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 never lacked for readers, critics and imitators. It is a text that has aroused unusual passions both positive and negative because of its philosophical content and the uncompromising voice in which that content is delivered. Virtually every major figure in the European Enlightenment was in some way influenced by Lucretius, and examining the reactions to Lucretius in the eighteenth century is essential to understanding the central intellectual concerns of the Enlightenment more generally, ranging from materialism and the influence of the passions on human affairs to the origins of organised religion. And yet, surprisingly little work has been done on the reception of Lucretius in the eighteenth century and the precise role his work played in the key intellectual debates of that period. Although recent important studies on the Enlight enment 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 ongo ing 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 and literary 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.
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