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Reading Lucretius in the Renaissance

Ada Palmer

Atomism, the theory that matter consists of tiny, indivisible atoms whose varied combinations form the different substances around us, existed in Europe for more than two thousand years before its modern popularity. Equally ancient are the scientic theories of vacuum, of multiple Earth-like worlds, and of creation from chaos, the theory that in the beginning atoms oating in the void clumped together randomly to form substances. On the Nature of Things (De Rerum Natura) by Titus Lucretius Carus (9455/51 bce) is the most complete surviving record of these ancient atomic theories, and even tells us that Earth originally produced a wide variety of creatures, but that only those suited to their environments survived to the present.1 These doctrines were all taught by Epicurus (341270 bce), and if his theories sound suspiciously like those of the twentieth century ce, one critical question is how these ideas were preserved and transmitted over the long period before their broad modern acceptance, particularly in the Renaissance. Few of Epicuruss writings survive,2 but in the late rst century bce a
I am greatly indebted in this project to the guidance of James Hankins, the aid of Ann Blair, Alison Brown, Brian Copenhaver, Craig Kallendorf, Stephen Greenblatt, and Michael Reeve, and the support of the Villa I Tatti Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, the Melbern G. Glasscock Center for Humanities Research at Texas A & M University, and the Fulbright Program. A monographic version of this study is forthcoming. 1 Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 5.837877. 2 James Hankins and Ada Palmer, The Recovery of Classical Philosophy in the Renais-

Copyright by Journal of the History of Ideas, Volume 73, Number 3 (July 2012)



Roman follower, Lucretius, laid out his key doctrines in Latin verse in the six-book didactic poem De Rerum Natura. The poem, and the bulk of classical atomism with it, disappeared after the ninth century, but was rediscovered in 1417 by the Renaissance book-hunter Poggio Bracciolini (1380 1459). Humanists produced more than fty manuscripts within a century and thirty print editions by 1600.3 Lucretius was taught in schools in France and Italy in the early sixteenth century, frequently enough for the Florentine regional Church council to ban teaching him in 1517,4 and for Petrus Nannius (15001557) at Louvain to complain of the absence of a suitable classroom edition in 1543.5 Despite this extensive circulation, and the comparatively broad appearance of Lucretian poetic themes in art and literature of the sixteenth century, atomism remained extremely rare in scientic circles until the seventeenth century, when Pierre Gassendi (15921655) hybridized Epicureanism, Skepticism, and Christianity.6 The question is how and why the text was used and multiplied so broadly while its core doctrines remained conspicuously absent from scientic discourse. I have approached this question through a systematic examination of marginalia in surviving Renaissance copies of the De Rerum Natura, a new technique which exposes how the reading practices of Renaissance humanists affected the transmission of ideas. The scholars we call humanists worked to restore classical civilization in the fteenth and sixteenth centuries by creating a new educational system founded on the study of classical texts. Humanism was supposed to produce virtuous men, who would imbibe in childhood the loyalty, nobility, courage, and patriotism which made ancient Rome strong, and without which the modern world was wracked by corruption, petty ambition, and cowardly self-interest. The beauty of ancient rhetoric was supposed to arm authors and orators to inspire virtue in others, especially princes. This humanism did not value learning only for learnings sake but had a very
sance, a Brief Guide (Florence: Istituto Nazionale di Studi sul Rinascimento, 2008), 6263. 3 Cosmo Gordon, A Bibliography of Lucretius (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1962). 4 J. D. Mansi ed., Sacrorum conciliorum nova et amplissa collectio (Paris: H. Welter, 19011927), 35: 270. 5 Dirk Sacre , Nanniuss Somnia, in La satire humaniste: Actes du Colloque international des 31 mars, 1er et 2 avril 1993, ed. Rudolf De Smet (Louvain: Peeters Press, 1994), 7793. 6 The persecution of Giordano Bruno testies to atomisms hostile reception, see Paul Henri Michel, The Cosmology of Giordano Bruno (Ithaca, N.Y.: 1973); Hilary Gatti, Giordano Bruno and Renaissance Science (Ithaca, N.Y.: 2002), especially ch. 8, and Essays on Giordano Bruno (Princeton: 2011), ch. 3.


Palmer Reading Lucretius in the Renaissance

practical agenda, to repair Europe through the education of its elite. As my ndings demonstrate, the specic methods of reading taught by this humanist agenda, with its focus on moral concerns and repairing Europe along classical lines, preserved and circulated the radical content of classical texts, even while only a tiny sliver of the humanists responsible for this transmission were demonstrably interested in the radical content.7 Humanist apologists, most comparatively orthodox, sheltered these texts, and endured great dangers to do so, as the tense relationship between science and heresy ared in the Renaissance as never before. From 1417 to 1600, while Epicureanism remained conspicuously absent from discourse on physics and natural philosophy, it was conspicuously present in discourse on heresy and atheism. The ancient atomists, Democritus, Epicurus, and Lucretius, appear universally in the lists of Famous Atheists which were a popular genre across Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.8 The association between atomism and atheism derives mainly from three points. First, by explaining physical phenomena through the natural properties of atoms, atomism eliminates divine governance of nature. While Lucretius insists that the gods exist, they are remote from the world and not responsible for its ordering or continuation. This systematic model of nature without divine participation made it possible for an atheist to have a coherent physics, and to nally answer such questions as How do the planets move without angels to push them? with something stronger than I dont know.9 Second, the Epicurean story of
On the classics and Renaissance science see Gianna Pomata and Nancy Siraisi eds., Historia: Empiricism and Erudition in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2005); William R. Newman and Anthony Grafton eds., Secrets of Nature: Astrology and Alchemy in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2001); Nancy Siraisi, Medieval and Early Renaissance Medicine: An Introduction to Knowledge and Practice (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 116, 12333; John Shirley and David Hoeniger eds., Science and the Arts in the Renaissance (Washington, D.C.: Folger Shakespeare Library, 1985) especially the title chapter by Alistair Crombie, 1526; George Sarton, The Appreciation of Ancient and Medieval Science during the Renaissance (14501600) (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1955); Nancy Siraisi, Life Sciences and Medicine in the Renaissance World, in Rome Reborn: the Vatican Library and Renaissance Culture (Washington D.C.: Library of Congress, 1993), 16998. 8 Alan Kors, Atheism in France, 16501729 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), 2930; C. J. Betts, Early Deism in France, From the so-called de istes of Lyon (1564) to Voltaires Lettres philosophiques (1734) (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1984), 26365; Nicholas Davidson, Atheism in Italy 15001700, in Atheism from the Reformation to the Enlightenment, ed. Michael Hunter and David Wootton (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 5586 especially 56 n. 7; Catherine Wilson, Epicureanism at the Origins of Modernity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008). 9 Davidson, Atheism in Italy 15001700, 6162.



