The Reception Of Lucretius’ Second Proem: The Topos That Never Was

Valentina Prosperi (Dipartimento di Storia, Scienze dell’Uomo e della Formazione, Università degli Studi di Sassari)


This paper aims to reappraise the famous Lucretian proem of the
“shipwreck with spectator”. The analysis of early commentaries of the poem shows that our current interpretation, as reflected by present-day commentaries and scholarship, is biased by previous, Humanistic readings. These early readings, in turn, pointed to supposed parallels and antecedents to the Lucretian proem, which are not related to it. Once we discard the supposed parallels, we can fully appreciate the poignancy and singularity of the image, which in any case was not a topos in antiquity. Literary responses to the image have usually taken an antagonistic stance towards Lucretius and voiced the protests of the shipwreck victim rather than the serenity of the spectator. The question remains as to the significance of the image, which seems to voluntarily shake and subvert common ethics. The answer is to be found in Lucretius’ Epicureanism, which reveals the passage as being devoid of any callous overtones.

DOI: 10.4424/lam42015-1


Lucretius; Shipwreck theme; Latin literature; Compared literatures.

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