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Mon, 27 Apr 2009 20:02:48 -0500
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The Cambridge Companion to Lucretius. Edited by STUART GILLESPIE AND PHILIP 
HARDIE. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Pp. xiv + 
365. Paper, $36.99. ISBN 978–0–521–61266–1.

Order this text for $34.82 from Amazon.com 
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Previously published CJ Online reviews are at 

CJ Forum Online 2009.04.04

Following in the footsteps of Virgil, Horace and Ovid, “lonely” 
Lucretius now has a companion, a Cambridge Companion, that is. [[1]] 
Readers longing for a singular focus on the text of Lucretius may be 
disappointed by what they find here, but those with a broader notion of 
classical studies will recognize the virtues of this volume, if also its 

Hardie and Gillespie have assembled a collection of essays that—without 
entirely leaving direct studies of Lucretius’ text to the side—leans 
more than slightly toward the burgeoning discipline of classical reception. 
The volume consists of three sections, “Antiquity,” “Themes” and 
“Reception”; and as many as thirteen of the nineteen essays in these 
sections may be said to be, at least in part, works of reception studies, 
including all those within the latter two divisions. Essays range from the 
history of science to the Middle Ages, from Victorian Britain to “the 
moderns.” Even many of the pieces in the “Antiquity” portion of the 
volume treat, rather than the text of Lucretius itself, Lucretius’ 
philosophical or poetic predecessors or the “reception” of his text 
within antiquity.

What does this mean? One answer is that this volume tests the dictum put 
forward by Charles Martindale in the form of a rhetorical question: “What 
else indeed could (say) ‘Lucretius’ be other than what readers have 
made of him over the centuries?” [[2]] If this is correct, the volume 
under review is every bit as much “Lucretius” as the “Lucretius” 
one finds in (say) Donald Dudley’s edited Lucretius volume of 1965, 
although all but one or two of the essays here would make strange 
accompaniments to largely New Critical fare such as “The Language of 
Lucretius” and “Imagery in Lucretius” (both found in Dudley’s 

Many changes—theoretical revolutions and counter-revolutions—have 
passed through classical studies since the 1960s, so it is hardly 
surprising that alongside Joseph Farrell’s “Lucretian architecture” 
and E.J. Kenney’s “Lucretian texture”, which largely offer close 
readings of rhetoric, style, form and structure, there are pieces here that 
attempt to connect Lucretius to his contemporary culture (e.g. papyri from 
Herculaneum and Roman Republican politics) or to various intellectual and 
literary histories (e.g. Greek philosophy, Latin literature, history of 
science, Renaissance, Enlightenment, etc.). Critical pluralism is alive and 
well in this Companion. Yet if the Companion is critically plural, serving 
as a home to intellectual history, cultural criticism and literary history, 
it is perhaps worth asking what it still leaves out: if “Lucretius” is 
“what readers have made of him,” which readers are given voice and 
which silenced?

One way of answering this question is to frame it in terms of the 
(self-consciously) “imperialist vision” of classics that Martindale 
offered in a recent essay on classical reception: [[3]] “Two things above 
all I would have classics embrace: a relaxed, not to say imperialist, 
attitude towards what we may study as part of the subject, and a subtle and 
supple conception of the relationship between past and present, modern and 
ancient. Then classics could again have a leading role among the 
humanities, a classics neither merely antiquarian nor crudely presentist, a 
classics of the present certainly, but also, truly, of the future.” 
Although Martindale explicitly eschews the descriptor “imperialist,” we 
certainly have an image of classics encroaching upon the “relaxed” 
borders of other disciplines. If we may borrow this image, what borders, 
however “relaxed,” does The Cambridge Companion to Lucretius fail to 

Despite the fact that the “imperialist” volume invades many moments 
from well before Lucretius’ poem to the present day, the basic answer is 
that it is geographically centered on Western Europe and England in 
particular. It is no doubt true that the history of the reading of 
Lucretius, himself a European poet, is richer in Europe; but there is a 
story to be told, for example, of American poet Rolfe Humphries’ 
engagement with and translation of the Epicurean. [[4]] Americans do appear 
in the collection—Pound and Zukofsky both merit brief mention—but the 
reception of Lucretius as told here is heavily English and French. Further, 
even within the Western European encounter with Lucretius, the story 
focuses mostly on literature in its traditional sense and not so directly 
on (e.g.) influential philosopher-theorists who have studied him. The name 
Deleuze is not found in the Companion’s index or bibliography, 
although—as the English version of Logic of Sense shows—the philosophe 
had more than a passing interest in Lucretius.