the creation of the world from chance associations of atoms eliminates the Prime Mover, again reducing the necessity of the divine; this makes atomism critically different from the Aristotelian and Platonic systems which both posit a central creative force which Christians could equate with God. Finally, Epicuruss denial of the afterlife, which he intended to free men from fear of imagined torments after death, was associated in the Renaissance with a long-standing European paranoia that atheists, without fear of divine punishment, would have no reason to refrain from rape, murder, and other crimes, making it impossible for them to be good citizens.10 Thus, while Lucretius is not an atheist in the modern sense, his materialism and denial of the soul provide arguments which will prove essential to the later growth of atheism, as well as deism, skepticism and other radical heterodoxies. For this group of radical Lucretian concepts, those associated, in the Renaissance and now, with atheism, but which do not themselves attack the existence of the divine, I shall employ the label proto-atheism. Renaissance heresy-hunters drew no such subtle distinction between potential and actuality. Epicurean denial of the afterlife was infamous in the medieval world; indeed, well before 1517, Dante used Epicurean as the general label for those who believe the soul is mortal, who are punished in the sixth circle of Hell by being sealed forever in cofnsjust as they expected to bebut on re.11 Such doctrines would not, like Platos and Ciceros, rear virtuous men. Or so humanists thought. While these doctrines explain the Renaissance association of atomism with atheism, use of the term Epicureanism in discourse on heresy rarely had anything to do with doctrine. Catholics called Martin Luther an Epicurean, and allies refuted the charge in pamphlets which use the term constantly yet are practically without reference to Epicurean theory.12 Erasmus was called an atheist and Epicurean by his enemies,13 while at the siege of Bourges in 1562 pastors encouraged the Huguenots to call their Catholic
Kors, Atheism in France, 48, 24144, 25761; Paul Oskar Kristeller, The Myth of Renaissance Atheism and the French Tradition of Free Thought, Journal of the History of Philosophy 6 (1968): 24042. 11 Inferno 10.1315. 12 See Albert Hungers Orationes Duae, una, de Fide ac Religione Magni Illius Athanasii Alexandrini . . . altera de Homologia sive Consensu Concentuque Theologiae Lutheri cum Philosophia Epicuri . . . (Ingolstadt, 1582), and the opposing pamphlet Oratio de Vocatione et Doctrina Martini Lutheri . . . & Opposita Epicureae Prationi Alberti Hungeri . . . de homologia, sive consensu doctrinae Lutheri cum Philosophia Epicuri (Ingolstadt, 1583). 13 Brian Copenhaver and Charles B. Schmitt, Renaissance Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 242.


Palmer Reading Lucretius in the Renaissance

attackers epicoriens.14 The Protestant propaganda piece Le ReveilleMatin des Francois describes the favorites who traveled with the kings brothers as including Catholic lords, courtesans, atheists, Epicureans, blasphemers, and sodomites,15 while Nicholas Davidson has cited the sixteenthcentury case of a group of friars in Verona accused of living as sons of iniquity . . . as Epicureans and Lutherans.16 Here Epicureanism functions as a generic term of abuse, interchangeable with atheism, blasphemy, even sodomy. The Florentine edict banning Lucretius from the classroom targeted lascivious and impious works, perpetuating this association of Epicureanism, and heresy in general, with wantonness, since agrant sinners must not fear God.17 If in the sixteenth century Lucretiuss presence in classrooms and printing houses neither injected atomism into scientic circles nor reduced the use of Epicureanism as a generic synonym for heresy, the question becomes what circles Lucretius did penetrate, and how the thousands who did read him used the text. Formal writings like essays and commentaries show us only the polished reactions of early modern authors, written after they have evaluated ancient texts and often self-censored in anticipation of the censor and the Inquisition.18 Marginalia are not the only indicator of Epicurean interest we may seek, but they are particularly useful because they make it possible to directly compare the reactions of readers who did and who did not move on to use Epicureanism in their own works. Marginalia record the real moment of rst contact between a Christian reader and pagan thought.19 Such a moment is recorded in the Neapolitanus, annotated by the distin nigme de la Chronique de Pierre Belon (Milan: LED, 2001), 264. Monica Barsi ed., LE Nicolas Barnaud, Le Reveille-matin des Francois, et de leurs voisins (Edimbourg: De limprimerie de Iaques Iames Barnaud, 1574), 130. 16 Davidson, Atheism in Italy 15001700, 57. 17 Kors, Atheism in France, 28. 18 Commentaries, such as those of Francus (1504), Pius (1511), Capece (1535), Lambin (1563), Gifanius (15656), Palmerius (1580), Frachetta (1589), and the youthful work Ficino burnt, if indeed it was a commentary, will be treated in a forthcoming fuller version of this study. 19 On marginalia, see Craig Kallendorf, Marginalia and the Rise of Early Modern Subjectivity, in On Renaissance Commentaries, ed. Marianne Pade (Hildesheim; New York: Olms, 2005), 11128; William H. Sherman, What did Renaissance Readers Write in their Books? in Books and Readers in Early Modern England: Material Studies, ed. Jennifer Anderson and Elizabeth Saure (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002), 11937; Anthony Grafton and Lisa Jardine, From Humanism to the Humanities: Education and the Liberal Arts in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century Europe (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986); Vincenzo Fera, Giacomo Ferrau ` and Silvia Rizzo eds., Talking to the Text: Marginalia from Papyri to Print: proceedings of a conference held at Erice (Messina, 2002).
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guished philologist Pomponio Leto (142598), which, when Lucretius argues that the soul perishes at death, bears the rubricated legend: opinio non Christiana.20 Lucretiuss attack on the immortality of the soul is indeed incompatible with orthodox Christianity, but what is striking is less the fact that Leto found this passage notable, than that in the fty-two manuscripts in this study, none except Letos Neapolitanus and three copied from it note this central attack on Christian doctrine.21 Our task is to set aside our modern expectations of what elements of Lucretiuss text should be most striking, and to interrogate the marginalia for a portrait of what actually caught the eyes of the rst scholars to examine the book in six hundred years. I have surveyed fty-two of the fty-four known Renaissance Lucretius manuscripts.22 My technique for analyzing marginalia is largely quantitative. In a long text like the De Rerum Natura, notes are typically sparse in some sections and common in others, indicating areas of varying reader interest. An annotator may mark a line because it strikes him, because he wants to nd it easily, as an aid to memory, to help other users of the manuscript, or to correct a textual error. All but the last indicate an interest in the subject matter of the line in question, and even corrections are often more frequent in one section of a manuscript, indicating more careful reading. When notes cluster around the same lines in multiple, independent copies it is possible to map the interests of a typical Renaissance reader, and to identify individuals whose interests are unusual. Changes over time, particularly in the transition from manuscript to print, clearly demonstrate the transformation of scholarly reading practices over the fteenth and sixteenth centuries.
f. 62r of Naples Naz. IV E 51, opinio non christiana at 3.417. The three copies are Bodl. Can. Lat. 32, f. 54r, Berlin, Lat. f. 43r, and Basel F.VIII.14, f. 48v. 22 Two, former Bishop mss. 43 de Ricci and one from the Abbey collection, are in anonymous private collections. See Gordon, A Bibliography of Lucretius, 27992; Reeve, The Italian Tradition of Lucretius, Italia Medioevale e Umanistica 23: 2748 (Padua: 1980); Reeve, The Italian Tradition of Lucretius Revisited, Aevum 79: 11564 (Milan: 2005); Reeve, Lucretius from the 1460s to the 17th Century: Seven Questions of Attribution, Aevum 80: 166184 (Milan, 2006); Wolfgang Fleischmann, Lucretius Carus, Titus, in Paul Oskar Kristeller and Edward Cranz ed., Catalogus Translationum et Commentariorum, (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1960) 2: 349365; Paul Oskar Kristeller, Iter Italicum: a Finding List of Uncatalogued or Incompletely Catalogued Humanistic Manuscripts of the Renaissance in Italian and Other Libraries (London: Warburg Institute, 196392) 1: 332, 399, 2: 5, 69, 304; Giuseppe Mazzatinti, Inventari dei manoscritti delle biblioteche dItalia (Forli: 1891), 1: 100101, 13: 47. For information about Valencia Univ. 733 and Madrid BN 2885 I am indebted to Michael Reeve, and for ngel Traver Vera. information about Zaragoza Biblioteca Capitolar Ms. 1136 to A
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Palmer Reading Lucretius in the Renaissance

