"Poetic Simultaneity" and the Genre of Lucretius' De rerum natura

Daniel Markovic

University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign 

Questioning the view of ancient literary criticism according to which didactic poetry belongs to the category of epos, in her Poetics of Latin Didactic (2002) Katarina Volk seeks to provide a theoretical foundation for the contemporary notion of Greek and Latin didactic poetry as an actual literary genre. Volk's definition of didactic genre is based on four common characteristics of the texts which represent the category, namely: 1. "an explicit didactic intent of the poet"; 2. "a teacher—student constellation"; 3. "poetic self-consciousness"; and 4. "poetic simultaneity" (Volk 2002, 36-40).

Since Volk's main goal is to distinguish didactic poetry from the category of epos, she disregards potential complications involved in her definition. In this paper, using Lucretius' De rerum natura as a test case, I wish to discuss at least one of these complications—an intriguing formal similarity between the organizing principles of Luc-retius' poem and those of Cicero's De lege Manilia and De officiis, and pseudo-Ciceronian Rhetorica ad Herennium. I develop my discussion in two steps. First, I use the categories of poetic simultaneity, explicit didactic intent, and the teacher—student constellation to show that, if the traditional criterion of the epic metre is not taken into account, Volk's definition places Lucretius' poem in the same group with sym-bouleutic speeches, technical treatises, and philosophical treatises. Next, I answer the question of how the cross-generic similarities re-vealed by Volk's categorization help us to understand the problem of the genre of De rerum natura.


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