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From the origins of civilization to the triumph of death: the sixth book of Lucretius


Wednesday, 30 October 2019 to Thursday, 20 February 2020
Total hours: 56
Hours of lectures: 40
Hours of supplementary teaching: 16

Examination procedure

  • Report or seminar


This course is structured as a whole in three modules of 20 hours each. It is intended for undergraduate students, but even PhD students can participate in it (provided that they attend at least the second and third module). It requires a good knowledge of Latin.


The course has as its object the last book of Lucretius’ poem, which still lacks a satisfactory modern comment. The analysis will aim to highlight its structuring themes, the articulation of thought and the function of the book in the context of the entire poem (also in relation to the debated problem of its completeness), in particular trying to explain the link that connects its closure under the sign of death and destruction with the sunny and vitalistic opening of the hymn to Venus in the proem. Particular attention will be payed to the apocalyptic imagery and its literary history. 

Educational goals:

The course aims to provide an illustration of Lucretius' poem and its philosophical and literary background, inserting it into the cultural context of his time.

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.