Quantitative analysis of marginalia can be applied to any text for which sufcient annotated copies survive. It applies particularly well to Lucretius because the work covers such a range of subjects. Only a small portion of the text, concentrated in Books II and III, directly treats atomic theory. The rest ranges from summaries of pre-Socratic thinkers like Democritus and Heraclitus, to a sex scene, to how to avoid falling in love, to the plaguealways of interest to Renaissance readers for whom plague was a constant neighbor. This diverse content means that a great range of motives beyond interest in Epicureanism might bring a reader to the text. Notes expose these idiosyncratic interests. For example, one Florentine copy contains only two notes, one on a line with unusual meter and another marking a parallel to Virgil, clearly made by a reader interested primarily in poetry.23 The creation and use of the manuscripts is partly, though far from fully, traceable. Those whose cities of production can be established were for the most part produced in Florence, Rome, or Naples. Half the surviving copies are on vellum, often illuminated, and the other half on less expensive paper. Many vellum copies contain coats of arms, indicating such prominent patrons as the Medici and Pazzi families, the Florentine banker Francesco Sassetti, Jacopo Zeno Bishop of Padua, Popes Sixtus IV and Pius II, Ferdinand I and Andrea Matteo III Aquaviva of Aragon, and John Tiptoft Earl of Worcester.24 Other copies were owned or used by Niccolo ` Niccoli, Poliziano, Pier Vettori, Francesco Marescalchi of Ferrara, Fulvio Orsini, Pomponio Leto and his circle, and Machiavelli. These owners establish the text as one welcome in the libraries of intellectually ambitious princes, but more commonly used by humanists, primarily in Italy. This variety in size and expense provides a good cross-section of the range of forms typically taken by Italian manuscripts of the classics. As for the creation of the annotation, the notes are overwhelmingly the product of scholars private reading, or occasionally small groups of scholars, usually engaged in transcribing a single teachers thoughts. Extensive annotation is the norm. Of these fty-two copies, only 6 percent are without annotation. 30 percent contain six or fewer notes; 12 percent contain six to twenty notes; 27 percent average around one note per page; and the remaining 25 percent contain at least two notes per page. Annotation is
23 Laur. Conv. Sopr. 453. At 1.124, f. 3r the annotator writes Virg, by a passage imitated in Aeneid 2.279, and at 1.212, f. 4v Terrai trisyllabum (Terrai with three syllables). 24 Gordon, A Bibliography of Lucretius, Appendix I.



generally more extensive in paper copies than in the more expensive vellum copies, and all those which lack any annotation are vellum, indicating copies produced for collectors libraries, rarely touched by scholars. Some copies, which bear extensive philological annotation, clearly served projects to correct the text, and early editions derive from some of them. Repeated patterns in annotation produced in multiple copies in the same city and period might provide evidence for classroom use, but no such patterns appear in the manuscripts, nor in the one hundred and seventy-two printed examples I have examined. The majority of annotations are single words, brief marginal comments or pen strokes bringing attention to particular lines. It is common for notes to be duplicated, with some modication, from copy to copy when new manuscripts are made from annotated originals. Comparison reveals seven recurring subjects of annotation, each representing a distinct type of reader interest. These are: philological corrections; notes about vocabulary; notes on poetry or referencing other poets; notabilia marking elements of Roman history and culture; notes of interest to scientic specialties, such as natural history, geology, or medicine; notes on atomism, physics, metaphysics, theology, or soul theory; and nally notes on Epicurean moral philosophy. Most manuscripts have multiple types of marginalia. Twenty-nine percent have more extensive annotation in one section of the book than the rest, another indication of specic interests. The most common notes in all Renaissance manuscripts of the classics are corrections, the residue of pioneering philologists who labored to undo the mutilation classics suffered during manuscript transmission.25 Ninety percent of Lucretius manuscripts contain corrections, and those which do not are those few with practically no notes. Thus, in most readers hands, the poem saw precisely the same use as less controversial classics. Every scholar who annotated Lucretius in the manuscript period did so in part to repair the text, and some left no evidence of any other use of it. The second most common category is notes recording unusual vocabulary, often by copying words into the margin. Some annotators copy a few words, others dozens or hundreds. Often the same words appear in multiple independent copies, revealing words most scholars had not met before they read Lucretius. For example, the rare verb cluere (to be named or esteemed) is marked in 27 percent of manuscripts and many print copies.26 Only rarely
See Avanciuss introduction to the 1500 Aldine Lucretius f. 3v. Cluere at 1.119, marked in Ambrosiana P.19 sup.; f. 4v; BM Harleian 2554, f. 3v; Cambridge Univ. Nn.2.40, f. 2v; Laur. 35.25, f. 3r, 35.31, f. 4r, and 35.32, f. 3r; Naples Naz. IV E 51, f. 11v and in the index of vocabulary on 5r; Rome Nat. O.85, f. 3r; Munich C1816a, f. 3r.
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Palmer Reading Lucretius in the Renaissance

