Honeyed cups: latent didacticism in Lucretius' De Rerum Natura
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This dissertation approaches Lucretius' poem as an attempt to communicate persuasively across the border between science, Literature and religion. Acknowledging the challenge that Lucretius was issuing to his Roman audience, I offer a reading of De Rerum Natura as a piece ofphilosophical evangelism directed toward individuals in a society that was generally apathetic toward philosophy and particularly hostile toward Epicureanism. Many of Lucretius' contemporaries perceived the Epicurean doctrines of divine passivity as a threat to the sanctity of traditional morality and an attempt to dismantle the very framework on which their society was built. In this hostile intellectual climate, Lucretius employed literary convention and rhetorical innovation in order to make his rejection of the supernatural acceptable and appealing to an audience steeped in a culture of myths and gods. To this end, Lucretius presented his audience with a philosophical treatise that, in part, resembled an epic poem. Lucretius himself likened his poetry to the honey rimming the medicine cup to disguise the bitter taste of the philosophy within (1.925ff.). This dissertation identifies new "honeyed cups" beyond Lucretius' use of verse. I begin by defending the poem's disputed didactic intent as genuine (ch. 1), and outline the challenges that Lucretius faced in presenting his philosophy to his Roman audience (ch. 2). I then characterize the subtle didacticism that Lucretius employed to overcome those challenges (ch. 3), bringing together the contributions of previous Lucretian scholarship to form a complex picture that reveals Lucretius' use of wordplay , literary allusion, and progressive naturalization of myth as elements of a unified pedagogical strategy (ch. 4). I then proceed to describe the psychagogic quality of "latent myths," illuminating previously underappreciated passages in which Lucretius subtly references popular mythology within descriptions of natural phenomena, creating implicit mythological allegories that serve both to naturalize myth, and also to encourage subliminally the impulse to see nature's truth within supernatural fictions (ch. 5).
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Boston University. An updated version of this dissertation was published in TAPA 143.2: "The Specter of Tantalus: Didactic Latency in Dererum natura." https://classicalstudies.org/publications-and-research/TAPA/tapa-issue-1432