You are on page 1of 15

Lucretius' Cure for Love in the "De Rerum Natura"

Author(s): William Fitzgerald


Source: The Classical World, Vol. 78, No. 2 (Nov. - Dec., 1984), pp. 73-86
Published by: Johns Hopkins University Press on behalf of the Classical Association of the
Atlantic States
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4349696
Accessed: 12-12-2015 23:15 UTC

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/
info/about/policies/terms.jsp
JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content
in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship.
For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

Johns Hopkins University Press and Classical Association of the Atlantic States are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize
, preserve and extend access to The Classical World.

http://www.jstor.org

This content downloaded from 138.253.100.121 on Sat, 12 Dec 2015 23:15:34 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

LUCRETIUS' CURE FOR LOVE IN THE


DE RER UM NA TURA
The passage on love that ends the fourth book of Lucretius' De Rerum
Natura is of such intensity that it invites, and has in the past received,
speculation of a biographical and psychological nature.' The tendency to
see it as an isolated purple passage has concealed its crucial significance
for the work as a whole, about which it has more to tell us than about the
psyche of its author. Clearly the discussion of love brings up two of the
most important themes in Epicurean moral philosophy, namely pleasure
and freedom. What makes love problematical for Lucretius is that it relates these two entities in a mutually exclusive way: pleasure and desire
frequently deprive the lover of his freedom; and, finally, this deprivation
of freedom destroys his pleasure too. Because it focuses the attention of
the lover on a unique, irreplaceable beloved, love is a prime manifestation of the attitude preventing participation in a continually changing
and generously varied universe, a participation which is the main source
of pleasure and a guarantee of mental freedom. If the fear of death is the
main root of our problems, as it is for Lucretius, then the love which
fosters a sense of the uniqueness of the lover, the love and the beloved is
also an enemy of mental health: both the fear of death and the torments
of love derive from a mind fettered to its own or another's unique individuality.
But Lucretius suggests a cure for love, in which the festering obsession
of the lover, and his impossible desire for total union with the beloved,
are diverted into the wandering pleasures of a wandering Venus (4. 10681072). If the lover is the epitome of the unregenerated human, then this
cure must have more than a local significance within the work as a whole.
I will argue that in this passage the cure for love is connected with a pattern of images of contrasted motions, and that these images have a broad
ethical significance for the work as a whole. This use of motion imagery
to convey psychological and ethical content is itself symptomatic of
Lucretius' desire to break down distinctions between hierarchically
layered levels of existence, and to present a single, atomic universe in
which the human is not uniquely privileged. At the end of this article I
will consider some of the poetic techniques by which Lucretius leads the
I St. Jerome's story that Lucretius was driven crazy by a love-potion is, of course, no
longer given much credence. However, his statement that Lucretius wrote the poem in the
lucid intervals of a madness probably to be connected with this potion, and certainllydeduced at least partially from this passage, has had some influence. The French psychiatrist,
J. B. Logre, diagnosed Lucretius as a manic-depressive in his book, L'anxiete de Lucr&ee
(Paris 1946), and cites the sexual violence of 4.1079-1083 as evidence of sadism. More recently, Luciano Perelli has taken a fresh look at the evidence for Lucretius' madness in his
book, Lucrezio poeta dell' angoscia (Florence 1969), which places considerable emphasis
on the poet's supposed "repulsione ossessiva per il sesso". The two recent articles that deal
with this passage both stress the positive side to Lucretius' treatment of love, especially in
connectioni with marriage: cf. Aya Betensky, "Lucretius and Love," CW73 (1980) 291-92,
and Robert J. Goar, "On the End of Lucretius' Fourth Book," CB47 (1971) 75-77.

73

This content downloaded from 138.253.100.121 on Sat, 12 Dec 2015 23:15:34 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