does a commentator add a denition or synonym. The aim of these annotations is not to dene words but to draw attention to new terms to be memorized. The Neapolitanus even includes a handwritten list of vocabulary organized by page number for quick reference.27 Forty-four percent of the manuscripts mark Latin vocabulary, while 31 percent explore Greek, since Lucretius frequently employs transliterated Greek, and annotators supply the original in the margin. In the third category, poetic comments, the passages marked are those similar to, or imitated by, other classical poets. Brackets, pointing hands, or the names Virg or Ovid appear beside passages imitated by these authors.28 The Madrid manuscript follows the poem with a concordance of Lucretian lines in Virgil, Ennius,29 and others.30 Many readers also mark lines with defective scansion.31 In sum, twenty-seven manuscripts, 52 percent, have poetic notes, of which fteen explicitly mention Virgil, Ovid, Catullus, or Horace.32 The fourth category is notabilia, historical and cultural information about antiquity. Frequently annotators copy proper names into the margin, such as Iphianassa, Homer, Mount Etna, or the Phoeban Pythia.33 Sixteen manuscripts mark a section in Book III in which Lucretius gives a Whos Who of the underworld, listing famous sinners: Tantalus, Tytius, Sisyphus; and great men of the past: Xerxes, Scipio, Homer, and Epicurus himself.34 In sum, twenty-six manuscripts mark notabilia, so 50 percent of readers, more than marked vocabulary or poetry, used Lucretius in part as a sourcebook of general information about the classical world.
Naples Naz. IV E 51, inner yleaf f. 5r. On Virgil and Lucretius see Sacre , Nanniuss Somnia, 8084; Joseph Farrell, Vergils Georgics and the Traditions of Ancient Epic (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991); Richard Jenkyns, Virgils Experience: Nature and History, Times, Names, and Places (Oxford: Clarendon, 1998), especially chs. 5 and 6. 29 See Skutschs commentary in The Annals of Q. Ennius (Oxford: Clarendon, 1985), 12 and 14757. 30 Madrid Naz. 2995 ff. 154163. 31 See, for example, BM Harleian 2554 f. 34v (II 921). 32 On Virgil in humanist education see Craig Kallendorf, The Virgilian Tradition: Book History and the History of Reading in Early Modern Europe (Aldershot: Ashgate/Variorum, 2007) and A Bibliography of Renaissance Italian Translations of Virgil (Florence: L.S. Olschki, 1994); David Scott Wilson-Okamura, Virgil in the Renaissance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010). 33 Iphianassa (1.85), Homer (1.124), Mount Etna (1.722), the Pythia (1.739). 34 3.9781045 noted in Cambridge Univ. Nn.11.40 ff. 48v49v, Laur. 35.28 ff. 62v63r, BAV Lat. 3276 f. 94v, Pius IIs copy Amb. E 125 Sup (120122), Amb P.19 ff. 70v71v, Padua BC C.75, Rome Nat. O.85 ff. 51r52r, Bodleian Can. Lat. 32 ff. 48v49v, Naples Nn.2.40 ff. 78r79r, Marciana Cl. XII cod. 69, f. 49v and Munich Cl. 816a, ff. 68v69v.
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The nal three categories of annotation examine the poems philosophical and scientic content. I treat as one category notes on geology, physics, medicine, or natural philosophy, because they do not reect interest in Epicureanism as a functional system, nor in the proto-atheist aspects of Epicureanism. For example, four notes on storms in the Cambridge manuscript demonstrate an idiosyncratic interest in weather on the part of a reader who did not mark any other atomistic discussions.35 Other readers mark the sections on magnets,36 wind and waves,37 property and accident,38 or simulacra,39 but nothing on the basic properties of atoms. Medical issues are frequently marked, including the plague, the effects of alcohol,40 epilepsy,41 and how disease seems to gradually erode the soul, which Lucretius offers as proof of the souls materiality and destructibility. In the last passage, the lines which address disease are marked twice as often as the accompanying claim that the soul is mortal. A collection of medical manuscripts belonging to Galileos mentor Gian Vincenzo Pinelli (15351601) excerpts the sections from Book VI on the Athenian plague, discarding the non-medical sections of the poem.42 In sum, twenty-nine manuscripts, 58 percent, mark non-atomistic natural philosophy, nineteen medical topics. Of course, for Lucretius, natural philosophy and medicine are not divorced from atomism or proto-atheist questions, since it was by explaining lightning or magnets mechanistically that Epicurus strove to free men from fear of oppressive gods. Yet it was possible, in fact easy, for those readers who picked through the De Rerum Natura looking for treatments of specic physical questions, intending to compare Lucretius to authors already in their repertoire, to skim the poem without seriously considering the atomist theory, or the notion of a materialist Nature empty of divine
Cambridge Univ. Nn.2.40 marks 1.489497 f. 8r, 6.195203 f. 93v, 6.239245 f. 94v and 6.5946 f. 99v. 36 Laur. 35.28, 6.909 and 911 f. 136r; Munich Cl. 816a f. 139v; Pierpont Morgan Ms. 482 f. 130r 6.90912; Cambridge Univ. Nn.2.40 f. 104r 6.916; also Machiavellis BAV Ross. lat. 884 f. 127r though he marks vocabulary, not magnets themselves. 37 Munich Cl. 618a writes VENTI by 1.271 and AQUAE by 1.281 f. 6rv. 38 Marciana Cl. XII cod. 166 brackets I 4514 10v. 39 Rome Nat. O.85, 2.112 f. 19v. Ambros. P.19. sup. f. 89r contrasts Aristotle and Epicurus on vision at 4.823 f. 89r. 40 3.476486: marked in BAV Urb. Lat. 640 f. 51r; BAV Ott. lat. 1954, 1 f. 60r; Vittorio Emanuelle O85 f. 43r; Naples Naz. IV E 51 ff. 67r9r; Madrid Naz. 2885 f. 57v. The preceding discussion of disease is labeled morbus leti fabricator by 3.472 in Munich Cl. 816a f. 55r. 41 3.487494: marked in Piacenza Land. Cod. 33 71r; BAV Ott. lat. 1954, 1 60r; Padova, Bib. Cap. C 75; Naples Naz. IV E 51 ff. 68r9v. 42 Ambrosiana G.67. inf.


Palmer Reading Lucretius in the Renaissance

action. For example, none of Lucretiuss three suggestions for why the lengths of day and night vary actually mention atoms, merely the thickness of air or the actions of the winds, which in these few lines could as easily be gods as streams of matter.43 Excerpted, such a passage does not introduce the student of weather and astronomy to any radical Epicurean concepts. The strongest evidence of this tendency of readers to segregate smaller questions from the Epicurean system is provided by the manuscript at Piacenza, which demonstrates extraordinary scientic interest by illustrating geometric, geographic, and astronomical discussions. Yet the illustrations do not actually reect the text.44 Beside Lucretiuss discussions of day and night, the illustrators diagram demonstrates the traditional Christian-Aristotelian model of the Earth and spheres, copied from Isidore of Seville (ca. 560636), with the elemental spheres of earth, water, air, and re, a system which bears no relation to Lucretiuss atomism and, in fact, directly contradicts it. Even a reader concerned with science did not consider Epicureanism as a system. Picking selectively through Lucretius to focus on those scientic discussions to which Epicurean physics is not actually essential is not interest in atomism. What moderns think of as the most essential elements of Epicurean philosophy are very rarely marked. The few notes present in the portions of books II, III, and V where Lucretius explains atomistic physics are almost always corrections, vocabulary or notabilia. Fourteen manuscripts, 27 percent of the total, have notes on atomism, but half of these contain only one or two brief notes on tangential subjects, such as vacuum, perishability, or the names of Democritus and Heraclitus marked as notabilia. Iterations of Epicuruss claim that the universe existed from eternity, opposing the Christian doctrine of creation in time, are marked in ve manuscripts, less than half the number which marked the famous men in Tartarus.45 As for Epicurean denial of the afterlifethe denition of Epicureanism for critics from Dante to Lutheronly Pomponio Letos copy and three copied from it marked the opinio non Christiana.46 In fact, attention to atomism in manuscripts is so rare that the three manuscripts which do treat it more extensively, discussed individually below, are extremely conspicuous. There
DRN V.680704. Piacenza, Cod. 33; 1507. Reeve (1980): 31; Barbara Obrist, Wind Diagrams and Medieval Cosmology, Speculum 72 (1997): 3384. 45 1.159204, marked in BAV, BAV (1.159204, f. 3v, 4v), Ambros. E.125 Sup. (1.46, p. 2), Laur. 35.32 marks (1.159, 4r), Naples Naz. IV E 51 f. 10r. 46 Naples Naz. IV E 51; Bodleian Can. Lat. 32, Basel F.VIII.14 and Berlin Lat. Fol. 544.
43 44



