- Lucretian Receptions: History, The Sublime, Knowledge
Students of Latin literature need no introduction to the work of Philip Hardie. Although he has written on topics across the classical canon, he is perhaps best known as an influential critic of Virgil. His 1986 book, Virgil’s Aeneid: Cosmos and Imperium, which traces the Aeneid’s articulation of Roman imperial ideology in cosmological idiom, remains, whatever one’s position on its arguments, a central monument within recent Virgilian criticism. One achievement of that work is its demonstration of how Virgil’s epic is informed by the writing of his Epicurean precursor, Lucretius. As the volume under review shows, the last quarter-century has only deepened and expanded Hardie’s fascination with Lucretius’ relationship to later authors, above all, Virgil. Lucretian Receptions now joins Hardie’s earlier writing (and Monica Gale’s Virgil on the Nature of Things [Cambridge, 2000]) as a significant English-language resource for mapping Lucretius’ presence in the Latin literature of the late Republic and early Empire. While the work manifests some blindspots—in particular, certain theoretical questions about the shape of Hardie’s critical practice and the nature of his broader project remain unanswered for this reviewer—the strength and insight of its detailed interpretations should make it standard reading for both Lucretians and those interested in the history of Latin literature more generally.
With a reach that extends from Homer to Milton, the volume is neither exclusively a treatment of didactic nor of Latin literature; taken as a whole, it tends towards the articulation of a broader strain of Lucretian tropes and themes within ancient poetry, a strain whose tradition is bounded neither by language nor genre and whose chief voices include Homer, Empedocles, Lucretius, Virgil, Horace, and Ovid (as this list makes clear, many “Lucretian” tropes and themes antedate Lucretius himself; Hardie occasionally places Lucretius within a tradition of “Empedoclean” rather than “Lucretian” epos). Not unlike Hardie’s earlier book, which locates the influence of Lucretius’ didactic, natural-scientific poem upon a narrative epic, this work finds textual traces of the Epicurean poet in places where they may be less expected and where, at least historically, some critics have denied them. Thus we find within the volume treatment of the connections between De rerum natura and Virgil’s bucolic poetry or Horace’s lyric alongside the more expected (and well-explored) indications of Lucretius’ impact on the Georgics. Further, as the work’s subtitle hints, it is organized as a collection of topical, thematic essays rather than as a sustained, sequential argument. This arrangement (which betrays the diverse origin of the chapters) allows Hardie to pursue Lucretius and his place in the ancient poetic landscape unconstrained by, if also well aware of, the traditional features—genre, natural-scientific theme, philosophical bent—that, at least occasionally, have encouraged critics to locate Lucretius outside the main currents of classical and post-classical Latin poetry.
The volume consists of eight chapters, six published in some form previously, [End Page 532] which collectively treat the broad subjects “Time, history, culture,” “Sublime visions,” and “Certainties and Uncertainties.” Argument generally proceeds by close reading, or through tracking close verbal reminiscence (often visually articulated by boldface highlighting). Yet this attention to detail does not prevent Hardie from making important larger connections: his first chapter, for example, “Cultural and historical narratives in Virgil’s Eclogues and Lucretius,” begins by tracking gen- words (genetrix, genitalia, gignant, etc.) in De rerum natura (13–15), but it quickly turns these detailed observations into a reading (based on Ovid Ars Amatoria 3.337) of Aeneas as the atomic, “original substance” of Rome. Similarly, his final chapter concludes with a pointed verbal reminiscence of Lucretius in Andrew Marvell’s “On Paradise Lost”: for Hardie, Marvell’s mention of “delight and horror” (l. 35), which conjures up Lucretius’ divina voluptas . . . atque horror DRN, 3.28–29), captures perfectly the similarity between Lucretius’ and Milton’s sense of the strong connection between verbal composition and the composition, or creation, of reality (278–79...