Lucretius  
On the Nature of Things
Anyone who thinks that skeptical materialist philosophies are a
recent invention would do well to read this two thousand year
old classic.   We know little about Lucretius' life, and the stories
told by St. Jerome of the philosopher's poisoning with a love
potion, his subsequent insanity and eventual suicide seem to
run counter to the hard-headed and practical tone of this work.  
 Drawing on the philosophy of Epicurus, Lucretius tackles many
of the major conceptual issues that have continued to bedevil
thinkers of all eras -- the essence of matter, the role of spirit
and mind, the nature of time and space -- and many of his
conclusions are surprisingly sophisticated, especially given the
primitive state of scientific knowledge at the time.  His concept
of atoms, and combinations of atoms, as fundamental building
blocks of matter was quite prescient, and his skepticism about
the role of supernatural forces in day-to-day life is not much
different than views espoused by many today.  But Lucretius
was more than the Stephen Hawking of his day, he was also a
poet, who constructed his philosophical system in a rugged
hexameter, and many passages (for example the introduction
to Book 1) are deserving of study if only for their literary style.

WEB RESOURCES

Here are on-line versions of De Rerum Natura in Latin and
English  

A biography of Lucretius can be found
here     

Check out
Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem "Lucretius"

Here is a photo of a ninth century manuscript of De Rerum
Natura
TIPS FOR READERS

Take your pick.  Rolfe
Humphries is better at
presenting Lucretius the
poet, while
Ronald
Latham is superior at
conveying the arguments
of Lucretius the
philosopher.  I give the
nod to Humphries, but
only by a nose.