun, and so I probably won’t be updating very often since I’ll be too busy trying to write 1,667 words of a novel every day. Apologies to my enormous audience. I’m sure you’ll persevere.

Second, let’s talk about Lucretius. I’ve read the first book of his so-called epic about the nature of things, and I am not finding it to be very epic at all. Interesting, thought-provoking, enjoyable, but not epic.

It has been posited that this qualifies as an epic because it conforms to some epic conventions. It is written in dactylic hexameter, which was the accepted metrical scheme for epic poems. It contains an invocation to the muse, in this case Venus, who is not really a muse but is a goddess so it still counts. It sort of includes a journey to the underworld. But there is one teeny tiny problem:

It has no hero.

The professor argues that the epic hero in this case is the idea of naturalism, or materialism or whatever you want to call it. The antagonist is supernaturalism or spiritualism. These are ideas, not people, and so to call them heroes or antiheroes is a bit of a stretch. So far, I’m not buying it.

It’s a great poem, though, and it’s amazing to realize that some of the Greeks (and through them the Romans) had figured out that matter was made up of tiny particles that couldn’t be seen with the naked eye. Also that these particles combined to form the myriad organic and inorganic things that make up the world. Once again, my elementary education fails me, because for some reason I thought scientists had come up with this stuff in the last century or two. Obviously it wasn’t as sophisticated or thoroughly examined in the days before microscopes, but the idea was nonetheless there.

We’ll see how the rest of the poem pans out, and then on to next week’s epic: your favorite Old English poem and mine, the one, the only, Beowulf. I already have a copy but this may be an ideal opportunity to snag the Seamus Heaney version, which is quite excellent. Decisions, decisions.

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