is not space here for a thorough treatment of the incunables, which were produced and used in the same years as the manuscripts, but in these too the few with atomist annotation stand out conspicuously against many dominated by the other categories of marginalia.47 While notes on atomism or pseudo-atheist doctrines are rare in manuscripts, notes on Epicurean moral philosophy are common. The most frequently marked passage in the text is a description in Book IV of how to avoid the snares of love, marked in 30 percent of manuscripts. The stated goal of Epicureanism is to help adherents achieve pleasure and escape pain, and this passage explains one of its key tools, the rejection of romantic love in favor of temperate, reasoned relations between lovers. Elsewhere in the text, similar passages of moral philosophy are marked more than twice as often as passages of natural philosophy. In sum, 56 percent of readers marked at least one passage of Epicurean moral advice, more than any other topic except for non-atomist natural philosophy. Most readers saw Epicurean moral advice, more than Epicurean science, as the philosophical core of the text. This moral focus is not exclusive to Lucretius, nor are these larger categories such as philological notes and notabilia. Craig Kallendorf in his work on classroom notes in early editions of Virgil was struck by the frequency of notes on the poems moral character, which he too saw as conspicuously different from other common notes which focused, as they do in Lucretius, on vocabulary, grammar, mythology, and poetic questions.48 However much both poets might praise the happiness which comes from knowledge of nature, these annotators clearly read both Lucretius and Virgil for moral philosophy, literary and historical information, more often than for science or religion.49 Alison Brown and others have highlighted the importance of Lucretiuss discussion of primitive man, and its inuence on theories of primitivism
Girolamo Borgias transcription of Pontanos notes in BL IA.23564; Ambros. INC.186 (1495); Marciana Incun. Ven.702 (1495); BL IB.30763 (1486); Bodl. Auct. 2 R 4.50 (1500), whose annotations Michael Reeve has helped me identify, on the basis of provenance, as likely the work of Donato Giannotti; and Paris M YC 397, V95 (1495) pointed out to me by Alison Brown, see The Return of Lucretius to Renaissance Florence (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2010), 118. 48 Kallendorf, Marginalia and the Rise of Early Modern Subjectivity, 114; see also Craig Kallendorf, Virgil and the Myth of Venice: Books and Readers in the Italian Renaissance (Oxford: Clarendon, 1999), 3190. 49 Georgics II 490492, often cited by Renaissance Lucreziani to emphasize Virgils debt to Lucretius.


Palmer Reading Lucretius in the Renaissance

and incremental development.50 The treatment of the infancy of the Earth has substantial annotation in six manuscripts,51 and the creation of language in ve,52 while ten mark 5.11051140, which describes the miserable fate of those who pursue power and wealth, and promotes Epicuruss fundamental doctrine that true happiness comes only with tranquility.53 While the whole discussion of primitivism interested some, greater interest was reserved for moral issues: fortune, ambition, tranquility, and the virtues Petrarchs followers hoped to promote. The overwhelming majority of notes, over 90 percent, fall into the rst four categories discussed: philology, literary questions, vocabulary, and notabilia; categories which document activity unrelated to the poems philosophical content. This abundance of philological interest in the poem, and the many copies which contain no philosophical annotation, prove that a huge portion of the scholarly energy applied to Lucretius in the fteenth and early sixteenth centuries focused, not on the poems message, but on textual repair. The humanist desire to restore the ancient world through the reconstruction of its libraries was enough by itself to draw scholarly energy to a work. Some scholars were seriously interested in atomism in this period, a well-established fact for which I shall discuss fresh evidence below, but these radicals comprised a tiny minority of those responsible for the repair and multiplication of the poem. Even had no such radicals existed, the humanist obsession with textual repair, manifest in this extensive non-philosophical annotation, would have ensured the poems survival and multiplication. These annotations document how humanist faith in the inherent value of good Latin, especially poetry, was enough to guarantee the dissemination of a classical text, even if no one involved supported the theories explained therein. This interest in form, independent of content,
DRN 5.7721104. Brown, The Return of Lucretius to Renaissance Florence (2010) especially chs. 2 and 3; Gordon Campbell, Lucretius on Creation and Evolution: A Commentary on De rerum natura, Book 5, Lines 7721104 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003). 51 BL Harl. 2612 f. 94v, BAV Ott. lat. 1954 f. 118r, Walters W.383 f. 98v, Padua, Biblioteca Capitolare C.75, Naples Naz. IV E 51 ff. 122r124v, Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Cod. lat. mon. 816a ff. 110v111v. 52 Laur. 35.28 brackets V 925975 ff. 108v109r. Also marked in Verolanos BAV Ott. lat. 1954 22r, Piacenza Passerini-Landi Cod. 33 f. 152r, Ambrosiana P.19 sup. f. 120v and Laur. 35.27 f. 128v. 53 Ambrosiana P.19 sup. pf. 122v, Walters W.383 f. 103r, BAV Urb. Lat. 640 f. 105v, Pierpont Morgan MS 482 f. 107r, Piacenza Passerini-Landi Cod. 33 f. 144r, Verolanos BAV Ott. lat. 1954f. 103r, BAV Barb. lat. 154 f. 103r, Marciana Cl. XII cod. 69, Basel F.VIII.14, ff. 101v109r.



