Lucretius’ De rerum natura is a provocative and absorbing poem. In this seminar, we will try to come to grips with some of the questions it raises, while familiarizing ourselves with basic aspects of the poem and its study.
Some areas over which where our reading and discussion will range:
• the DRN’s presentation of Epicurean physical doctrine, but also Epicurean ethics, psychology, and epistemology; while “Lucretian” Epicureanism is not heterodox or original, we will be as regularly preoccupied as Lucretius is with the significance of the Latin and poetic form by which this legacy of doctrinal “content” is delivered
• a wide range of subjects that includes: zoology, anthropology, history, sex, politics, myth, the gods, religion, Epicurus, cosmology, death, fear, pleasure, perception and sensation, language, nature, culture, technology
• notable features of the DRN’s poetics, including: metapoetics, genre and rhetorical mode, polemic, allusion, metaphor and simile, structure, style, evangelism, self-representation
• the poem’s literary relations with Lucretius’ predecessors (Homer, Hesiod, Empedocles, Thucydides, Hellenistic poets, Ennius)
• the poem’s situation within the literary, intellectual, and historical world of the late Republic, especially its connections to the work and literary projects of Catullus, Cicero, and Sallust
For most of the semester, we will meet once a week to discuss assigned reading in Lucretius, in other relevant ancient texts, and in scholarship. We will then suspend group meetings for a week or two of individual conferences with the instructor meant to help advance paper ideas, then reconvene in the remaining weeks of the semester for paper workshops.
Students taking the seminar for four units will be graded on the basis of a final research paper, various short assignments for class, and in-class participation. Students taking the seminar for two units are responsible for completing all elements of the course apart from the final paper.