Granting Epicurean Wisdom at Rome: Exchange and Reciprocity in Lucretius' Didactic (DRN 1.921-950)

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In the first book of De Rerum Natura, Lucretius describes his didactic undertaking as a metaphorical process of gift exchange (1.50-53): the obscure and salvific precepts of Epicurean philosophy, skilfully arranged in hexameters, are said to be 'gifts' (dona) that the poet has prepared with loyal zeal (studio fideli). Such a suggestive depiction of Lucretius' relationship to the work's dedicatee, Gaius Memmius, seems to reflect a relevant functional pattern of De Rerum Natura as a coherent system of communication strategies, variously readapting social models and cultural traditions. The present paper employs the interpretative approach of gift theories – the thought-provoking theories elaborated by modern anthropologists in order to explain the structure of archaic societies – as a key to understand the poetics of Lucretius' didactic. Since K. Polanyi's and M. Finley's path-breaking studies, several surveys have pointed to the role of exchange practices in the Graeco-Roman world, remarking on the impact of pre-modern gift-giving patterns on ancient literature (e.g. Gill et al. 1998, Bowditch 2001, Coffee 2009, Satlow 2013). However, much more attention should be paid to the special case of Lucretius in light of the influence of two important backgrounds: the milieu of Roman society, in which patronage relationships and interpersonal transactions played a prominent role (Veyne 1976, Saller 1982), and the tradition of Epicurean communities, which conveyed their doctrinal teachings though a series of reciprocal bonds, ideally supported by a thorough reflection on giving, gratitude, and the transmission of knowledge. The present paper reassesses the evidence provided by Roman and Epicurean sources (especially Philodemus' treatises On Frank Criticism and On Gratitude, Epicurus' fragments, and Diogenes of Oenoanda's inscription) in order to further investigate Lucretius' rhetoric of persuasion.
Lingua originaleEnglish
pagine (da-a)275-337
Numero di pagine63
RivistaHarvard Studies in Classical Philology
Stato di pubblicazionePublished - 2018


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