stocked the libraries of later generations with heterodox ideas well before interest in their heterodox potential became widespread. Of course, moderate humanists were aware of the danger that Lucretius and other classics might spread unorthodoxy. Lucretius himself occupies a key position in the history of censorship, specically in the Renaissance debate over whether the beautiful language of the pagan classics can spread heresy. This issue, recently addressed by Valentina Prosperi,54 centers on Lucretiuss statement that he chose to explicate Epicurean philosophy in verse to make it more palatable, as a doctor smears honey around the rim of a cup of bitter wormwood to trick a child into drinking it.55 Recall that Petrarch, one of the founders of humanism, claimed that classical rhetoric, the words that sting and bite in Plato, Cicero, and others, drive men toward virtue.56 His successors believed that a classical education would make men better Christians as well as better citizens. As Victoria Kahn has pointed out, Petrarchs claim is founded on the argument, from Aristotle and Cicero, that eloquence is inherently tied to virtue, because only truth and virtue can make words persuasive.57 If rhetoric is only powerful when combined with truth, then a Christian scholar can safely circulate Lucretius without fear of weakening Christianity, since the heretical parts will be inherently unconvincing. Petrarch would expect the reader to take away from Lucretius only true ideas and the beautiful language, useful for promoting Christian values. Lucretius himself disagrees, and by so doing threatens to strengthen opposition to the study of pagan classics. Lucretiuss is hardly the only classical claim that rhetoric can strengthen otherwise-unconvincing argumentsCicero and the sophists treat the question oftenbut discussions of the moral character of a true orator in Cicero and Quintilian made it easy to place unscrupulous oratorsfor-hire in a separate category. Ficino did this when he argued that Plato uses rhetorical ornament only to lure men toward Truth (i.e. doctrines compatible with Christianity). The wormwood simile, on the other hand, implies that not just sophists but philosophers and poets employed decepValentina Prosperi, Di soavi licor gli orli del vaso: la fortuna di Lucrezio dallUmanesimo alla Controriforma, (Turin: N. Aragno, 2004); also Lucretius in the Italian Renaissance, in The Cambridge Companion to Lucretius (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 21426. See also Charlotte Goddard, Epicureanism and the Poetry of Lucretius in the Renaissance, (Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Cambridge, 1991). 55 1.935950. 56 De Ignorantia 22. 57 Rhetoric, Prudence and Skepticism in the Renaissance (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), 2935.


Palmer Reading Lucretius in the Renaissance

tive rhetoric, and, worse, that Lucretiuss imitator Virgil, whose central position in the humanist curriculum required that he remain unimpeachable, might be similarly deceptive. Lucretiuss wormwood simile is marked in ten manuscripts.58 Literary elements account for some of the interest, since a similar image appears in Plato, Horace, and Ausonius,59 but it was still marked by more readers than any other single poetic image. In view of the manuscript marginalia, Lucretiuss hopes that the persuasive power of language will perpetuate his work have certainly come true. At the same time, the notes suggest that the lure of poetry did not succeed so well in directing scholarly energy into the avenues Lucretius hoped. Annotation on the systematic, atomist, proto-atheist, and materialist core of Epicureanism remains a miniscule minority throughout the manuscript period. This pattern holds even for important scholars; Niccolo ` Niccolis notes are exclusively philological,60 and Polizianos almost exclusively so, though he marks some notabilia and vocabulary.61 The Vatican copy with the notes of Antonio Panormita (13941471), whose Epicurean interests were sufcient for Valla to cast him as the Epicurean interlocutor for his De Voluptate (1431/1433), contains corrections, vocabulary, and notabilia but nothing on philosophy.62 This does not in any sense prove that these scholars and their many anonymous peers did not examine the content at all, merely that, during the rst contact recorded in this annotation, even someone as engaged with Epicureanism as Panormita poured ten times as much energy into understanding Lucretiuss language as he did into understanding his materialist theory. Lucretiuss impact and readers interest were predominantly literary and moral. Fifty-one percent of our readers demonstrate interest in Epicurean moral precepts, but forty-six manuscripts together have among them fewer than a dozen notes on atomism and religion. I say forty-six because there are six exceptions: Pomponio Letos Neapolitanus and its three derivatives at Oxford, Basel, and Berlin, one Laurentianus with notes associated with Marcello Adriani, and a delicate little paper volume at the Vatican which contains the entire poem transcribed by
Cambridge Univ. Nn.2.40 f. 14v, Naples Naz. IV E 51 f. 28v, Padua BC C.75, Bodleian, Can. lat. 32 f. 19r, BAV Ottob. Lat. 2834 f. 17r, BAV Ottob. Lat. 1954 f. 20r, BAV Ross. lat. 884 17v. On rhetorical ornament in Plato and Origen see James Hankins, Plato in the Italian Renaissance (New York: Brill, 1991), 1: 33738. 59 Plato, Laws, 2.659, Horace Satires, 1.1.25, Ausonius, Epistles 17.407.2. 60 Laur. 35.30. 61 Laur. 35.29; cf. Reeve (1980), 3940. 62 BAV Vat. Lat. 3276, dated 1442.



Machiavelli. These exceptions deserve special attention. Again, the absence of such annotation in other copies does not prove the absence of other interest in Epicureanism, and recent studies of gures from Valla to Botticelli prove that Lucretian images touched many in the fteenth century.63 Yet if out of more than fty learned readers only these six exceptionsthree if we count the Leto and his derivatives as one64 marked Epicurean core doctrines, the distinct way these three annotators interacted with the text clearly records something unusual, even within the narrow population that was reading Lucretius in the Renaissance. Pomponio Leto experienced rst-hand what was at stake in the association of the classics with irreligion, suffering imprisonment and torture over allegations that his teaching at the University of Rome promoted paganism, heresy, sodomy, and anti-papal conspiracy. Leto worked extensively on Lucretius, annotating multiple copies and composing the oldest surviving biography of the poet. Letos Lucretian interest is not surprising, since he was the student and successor of Lorenzo Valla (140757). Though more extensive than most annotators notes, Letos follow the same patterns, exhibiting all of the more common types (corrections, notabilia, etc.) and focusing on standard passages like Acheron and the snares of Venus. Atypically, however, Leto gives as much attention to the oft-neglected Books II and III as he does to the remainder of the text, and even inserts original subject headings labeling the Epicurean arguments.65 Leto clearly disagreed with these ideas, even writing error beside the Lucretian argument that the world was not made for man. Letos characterization of Lucretiuss attacks on the souls immortality as opinio non christiana predate by at least fteen years the Apostolici Regiminis, issued at the Fifth Lateran Council in 1513, which made the souls immortality an ofcial de de doctrine.
For a survey, see Valentina Prosperi, Lucretius in the Italian Renaissance, The Cambridge Companion to Lucretius (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 21426. Also copied from the Neapolitanus after Leto worked on it are the two copies made by Letos colleague Giovanni Sulpizio Verolano (Verulanus) in 1466, BAV Ottob. Lat. 1954 and Baltimore Walters 383, but while these two reect many of Letos corrections they do not duplicate his comments on the opinio non christiana or other such analytic comments. See Reeve (1980), 35. 64 There is not space here to thoroughly examine the two derivatives, but they are the anonymous annotation in Bodleian Can. Lat. 32, and the notes in Basel Univ. F viii 14, owned and possibly annotated by Bonifacius Amorbach, both of which duplicate some but not all of Letos philosophical annotation. 65 In the Neapolitanus, Leto labels seven sub-arguments against the immortality of the soul, and marks discussions of rst motion (2.1347, Naples Naz. IV E 51 f. 35r), the purpose of the world (2.1779, f. 36r), fear of death (3.5994, f. 58v), and how philosophy frees man from fear (2.5261, f. 33v).


