Aesthetic ethics in the De Rerum Natura of Lucretius

Godwin, John (1998). Aesthetic ethics in the De Rerum Natura of Lucretius. PhD thesis The Open University.



The avowed purpose of Lucretius' poem is the ethical conversion of the reader, but ethics comes a very poor second to the physics in apparent importance within the text. This thesis argues that for Lucretius ethics is closely linked to aesthetics in the following ways: 1) ethics for Lucretius is a matter of seeing the truth about the world and thus relies on our senses and αἴσθησιϩ 2) the wise man is advised to watch the world aesthetically with all its sufferings rather than become involved in politics and love himself, the aesthetic appreciation of the spectacle being recommended as the ethically correct way to live. This last is a theatrical stance and is well supported by Lucretius' debt to the theatre which underlies so much of the poem; the poem draws on the theatre as a metaphor and simile as well as using examples drawn from plays, both tragic and comic, in preference to taking ethical examples from Roman 'life'. The status of the ·wise man looking down is also close to that of the Homeric gods and gives the poet and the reader the divine life which the text promises both in the freedom from fear and pain and also in the serene appreciation of the world as an aesthetic phenomenon; it also explains the sense in which Epicurus is seen in the poem as divine.

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