Poetic genetics : family, sexual reproduction, and community in Lucretius' De rerum natura




Takakjy, Laura Chason

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My dissertation examines family, sexual reproduction, and community in Lucretius’ poem De Rerum Natura and reconsiders the importance of these topics in Lucretius’ formulation of Epicureanism for a Roman audience. I argue that Lucretius modifies Epicurus’ teachings about family and sex to render Epicureanism more palatable to a Roman audience. I explore the cultural resonance of the social metaphors Lucretius uses to explain atomic movement, particularly in Books 1-3, and I argue that Lucretius presents the atomic world as built on cooperative relationships. In light of my findings regarding Lucretian atomic movement, I propose a new reading of Lucretius’ views on love and sexual reproduction in Book 4. I argue that Book 4 presents love as a bivalent phenomenon and that Lucretius finds conjugal love as most natural and in line with the atomic universe. Building on my analysis of Lucretian theories of love and sexuality, I propose a new reading of Lucretius’ presentation of marriage in Book 5. I argue that family, rather than friendship, is presented in Lucretius’ anthropology as the foundational social relationship in society, and, in this respect, that Lucretius departs from Epicurus. Next, I propose that Lucretius considers religio to be the greatest harm to the family, and I offer a contextualization of Lucretian pietas in Roman culture. I conclude my project with an analysis of the “Sacrifice of Iphigenia,” which I propose portrays Agamemnon as committing a crime against nature since he interferes with the cycle of generational renewal by killing his daughter. I contend that in this episode Lucretius formulates an Epicurean virtue of pietas, which aims, above all, at maintaining the integrity of the Roman family.