Authored by: Aurélien Robert

The Routledge Companion to Medieval Philosophy

Print publication date:  January  2021
Online publication date:  January  2021

Print ISBN: 9780415658270
eBook ISBN: 9781315709604
Adobe ISBN:


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It is a commonplace to assert that atomism, the theory according to which reality is ultimately composed of indivisible entities, disappeared during the Middle Ages. This would be the result of a lack of knowledge relative to Ancient atomism before the rediscovery of Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things by the Italian humanist Poggio Bracciolini in 1417 and Ambroggio Traversari’s Latin translation of Diogenes of Laertius’ Lives of the Philosophers in 1433, which contains Epicurus’ Letter to Herodotus (Greenblatt 2011). These translations undoubtedly had a huge impact on Early Modern philosophy, as far as they lastingly changed our conception of the natural world (Wilson 2008). Nevertheless, medieval thinkers did have access to the atomist physics of Leucippus and Democritus through Aristotle’s critics (from the twelfth century onward in the West and even earlier in the Arabic and Jewish traditions). Moreover, quite early, Western philosophers were aware of Epicurus and Lucretius’ teaching through many intermediate sources, such as Cicero, Seneca, Lactantius, or Jerome to mention only a few (Jones 1989). What is more, Lucretius’ poem On the Nature of Things never ceased to be copied and read during the Middle Ages, at least for the teaching of Latin grammar, and our modern editions are still based on these medieval manuscripts (Butterfield 2013).

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