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Death and End in Lucretius


Thursday, 12 December 2019 to Thursday, 28 May 2020
Total hours: 40
Hours of lectures: 40

Examination procedure

  • Report or seminar


This course is intended for PhD students. It requires a sure knowledge of Latin but also of the literary and cultural context, as well as the historical and political circumstances that form the background of Lucretius' work.


The course will deal with the structural function of the sixth book within the poem (discussing the different critical positions on the completeness of the poem), and the representation of the plague within the sixth book. A story, the plague of Athens (preceded by a catalog of violent phenomena of nature), which loses its strictly historical value to assume a mythical and symbolic one in the general framework of the whole poem and of human history. The comparison with the model of Thucydides, and also its various representations in the successful literary history of the theme, will be the object of in-depth analysis and will complete the examination of the book and its specific meaning in the overall message of the Lucretian poem.  

Educational goals:

The course aims to provide an in-depth illustration of  Lucretius' poem, of his philosophical-cultural and literary background, and discuss the issues specifically related to the last book of the poem.

Bibliographical references

Bibliography on Lucretius is no wonder endless. The most famous critical commented editions are that of A. Ernout, Paris 1920 (with French translation, and three volumes of commentary, by A. Ernout - L. Robin, Paris 1925-28), and the monumental one by C. Bailey, Oxford 1947-50 (also author of the OCT edition, Oxford 19222). As reference standard edition we will use the recent Teubnerian edited by M. Deufert (Berlin-Boston 2019), together with his Prolegomena zur editio teubneriana des Lukrez, Berlin-Boston 2017, and the parallel volume by D. Butterfield, The Early Textual History of Lucretius' De rerum natura, Cambridge - New York, 2013.

There are numerous, some of them valuable, scientific commentaries to individual books (or their sections). The best, among the many editions with Italian translation, are: the one edited by I. Dionigi (with translation by L. Canali and introduction by G.B. Conte), Lucrezio. La natura delle cose, Milan, Rizzoli, 1990 (later BUR, 1994); the one by A. Fellin (La natura, Turino Utet, 1983); or that in the Oscar Mondadori by G. Milanese, with an introduction by E. Narducci (La natura delle cose, Milan, 1992); that of F. Giancotti (La natura, Milan 1994); and the one by A. Schiesaro, with translation by R. Raccanelli, Turin, Einaudi, 2003. 

Among the major critical essays, especially the recent ones, see at least D. West, The Imagery and Poetry of Lucretius, Edinburgh 1969; P.H. Schrijvers, "Horror ac divina voluptas". Études sur la poétique et la poésie de Lucrèce, Amsterdam 1970; A. Schiesaro, ‘Simulacrum et imago’. Gli argomenti analogici nel "De rerum natura", Pisa 1990; M.R. Gale, Myth and Poetry in Lucretius, Cambridge, 1994; C. Segal, Lucrezio. Angoscia e morte nel "De Rerum Natura", Bologna 1998. Useful introductions to the poem are the Cambridge Companion to Lucretius, ed. by S. Gillespie and Ph. Hardie, Cambridge 2007 (with much space on modern reception) and the volume Lucretius (in the series Oxford Readings in Classical Studies), ed. by M. Gale, Oxford 2007. Further information will be provided during class.