Anceps and Anfractus in Lucretius and Cicero

Catherine J. Castner

University of South Carolina

By the time Pomponius Mela (2.115) used angustum et anceps to describe the straits of Messina, Lucretius' use of angustus and anfractus to describe the Sicilian coastline had perhaps prompted later writers to connect compounds with an- with descriptions of Sicily.  This paper explores the connotations of anceps and anfractus in Lucretius and the Somnium Scipionis in Cicero's de re publica.  Scholars have recognized that coincidences between Cicero and Lucretius generally manifest influence from Lucretius on Cicero, and that Cicero uses Lucretian echoes (in some cases recalling Ennian precedents mediated by Lucretius) in both literary and philosophical senses (Pucci, SIFC 1966; Zetzel, Studies in Honor of Wendell Clausen 1998).  Moreover, Lucretius connected Epicurus and Ennius in a common Hellenistic context (Harrison, LICS 2003; Castner, Latomus Studies in Latin Literature and Roman History 2003). Focusing specifically on occurrences of anceps and anfractus in Lucretius and the Somnium, this paper will extend Zetzel's general characterization of common terms as "the result of the archaic and poetic color of the Somnium."

            Lucretius used anfractus in the description of  Sicily which introduces the praise of Empedocles (magnis anfractibus aequor-De Rerum Natura 1. 718).  Among five occurrences of anceps we find (6.377) ancipiti bello, a phrase which describes the turbulence of changing seasons but also evokes the second Punic War. Lucretius does not juxtapose anceps and anfractus; nonetheless their associations in his poem are discernible. Unlike Lucretius, Cicero brings anceps and anfractus into close proximity in de republica: At  6.12.3, Scipio relates his dream containing his grandfather's prophecy of ancipitem quasi fatorum viam; in the very next sentence, Cicero uses anfractus in a technical sense, of the circular motion of the sun (nam cum aetas tua septenos octiens solis anfractus reditusque converterit…a phrase with Lucretian precedent, recognized by Pucci, at De Rerum Natura 5.683).  Both usages in Cicero are somewhat unusual and have occasioned scholarly dispute in their interpretation.

Did Cicero associate anfractus with anceps due to mere alliterative appeal?  Or is Cicero's near juxtaposition of these words motivated by philosophical and/or literary intentions, and is the occurrence of the two words in such close proximity in the Somnium a conscious reminiscence of Lucretius? This paper suggests possible explanations for the coincidence that are grounded in literary design and common literary ground.

It is probable that in locating anceps and anfractus in successive sentences in the Somnium, Cicero invokes Lucretius in order to enhance its archaic, Hellenistic ambience.   Passages in De Rerum Natura containing anceps or anfractus suggest further associations along such lines. For example, Lucretius mentions the second Punic War to intentionally identify his poem as Ennian (Mayer, Papers of the Leeds International Latin Seminar 1990); and in Lucretian passages containing anceps or anfractus, Ennian elements link Sicily (for Roman authors, a geography associated with the past), Scipio, and the Punic Wars. While Cicero drew on these allusions to enrich the atmosphere of the Somnium, he did not infuse them with any philosophical content.

(Handout; fifteen minutes)



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