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Lexicon Philosophicum: International Journal for the History of Texts and Ideas

A peer-reviewed online resource, yearly published by the Istituto per il

Lessico Intellettuale Europeo e Storia delle Idee (CNR-ILIESI)

EDITORS-IN-CHIEF: Antonio Lamarra (Executive Editor), Roberto Palaia (Managing Editor)

ASSOCIATED EDITORS: Claudio Buccolini, Maria Cristina Dalfino, Gian Carlo Fedeli, Hansmichael Hohenegger,
Cristina Marras, Ada Russo, Francesco Verde

GRAPHIC DESIGN: Simona Lampidecchia

EDITORIAL ASSISTANT: Maria Cristina Dalfino

ADVISORY BOARD: Luciano Canfora (Bari), Marcelo Dascal (Tel Aviv), François Duchesneau (Montréal), Daniel
Garber (Princeton), Tullio Gregory (Rome), Elisa Germana Ernst† (Rome), Norbert Hinske (Trier), Christia
Mercer (New York), Massimo Mugnai (Pisa), Hans Poser (Berlin), David Sedley (Cambridge)

Lexicon Philosophicum, via C. Fea, 2

00161 Rome, Italy

The individual contributions are made available Open Access under the Creative Commons General Public License
Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-Alike version 3 (CCPL BY-NC-SA).
© The CNR-ILIESI have the collected works copyright on the printed issues and digital editions of the Journal.

ISSN 2283-7833
Periodico iscritto al n. 216/2013 del Registro della Stampa del Tribunale Civile di Roma
Direttore responsabile: Antonio Lamarra - Condirettore: Roberto Palaia
5, 2017

1 Ricordo di Germana Ernst a cura di Eugenio Canone
3 Hommage à André Robinet par Antonio Lamarra
5 Ricordo di Wilhelm Totok a cura di Roberto Palaia

7 MICHAEL KEMPE, Löcher im Netz. Zwischen den Zeilen der Leibniz-Korrespondenz
21 ANTONY MCKENNA, Pierre Bayle historien de la philosophie: un sondage
61 HARTMUT RUDOLPH, Daniel Ernst Jablonski: ein Brückenbauer im Europa der
Frühen Neuzeit

79 SERGIO BARRIONUEVO, Archaic Thought and Sophistry in Herodotus’ Histories
3.38.1: Some Remarks on the Concept of νόμος
97 GRAZIANO RANOCCHIA, Diogene di Babilonia e Aristone nel PHerc. 1004 ([Filodemo],
[Sulla retorica], Libro incerto). Parte seconda
127 MARIALUCREZIA LEONE, Coscienza e sinderesi in Goffredo di Fontaines
161 ANDREA CECCARELLI, “Neve Lucretius a me indefensus maneat”: Girolamo
Mercuriale, il De rerum natura e la medicina nel Rinascimento

189 Lucretius and his De rerum natura Six Centuries after. A Conversation with
David Sedley, by Francesco Verde


193 GUIDO GIGLIONI, Germana Ernst interprete di Girolamo Cardano
199 PIETRO SECCHI, Agostino in Cusano: occorrenze, contesti, riferimenti
211 GIOVANNA VARANI, Leibniz 2016. Iniziative e studi a suggello di una vitalità
speculativa inesaurita nel trecentesimo della morte
221 KILIAN FLEISCHER, Report about the 28th International Congress of Papyrology
(Barcelona, 2016). Herculanean Papyri And Non-Invasive Unrolling Techniques
227 LINDA SPINAZZÈ, Edizioni digitali: rappresentazione, interoperabilità, analisi del
testo e infrastrutture. Quinto Convegno Annuale AIUCD (Venezia 2016)

ABSTRACT: In this interview David Sedley reflects on some important points of his
seminal interpretation of Lucretius’ De rerum natura six centuries after its discovery in
1417 by Poggio Bracciolini (Terranuova, now Terranuova Bracciolini, 1380 – Florence,

KEYWORDS: Lucretius’ De rerum natura; Epicurus; Empedocles; Herculanum Papyri;

Ancient Philosophy, Hellenistic Philosophy

QUESTION: What is distinctive about this text among other famous works of ancient
philosophers which by good luck have been preserved?

ANSWER: What is most remarkable about the De rerum natura is that to all
appearances it was written, and achieved fame, as a contribution to the
Roman literary canon, and was not treated as a specifically philosophical
text and source until a much later date; yet for us it is by far the fullest and
most informative available source on Epicurean physics, and among our
best sources on Epicurean ethics as well.

QUESTION: Please could you summarize the outcome of your research on the close
relationship between Lucretius’ poem, Empedocles, and the Herculaneum Papyri, which
you studied in your seminal book Lucretius and the Transformation of Greek Wisdom
published in Cambridge (Cambridge University Press) in 1998? By the way, what exactly
does the title of this volume mean?

INTERVIEWS - LPh 5, 2017

ISSN 2283-7833
Lucretius and his De rerum natura Six Centuries after

ANSWER: In my book I argue for the following closely connected claims.

