Prima e dopo Epicuro: origine e sviluppo della civiltà nel De rerum natura di Lucrezio

Francesco Staderini


In Book 5 of De rerum natura, Lucretius offers a rational reconstruction of human prehistory. His aim is to get rid of the mythological tales that envisage human progress as the result of a providential intervention. In Lucretius' view, history is a gradual and non-univocal process, triggered by the need for something useful and developed through the discoveries of human ingenium.
In this paper, I argue that Lucretius sees human history as an amoral process, since from an Epicurean perspective there can be no moral meaning before the teachings of Epicurus about the limits of desires and pleasure. Therefore, Epicurus plays a key role in the cultural and social development of human civilization, and Lucretius depicts him as a quasi-divine figure. I argue that the poet’s purpose is to present Epicurus and Venus (qua personification of Epicurean hedonism) as the new patrons of Roman culture, thus replacing Mars and Hercules (the patrons of military expansionism) as well as Cybele (the personification of the mother earth, presiding over the nation's defence).
However, this is not the only strategy adopted by Lucretius in order to show the importance of his master’s philosophy to cultural history. At another level of the text, Lucretius also attempts to contextualize Epicurus' doctrine by showing that this is an ars among the others. Such an ars meets a fundamental need of man – i.e. to live happily, without moral fears and physical pain – by appealing to human rationality – i.e. to the study of natural phenomena and the invention of useful technai. Lucretius intentionally compares Epicureanism with another pleasant art, i.e. music, in order to show that the pleasure brought by Epicurus' philosophy and the one sought by music are of two very different kinds. The former is the katastematic pleasure of ataraxia (the liberation of human mind from the fear of death and of the gods), while the latter is the kinetic pleasure deriving from an incessant and disquieting desire for something new. In its conclusion, the paper recalls the Epicurean belief in the advent of a blessed time, when all mankind will reach ataraxia and the dramatic course of history will definitely be over.

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ISSN: 2281-3209                DOI Prefix: 10.7408

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