Lucretius Franco-Hibernicus: Dicuil's Liber de Astronomia and the Carolingian Reception of De Rerum Natura

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Abstract

Since its coinage in the nineteenth century, the concept of Carolingian renaissance has been primarily based on the revival of classical texts promoted by Charlemagne and his successors. Among the positive consequences of Carolingian classicism is the careful – if discreet – preservation of the text of Lucretius' De Rerum Natura, which survives in three valuable ninth-century manuscripts. Whereas rigorous philological studies of these manuscripts have been offered, little attention has been paid to their role in, and connection with, the reception of Lucretius in ninth-century literature. It has been generally assumed that for the Carolingians the DRN was essentially a source for grammatical and metrical usage, and extensive efforts have been made to distinguish between direct and indirect quotations of Lucretian lines. In the present paper, I shall adopt a different approach, starting from the observation that the diffusion of DRN in ninth-century Europe coincided with an increasing interest in its content. I shall argue that a deeper understanding of Lucretius' Carolingian reception can be achieved if one overcomes the dichotomies usually maintained by the philological 'Quellenforschung', as such dichotomies tend to overshadow the historically and culturally specific features of the early medieval practice of 'imitatio'. By endorsing the perspective of intertextual studies, reception theory, and rhetorical criticism, I shall point out a so far unrecognized 'imitatio Lucretii' in the astronomical work (Liber de Astronomia) of the Irishman Dicuil, whose allusions to Lucretius – particularly to the cosmological treatment of Book 5, the so-called “apology” of Book 1 (921-950 = 4.1-25), and the calf argument of Book 2 (352-366) – are representative of the peculiarities of Carolingian reading culture.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)224-252
Number of pages29
JournalILLINOIS CLASSICAL STUDIES
Volume45
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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