Palmer Reading Lucretius in the Renaissance

To address the question of innocent dissimulation for a moment, I do not believe that, amid so many hundreds of notes, Leto would have labeled these error just to make himself seem pious to later users of the manuscript. Nor, if that had been his goal, would he have marked these few and not the dozens of other points where Lucretius contradicts Christian doctrine. Rather, I believe Leto sought to understand and refute these particular attacks on the immortal soul model, a model vital to Christianity as well as to Platonism, Pythagoreanism, and other classical theologies. Leto does not give special attention to any elements of atomic theory except those which attack the centrality of man and his soul in the universe. Letos focus on the soul and moral aspects of Epicurean doctrine is consistent with the moral focus of our other annotators. This also parallels the focus of Letos master, Vallas, De Voluptate, in which Vallas Epicurean spokesman competes with a Stoic rival almost exclusively over moral issues, largely avoiding mention of Epicuruss scientic teachings. In the search for fteenth-century atomism, one suspect proposed by recent scholars is the Florentine teacher and successor to Poliziano, Marcello Adriani. The critical Lucretius manuscript, Laurenziana 35.32, does not contain Adrianis hand, but several anonymous notes attributing alternate textual readings to Marcellus.66 Citing Lucretian passages in Adrianis surviving lectures, Alison Brown has argued that Adriani used Lucretius in his teaching in Florence between 1494 and 1515, likely sparking the 1517 ban.67 Brown argues that Laur. 35.32 was annotated by someone associated with Adriani, a thesis supported not only by the references to Marcellus but by the presence of some conspicuous philosophical notes. The manuscript contains, along with philological and vocabulary notes, a note on whether anything can arise from nothing,68 notes on salt and evaporation,69 and on Lucretiuss argument that all compound things must be perishable.70 The fact, established by my survey, that such atomist comments are extraordinarily rare in this period greatly reinforces the signicance of Browns discovery. Adrianis Florentine circle left, in the margins of the poem, records of strong and immediate interest in its atomism, proving that, while Rome and Naples were also signicant Lucretian centers, Epicureanism was received and read in Florence in a unique and radical way.
Reeve (1980), 457. Brown (2010), ch. 3. 68 1.159; Laur. 35.32, f. 4r. 69 1.304; ibid. f. 7r. 70 1.792; ibid. f. 16r.
66 67



As for Adrianis colleague and possible pupil Machiavelli, his notes are even more distinctive.71 His manuscript, likely completed before 1500 and certainly before 1512,72 has very few poetic notes, no notabilia, and no corrections because he corrected as he copied, though the debate over his sources is ongoing.73 His annotation, which is limited, is concentrated in Book II, in which he adds roughly twenty summary headings, some based on the medieval ones and some original, pointing out the passages which explain how an atomistic universe would function.74 Machiavellis are thus the only annotations in which the question of the validity of atomism as a physical theory stand out as the primary subject. He left few marks in any other part of the book, except for a textual variant in the section of book VI on magnets, and duplicating the common interest in the honey and wormwood simile.75 Though his note Comp for comparatio is a common way of marking a beautiful poetic simile, used at this point by several other annotators, the wormwood passage is particularly Machiavellian in its assertion that one can do good through careful administration of constructive harm, and in the subtle distinction it draws in saying that the child is deceived but not betrayed. It is striking too that the only poetic passage Machiavelli chose to mark was this, whose statement that rhetoric can be used to trick people into accepting unorthodoxy was so problematic for those defenders of the classics who liked to claim that the ancients could never threaten Christianity. Machiavelli is famous for his radical contributions to moral philosophy, yet the sections on Epicurean moral philosophy, which fty-nine percent of readers marked, he leaves blank. He is not particularly interested in the Epicurean views on love, virtue and vice, which are, though radical by Christian standards, considerably less radical than the consequentialist ethics which Machiavelli is in the process of developing. Yet Machiavelli the radical moral philosopher is present in these notes in his exceptional interSergio Bertelli Noterelle machiavelliane: un codice di Lucrezio e di Terenzio, Rivista Storica Italiana 28 (1954): 1020; W. A. Merrill, The Italian Manuscripts of Lucretius, Philology 9 (Berkeley: 19261929): 347; C. E. Finch, Machiavellis Copy of Lucretius, The Classical Journal 56 (196061): 2932. 72 Brown (2010), 58. 73 On Machiavellis sources in preparing the manuscript see Brown (2010), Appendix, 11322. 74 Vat. Ross. Lat. 840 ff. 20v32r. Since we retain several sources clearly close to those used by Machiavelli which contain no comparable marginal labels, I do not nd it plausible that these labels are copied from a lost intermediary source; see Brown (2010) 745 and n. 15. 75 ibid. On Magnets 127r128v, on the wormwood simile f. 17v.


Palmer Reading Lucretius in the Renaissance

est in Epicurean science, whose materialism and functionless gods enable one to divorce moral philosophy from divine concerns. Machiavelli himself will employ such a divorce in his pioneering utilitarian ethics, which evaluates actions based on their material consequences rather than their adherence to the laws of Natures God. We have no direct evidence that Machiavelli was an atomist,76 but if Epicureanism was feared in the Renaissance because its materialistic physics might facilitate pseudo-atheism, that dangerous potential seems proved by the fact that atomist materialism was exceptionally interesting to Machiavelli, whose revolutionary this-worldly, man-centered, consequentialist ethics would earn him titles like ArchHeretic and Destroyer of Italy on later lists of famous atheists. Machaivellis exceptional notes thus half break with the moral obsessions of his humanist peers, since he marks science instead of moral philosophy, but the manifestations of this interest in his own work will still be in the moral arena.77 Stepping back again from our three exceptions, the aspects of Epicurean moral philosophy which so many chose to annotate were not the radical proto-atheist aspects, but those most similar to the Stoic and Platonic philosophers, whose systems humanist syncretism liked to present as one consistent whole, and as compatible with Christianity. Despite Lucretiuss intent, his moral arguments were, like details of natural philosophy, easily splintered off from the materialist atomism at the systems core. Just as the Piacenza manuscript could illustrate Lucretiuss discussions of astronomy with diagrams grounded in Isidore and Aristotle, humanists could read Lucretiuss warnings about love and greed in the light of Neoplatonism, Christianity or both. Readers tendencies to skim quickly through the atomist sections of Books II and III with little annotation, pausing only for famous names and colorful similes, demonstrates how a discerning reader could easily sup the honey without downing the wormwood. For the fteenth and early sixteenth centuries, Petrarchs claim that an orthodox reader will nd the errors of the ancients inherently impotent and unconvincing holds true. The elevated status which humanism gave to the three goals of gaining eloquence, encyclopedic knowledge of all things ancient, and classical virtue, were motive enough to read Lucretius. Protected by the mental lter of preconceived models, both of God and Nature and of the
Paul Rahe, Against Throne and Altar: Machiavelli and Political Theory under the English Republic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), especially chs. 12. 77 For another interpretation of the question, see Brown (2010), ch. 4; Brown, Religion and Philosophy in Machiavelli, in The Cambridge Companion to Machiavelli, ed. John Najemy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2010), 15772.



