Seneca on the Mother Cow: Poetic Models and Natural Philosophy in the Consolation to Marcia

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Abstract

Seneca’s Consolation to Marcia embraces the orthodox Stoic view that, when unduly protracted, grief reflects a logical misunderstanding of the natural world, human life, and the limits of the self. Seneca is aware that persuading Marcia to leave her false beliefs is the only way to reawaken her interest in communal life, family reciprocity, and constructive memory. He conceives his consolatory writing as an intellectually engaging didactic work tailored to the needs and disposition of his addressee. The main purpose of the present paper is to show that in this and several other respects the Consolation to Marcia makes a conscious move towards the different but evidently related genre of didactic poetry. I shall focus on the literarily and philosophically dense section on general ‘praecepta’ which follows the opening gallery of ‘exempla’. At the very start of this section (7), Seneca embarks on a skilful (yet almost unrecognized) ‘imitatio/aemulatio’ of Lucretius' famous argument on the mother cow (2.352-366). A closer analysis of Seneca's intertextual allusion to Lucretius' piece of bravura and its Ovidian afterlife (Fast. 4.455-466) will reveal that the strategies of literary amplification and rewriting deployed in the Consolation support the construction of a distinctively Stoic paradigm of natural philosophy. While giving new shape to his poetic models, Seneca substantially revises the intellectual meanings of Lucretius' exposition, in an attempt to replace the Epicurean emphasis on physical diversity and animal cognition with the Stoic doctrine of a uniform, teleologically ordered cosmos.
Lingua originaleEnglish
Titolo della pubblicazione ospiteIntertextuality in Seneca's Philosophical Writings
Pagine179-197
Numero di pagine19
Stato di pubblicazionePublished - 2020

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