The aim of this conference is to explore the impact of Lucretius’ De rerum natura on the intellectual and cultural history of Enlightenment Europe. Since its fifteenth-century rediscovery Lucretius’ work has aroused unusual passions, positive and negative, because of its philosophical content and the uncompromising voice in which that content is delivered. In the European Enlightenment virtually every major figure was in some way influenced by Lucretius. And yet, surprisingly little work has been done on the precise role the work of Lucretius played in the key intellectual debates of that period. Although recent important studies on the Enlightenment have given considerable attention to eighteenth-century Epicureanism, they have conceived of it as an abstract set of philosophical ideas, rather than the product of an ongoing reception of Lucretius’ text and a complex dialogue among Lucretius’ readers. By focusing on various specific engagements with the text of De rerum natura in certain intellectual contexts we shall not only provide a new and robust foundation for the study of Epicureanism in the Enlightenment, but also establish a new model for understanding the role the reception of ancient philosophy and literature played in European thought more generally.
By bringing together an international and interdisciplinary group of classicists, specialists in eighteenth-century literature, philosophers, and intellectual historians the conference will contribute substantially to improving our understanding of the Enlightenment, its engagement with classical antiquity, and the significance of this engagement for the cultural history of Europe.
Dr Thomas Ahnert
School of History, Classics and Archaeology
University of Edinburgh
50 George Square
Edinburgh EH8 9JY
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