Yet within these limits The Cambridge Companion to Lucretius provides a 
selective overview of contemporary approaches to Lucretius, and it 
generally does that well. Some of the essays, e.g., Schiesaro’s piece on 
“Lucretius and Roman politics and history” (which should be of interest 
to classicists who presume that Epicureans were a- or anti-political, as he 
successfully sketches an anti-imperialist, Lucretian politics and takes 
steps towards locating culturally and politically a poet often seen apart 
from Roman culture) and Porter’s essay on “Lucretius and the sublime” 
(which brings Lucretius into modern discussions of subjectivity), are 
genuinely groundbreaking. Others, e.g., Warren’s “Lucretius and Greek 
philosophy” and Gale’s “Lucretius and previous poetic traditions,” 
provide useful, up-to-date summaries of their topics. Some, though, are 
more puzzling. Michael Reeve’s contribution, for example, begins by 
asking “Where did the accent fall on mulier in the oblique cases?”, 
which may be a fine opening salvo in some instances but not for a volume 
that claims to be “completely accessible to the reader who has read 
Lucretius only in translation” [Back Cover]. Little of the Latin in 
Reeve’s essay is translated, and although it is possible to make some 
sense of his discussion with limited language skills, it seems incorrectly 
cast for the stated target audience. This is a pity, for the story of 
Lucretius’ medieval survival (when so much Epicurean material was utterly 
destroyed) needs to be better—and more accessibly—told.

Whatever its shortcomings, though, this volume remains a welcome addition 
to the thin bookshelf of general introductions to Lucretius and his 
reception. One has to go all the way back to George Hadzits’ (1935) 
Lucretius and his Influence to find an English-language treatment of the 
Epicurean poet that comes anywhere near this volume in scope. Even if the 
present collection occasionally misses the mark, it is far more scholarly 
and useful as a research tool than Hadzits’ long out-of-date account. 
Other reception histories of Lucretius are needed to complement Hardie and 
Gillespie’s collection; but for the moment at least, we are lucky to have 
it. [[5]]

Stanford University
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[[1]] On Lucretius’ rather Romantic loneliness, cf. e.g. O. Regenbogen, 
Lucrez: seine Gestalt in seinem Gedicht (Leipzig and Berlin, 1932) p. 15: 
“…Lucretius is solitary [einsam] …Lucretius is alone [allein], 
yearningly striving for the light from his darkness, glowing from his 
experience, thirsting to share it solicitously, sorrowfully striving after 
his friend and patron, overflowing in his thanks towards his savior.”

[[2]] Charles Martindale, Redeeming the Text: Latin poetry and the 
hermeneutics of reception (Cambridge, 1993) p. 10. I have substituted 
“Lucretius” for Martindale’s original “Virgil.”

[[3]] The term “imperialist vision” is employed by Duncan Kennedy in 
his “Afterword” to Charles Martindale and Richard F. Thomas, eds., 
Classics and the Uses of Reception (Oxford, 2006) p. 293. The following 
quotation (by Martindale) appears on that same page.

[[4]] Humphries’ well-known translation appears in the bibliography of 
the Companion, but there is no discussion of it amongst modern poets.

[[5]] I have noted few errors, none of substance, in the volume. A random 
sampling: p. 75: “Hermann 1956” should be “Herrmann 1956”; p. 110: 
1965 (middle of page) should be followed by a colon rather than a 
semi-colon; “Winbolt 1908” (9 lines from bottom) should be “Winbolt 
1903”; p. 294: Figure 18.1, Sir George Beaumont’s Peele Castle in a 
Storm should be re-done, as it is quite difficult to make out the image in 
its black-and-white reproduction. [Readers should look rather to the (much 
more striking and sublime) color reproduction of the same image on the dust 
jacket.]; p. 329: Benjamin 1999 was published at Cambridge, MA; p. 343: 
Long’s 1977 piece has been re-worked and re-published in his From 
Epicurus to Epictetus (Oxford, 2006).

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