ancient world, a disinterested eye might skip anything which seemed confused or wrong, an action which the authors of introductions to sixteenthcentury Lucretius editions overtly encouraged readers to do.78 Those whose attention did linger on atomist questions formed a tiny, though extremely important, minority of Lucretiuss readership. If only three annotators out of more than fty commented on the poems atomist core, it is not unreasonable to estimate that, for each of the Renaissance radicals historians have identied who detectibly used core elements of Epicureanism in their own works, there were twenty more scholars who read Lucretius but absorbed and used only his orthodox content. Thus Lucretius was read, repaired and copied by the energies of a comparatively orthodox humanist community largely divorced from the far smaller radical subsection of humanists who were at the same time interested in the poems core doctrines. The same energies printed him. Thirty editions of the De Rerum Natura appeared between 1473 and 1600, ranging from three massive commentaries to ten cheap pocket editions.79 The editors who framed the text for mass-production focus in their paratexts on the same three goals humanists had long read for: eloquent language, general information about the ancient world, and moral content. Apologetic biographies, frequently inserted as front matter, generally portray a Lucretius who is divorced from Epicurus, and sounds as close as possible to his more palatable Stoic and Neoplatonic peers.80 Thus, throughout the sixteenth century, paratexts repeated overtly the patterns of interest which had privately dominated Lucretiuss readers throughout the manuscript period. In the eyes of book-buyer, teacher and censor, the reasons to read Lucretius were wholly orthodox. Many moderns would suspect these editors of practicing innocent dissimulation, using these justications to conceal a more radical agenda, but that interpretation is far from necessary. These editors presented in their paratexts precisely the motives for reading Lucretius which did indeed dominate among their peers. The marginalia in print editions show when those motives changed. There is not room here to fully examine print marginalia, but my statistical
See, for example, Nicolaus Beraldus letter in Pius annotated edition of 1511, which calls atoms and vacuum foolish dreams, and recommends the poem for its ability to inspire virtue (Paris, 1514), f. Aiv. 79 Gordon (1962) provides a list, though the supposed 1596 edition is a ghost; on a possible thirty-rst edition see Martin Ferguson Smith and David Buttereld, Not a Ghost: the 1496 Brescia Edition of Lucretius, Aevum 84 (Milan: 2010), 68393. 80 All eight humanist biographies of Lucretius are printed in Giuseppe Solaro, Lucrezio: Biograe umanistiche (Bari: Dedalo, 2000).


Palmer Reading Lucretius in the Renaissance

sampling of 127 printed copies draws from as diverse a sample as possible, held in libraries in Europe and America and including examples of all thirty extant editions.81 Despite printed marginal glosses, which appear as early as the second Lucretius edition of 1486, surviving examples of the six editions printed up to 1512 are almost all hand annotated, and it is not until the 1550s that the frequency of hand marginalia drops to half or below. This supports William Shermans ndings that sixty to seventy percent of incunables contain annotations, dropping to fty percent at the end of the sixteenth century.82 Hand annotations in Lucretius volumes printed in the early sixteenth century largely continue the patterns of manuscript marginalia, marking poetry, vocabulary, notabilia, and scientic trivia, but notes on atomistic science crop up with gradually increasing frequency, becoming common in the 1560s. Philological notes, meanwhile, which so dominated manuscript marginalia, decrease in frequency as improved editions reduce the need to correct the text. Non-philosophical annotation does not die out, it merely takes on secondary importance. Montaignes famous annotations in his copy of the 1563 Lambin edition contain carefully indexed philological corrections, but concentrate three times as many notes on philosophical and scientic matters as on philology, and the oft-neglected Book III receives the most attention and praise.83 Nor is Montaigne far from the rule here, since, in copies printed in the same decade, serious annotation on atomistic questions appears in more than half of the substantially annotated copies. This is not the place to discuss the many causes of this reversal of interest in philology and proto-atheist science. This study simply establishes, clearly and quantiably, that scholars who read Lucretius in the late sixteenth century did so in a very different way from their predecessors in the manuscript period. Yet it was thanks to those predecessors that later readers found Lucretius explicated and accessible on their shelves. The humanist hunger for eloquence, notabilia and classical virtue secured the transmission of Lucretius to later scholars, among whom the appetite for heterodox science was much more common.
On debates over changes in hand annotation after the advent of print see Saenger and Heinlen, Incunable Description and Its Implication for the Analysis of Fifteenth-Century Reading Habits in Sandra Hindman ed., Printing the Written Word: the Social History of Books, circa 14501520 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991) 2534; Sherman (2002); Kallendorf (2005), 111113. 82 Sherman, 124. 83 Michael Screech, Montaignes Annotated Copy of Lucretius (Geneva: Librairie Droz, 1998), especially 111; Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve. How the Renaissance Began (New York: Norton, 2011), 243249, especially 249.



While preparing the 1557 edition of the Catholic Index of banned books, the Commissioner General of the Inquisition, Michele Ghislieri, wrote of his fear that overly-strong restrictions might target such noble authors as Lucian and Lucretius.84 Ghislieris selection of Lucretius as an example of a good text which might be inappropriately censored by antiReformation zeal proves the success of humanist defenses of the poet, and the classical canon in general. Epicurean may be a generic term of abuse, applicable in Catholic eyes to Lutheran and sodomite alike, but Lucretiuss status as part of the Latin canon makes him inherently valuable, and assumedly safe. This comparative amnesty enjoyed by a classical radical is one of the great triumphs of humanism. Since so many fteenth- and early sixteenth-century readers valued form over content, and orthodox moral philosophy over radical ideas, the fteenth and early sixteenth centuries were a period in which the radical content of the classics rarely had a serious effect even on those who did read the works which contained it. Yet this very buffer made scholars and authorities believe the books were safe, making it easy for texts to penetrate print shops and classrooms across the literate world. While Reformation tensions multiplied fear of heresy on all sides, Lucretius and other classics could diffuse comparatively freely through European libraries. As the seventeenth century approached, such ancient sourcebooks were thus easily available to a new generation of readers, a far larger proportion of whom was ready to seriously examine and absorb scientic radicalism. If Lucretius was rediscovered in 1417, he was rediscovered again in the 1560s, when the act of reading changed. Texas A & M University.


Letter of June 27 1557 to Inquisitor General de Ge nes, in P. Paschini, Letterati ed indice nella Riforma cattolica in Italia in Cinquecento romano e riforma cattolica, Laternumum special XXIV (1958), 239. See also Pastor, Histoire des papes (Paris: Plon), XIV, 223 n. 3; Jesu nez de Bujanda, Index des Livres Interdits (Sherbrooke: Droz, 2002) s Mart 8:32 n. 14; Prosperi, ch. 2.