(a) Lucretius makes a firm distinction between his literary and his
philosophical debts, and, correspondingly, between his poem’s form and its
content. The content is, as he concedes, the difficult and demanding
subject of the world’s true nature, which he compares to bitter medicine
that will nevertheless, if we persist with it, ultimately transform our lives
for the better. The form, which he compares to the honey on the rim of a
cup that enables children to take their medicine, is the seductive poetic
(b) This latter, formal aspect is unmistakably derived from the Greek
master of his genre, the 5th century poet of nature Empedocles.
(c) For the content, analogously, Lucretius draws directly on his
philosophical master, Epicurus himself, and not on lesser, intermediate
sources. Specifically, his material on Epicurean physics comes from
Epicurus’ major treatise On Nature, and mainly from the first fifteen of
that work’s thirty-seven books. The Herculaneum library has provided us
not only with evidence for the availability of this treatise in first-century
BCE Italy, where Lucretius worked, but also with valuable information
regarding the specific content of many of its individual books. Hence my
hypothesis about Lucretius’ source can be tested, and is systematically
tested in my book, by reference to a substantial body of data.
(d) As that same hypothesis predicts, Lucretius’ arguments and polemics
constantly reflect the philosophical context in which Epicurus was writing,
and do not show signs of any updating in the light of developments that
occurred in the two centuries separating Lucretius from Epicurus,
including the various debates that had taken place between Epicureans and
Stoics. On this ground I call Lucretius an Epicurean ‘fundamentalist’: like
other fundamentalists, he is content to rely on his school’s foundational
scriptures, and does not expect that consultation of any writings postdating
them would add anything significant.
(e) Nevertheless, because Epicureanism promises salvation from suffering
to all mankind, and not just to Greeks, Lucretius recognizes the need to
make Epicurus’ philosophy fully at home in his native Latin culture. In aid
of that ambition, he develops a native Roman mode of exposition,
exploiting the resources of the Latin language to the full in order to save
Epicureanism from the appearance of an alien import.
(f) It is primarily to this cultural transformation that my book’s title refers.
But it also, if secondarily, refers to Lucretius’ philosophical transformation

Lucretius and his De rerum natura Six Centuries after

of his great Greek poetic forerunner and model, in adapting Empedocles’

didactic genre so as to voice the one true philosophy, Epicureanism.

QUESTION: Despite some studies which consider Lucretius as ‘son of his time’, in dialogue
with other philosophical schools and informed about the doctrinal developments of the
Epicurean school (e.g. J. Schmidt, Lukrez, der Kepos und Die Stoiker: Untersuchungen zur
Schule Epikurs und zu den Quellen von De rerum natura, Frankfurt/M.-Bern-New York-
Paris, Peter Lang, 1990; and the more recent volumes by F. Montarese, Lucretius and his
Sources: A Study of Lucretius, De rerum natura I 635-920, Berlin-Boston, De Gruyter,
2012, and F. A. Bakker, Epicurean Meteorology: Sources, Method, Scope and Organization,
Leiden-Boston, Brill, 2016), do you continue to consider Lucretius an ‘Epicurean
fundamentalist’ (as you argue in your book, Ch. 3), and, therefore, to believe that the
sources of the poem are exclusively attributable to the works of Epicurus (primarily, his
On Nature)?

ANSWER: Yes, I do. Some of the work you mention has provided a valuable
counterweight to my case, but not of sufficient quantity or cogency to
make me reconsider my original contention. I had already remarked in my
book (p. 91) that even if one or two instances were to be identified in
which Lucretius did appear to have taken into account some philosophical
development that postdated Epicurus, it would not alter the overall case,
based as this is on the poem’s overwhelming concentration on the issues
and debates that belong to Epicurus’ own time, in stark contrast to the
updated presentations of Epicureanism that we meet in Lucretius’
contemporaries Cicero and Philodemus. Bakker has made the most skilful
case so far for the presence of at any rate one anti-Stoic polemic (at DRN
1.1052-93), but concedes that, even if well founded, it need not be enough
to damage my overall contention.

QUESTION: Do you believe the hypothesis (recently once again questioned by M. Capasso,
“Il preteso Lucrezio ercolanese”, Atene e Roma, n.s. 8/3-4, 2014, p. 145-171) of the
Norwegian classical scholar Knut Kleve (starting from his pioneering article “Lucretius in
Herculaneum”, Cronache Ercolanesi, 19, 1989, p. 5-27) that a copy of the De rerum natura
was preserved in the so-called ‘Villa dei Papiri’? What are the consequences of the presence
or absence of this text in the Epicurean circle of Philodemus of Gadara? More in general,
what is the relationship between the De rerum natura and the works of Philodemus
preserved by the Herculaneum Papyri?

ANSWER: I have great admiration for Kleve, but I was never convinced by his
claims to have found Lucretian fragments among the Herculaneum papyri.
Small and damaged fragments apparently attributable to two great Latin
poets, Ennius and Lucretius, were identified only because Kleve was

Lucretius and his De rerum natura Six Centuries after

actively looking for them. This is a high-risk methodology, and

unsurprisingly the attributions have, one by one, had to be modified or
altogether withdrawn. The negative case has been well and succinctly made
by David Butterfield, The Early Textual History of Lucretius’ De rerum
natura (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2013), p. 5-6.
Even if fragments of De rerum natura were one day to turn up among the
remains of Philodemus’ book collection, that would not significantly
strengthen the case for direct contact between Lucretius and the circle of
Philodemus. The owner of this Epicurean library could, like anyone else,
readily buy books on the open market.
There are, however, reasons why I do not expect such a discovery ever to
occur. Philodemus, if his surviving works are at all representative, worked
extensively on ethics, aesthetics and philosophical history, but had very
little interest in physics. Nor was he likely to read philosophical works in
Latin, any more than other Greek philosophers in the ancient world did.
There was therefore very little apparent motivation for him ever to acquire
a copy of the De rerum natura.

QUESTION: What role does a revolutionary text such as the De rerum natura play in
contemporary scientific and philosophical debates?

ANSWER: The rediscovery of Lucretius’ poem in the Renaissance helped in

due course to inspire early modern atomism, and we must always be
grateful for that. Although Lucretius is no longer a direct contributor to
any scientific debate, he would be able to boast that, among all the
philosophical systems of antiquity, his was the only one whose
fundamental contentions about man’s place in the universe have been
strengthened, rather than overturned, by modern science.

Sapienza Università di Roma / Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg