- Savoir de la nature et poésie des choses: Lucrèce et Épicure à la Renaissance italienne
The poet Lucretius wrote repeatedly that he expected the Muses to reward him for teaching clearly about a subject so obscure as nature itself, helping to free the mind from its tight bonds of superstition. The self-proclaimed hero of the poetry of physical nature was prophetic on both counts. De rerum natura became [End Page 577] the principal source of the materialist philosophy of Epicurus (341–271 BC), and even readers who reviled or distorted Master Epicurus's doctrines revered his Roman poet-disciple's artful expression thereof. A key role in winning that fame for Lucretius was played by scholars of the Italian Renaissance as they brought the text beyond the monastic library and entered its teachings into the eclecticism of their times. Susanna Gambino Longo's research into the reception of Lucretius in Italy during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries describes the reintegration of Epicurean perspectives into the mainstream and the period's reflection on the relationship between literature and science, particularly in the writing of poetry about physical nature.
Longo joins Eugenio Garin (1961) on Epicureanism in the Quattrocento and Simone Fraisse (1962) on the influence of Lucretius in France in the sixteenth century. The events that rekindled the study of Lucretius and Epicureanism in the early fifteenth century and those marking its waning at the end of the sixteenth century frame Longo's study. The introductory chapter, "L'Aventure d'un texte," is an appealing historical commentary on the dramatic history of the reception of Lucretius and Diogenes. While not the radical discovery the humanists claimed it to be, Poggio Bracciolini's recovery of De rerum natura in 1417 was a watershed event. Three years earlier the complete Greek text of Diogenes' Vitae philosophorum had arrived in Italy, and the West once again had both surviving witnesses to Epicurus's teachings. Soon after came the first serious critical attention given to De rerum natura by Michael Marullus, Giovanni Pontano, Pomponio Leto, and Angelo Poliziano. The Synod of Florence of 1515 prohibited further printing of Lucretius in Renaissance Italy, but intellectuals of all kinds, critics and imitators, philologists, humanists, and scientists, worked throughout the sixteenth century, with varying approaches and different degrees of success.
Longo divides the six main chapters of her study according to the same thematic and poetic subthemes that Lucretius proudly cited in his own work. The first half, "Du plaisir à l'atome," studies the impact of Epicureanism on Renaissance ethics, the supposed connection between Epicureanism and an emerging atheism, and the relationship between Epicureanism and the dominant Aristotelian theory of the natural world. The second half, "La poésie des choses," discusses the variety of approaches and applications of scientific poetry among Renaissance authors, from Bartolomeo della Fonte of Medicean Florence and Giovanni Pontano's Neapolitan Academy to the Paduan Girolamo Fracastoro and the Dominican Tommaso Campanella.
Lucretius assumed a heroic role in telling through poetry the grand design of physics without a metaphysics. His Renaissance readers responded diversely: Lucretius, although overwhelmingly respected, was a figure of many portraits, as mere versifier or sublime visionary, dogmatist or skeptic, hedonist and libertine or champion of sober austerity, critic of true religion or its defender. Longo employs a "phenomenological" methodology, "guided by the works and by the solutions which they themselves seemed to offer" (9) in presenting the individual writers and [End Page 578] their wide-ranging perspectives on "a great number of themes crucial to Renaissance culture" (301). Approaches ranging from Brucioli's and Gassendi's "veritable baptism" of Epicurus (89–97), to Bruno's and Vanini's rigorous endorsement of Epicureanism's critique of superstition (97–111) are presented alongside one another.
The diversity notwithstanding, Longo reports several conclusions. As summarized (301), the study of Lucretius and Epicurus reflected rather than rebelled against the dominant sensibility of the period...