74

WILLIAM FITZGERALD

readerto the correctEpicureansenseof his relationto-the universe,and I


will suggestthat they are analogousin form and intentionto the curefor
love.
The transitionfrom the subjectof sleepto that of love at the end of the
fourth book almost has the quality of improvisation.Often the movement of Lucretius'argumentseems to mimic nature'sown experiments
with differentcombinationsand arrangementsof atoms.2Here the subject of love emergesfrom the discussionof the causesof sleep (907-961),
which leads on to the subject of dreams(962-1036).Sexual dreamsand
spontaneousorgasmssuggestthe subjectof sex (1037-1057),and this in
turn leads to love, a logical progressionthough an unfortunateone, as
far as Lucretiusis concerned.Love is the subjectof the rest of the fourth
book (1057-1287).In appendinglove to dreams,Lucretiusis clearlysuggesting that the former is also an illusion. More importantly,he will
claimthat the lover who triesto satisfyhis desireis no betteroff thanthe
dreamerwho dreamshe is slaking his thirst from a river: both of them
feed on meresimulacra(1091-1104).3 Love is intrinsicallyinsatiable,and
the Epicureandoctrinethat pleasurehas limits but no absolute(5. 14321433)4 is importantfor the understandingof Lucretius'attackon love.
The theme of satisfaction is introducedwhen Lucretiusstates that
sleep, which floods (irriget,908) our limbswith rest and releasesus from
cares, is deepestwhen we have had our fill of food (954-961);the diffusion of sleep throughour limbs is accompaniedby a confusion (conturbatio, 943, 958) of the anima's atoms. We may note at this point that
peace and satisfactionare connectedwith certainforms of diffusivemotion: flooding (908), flowing (fluuntque, 919), and dissemination
(diditur, 955). Furthermore,the sleep that brings peace is caused by a
confusion of the atoms of the anima that breaksdown and scattersits
unity.
The conturbatioof the scatteredanima that is the general cause of
sleep is describedthreetimes(916-918,944-947,and 959-961);it consists
in the ejection of some atoms out of the body, the huddlingof others
deep within it, and the spreadingof a thirdgroup throughoutthe body.
The third description of this tripartitedivision is different from the
others in that the third part is not symmetricalwith the other two. This
disturbedone editorenoughto emendthe text (959-961):5
fit rationeeademconiectuspartimanimai
altioratqueforaseiectuslargioreius,
et divisiorinterse ac distractiorintust.
2 1.1026-1028. I follow the text of Cyril Bailey, Lucreti. De Rerum Natura (Oxford
1922).
3 The poor lover who is thirsty in the midst of the raging stream contrasts amusingly with
the bedclothes that greedily drink the sweat of Venus (1127-1128).
4 Cf. Epicurus, Kuriai Doxai, 3 and 18.
5 Giussani, in his edition of Lucretius (Torino 1896), adopted Lachmann's substitution
of actus for intust to restore the symmetry. The observation is important but the emendation mistaken.

This content downloaded from 138.253.100.121 on Sat, 12 Dec 2015 23:15:34 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

LUCRETIUS' CURE FOR LOVE

75

Coniectus and eiectus are emphasized and contrasted by being placed in


metrically identical positions of the line and modified by a comparative
adjective each (altior, largior). The stress on this bipartite contrast within
the three motions that make up the dispersion of the anima acquires significance from the paragraph that immediately follows. Lucretius often
links paragraphs in this fashion, endowing a word or phrase from one
paragraph with a new significance in the next, much as the atoms fall
into new patterns of motion as they join new bodies.6 We will see that the
last word of the next paragraph (cruentent, 1036) is treated in this
fashion as well. In the new context of sex, toward which the paragraph
on dreams progresses, eiectus comes to mean ejaculation (cf. 1041), and
the paragraph ends with an ejaculation of almost cosmically generous
proportions (1035-1036):
ut quasi transactis saepe omnibu' rebu' profundant
fluminis ingentis fluctus vestemque cruentent.
The tremendous impression of release in the description of the
spontaneous orgasm contrasts sharply with the beginning of the paragraph in which dreams are said to repeat the concerns of the day (962965):
Et quo quisque fere studio devinctus adhaeret
aut quibus in rebus multum sumus ante morati
atque in ea ratione fuit contenta magis mens,
in somnis eadem plerumque videmur obire.
The paragraph moves, then, from a restrictive concentration (contenta, 964) and repetition to an effusive release, and the sly phrase transactis omnibu' rebu' (1035) suggests that the ejaculation is a happy holiday from the "business" concerns cited at the beginning of the paragraph (966-970). One might say that it moves from a coniectus altior to
an eiectus largior and that the contrast in motions has acquired an ethical
significance. The adjectives make as significant a contrast as the nouns,
for while the adverb alte is often used by Lucretius in connection with the
limits observed by nature, largus and its cognates usually describe the
generous bounty of nature, and retain the connotations of lavishness
from the verb largiri.8 The coexistence of limit and variety, of centripetal
and centrifugal forces, so to speak, is an important aspect of the
Epicurean view of nature.9 However, as we shall see, love tends to upset
6 The atoms that come together to form a body after wandering through the void "conjoin motions" (consociare. . .motus, 2. 111).
7 For the business associations of transactis omnibu' rebu' cf. Terence, Adelphoe 286,
ego iam transacta re convortam me domum.
8 For alte, see 1.77 and 596; 2.1087; 4.949; 5.90; 6.66. Largus, together with its compounds, occurs twenty-two times in the poem. The sun is a largus. . .fons luminis (5.28 1),
the rerum sunmmasees to it that the rivers feed the sea largis undis (1.1031), and Lucretius
himself pours out largos haustus of philosophy (1.412).
9 Cf. P. De Lacy, "Limit and Variation in the Epicurean Philosophy," Phoenix 23
(1969) 104-13.

This content downloaded from 138.253.100.121 on Sat, 12 Dec 2015 23:15:34 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

WILLIAM FITZGERALD

76

the balance in the direction of limitation and concentration, and this


must be redressed by an emphasis on its opposite. We may note in passing that while Lucretius frequently stresses his passionate commitment to
the task he is undertaking, the activity of writing is often expressed in
images of spreading, pouring, and disseminating.'0
The phrase eiectus largior connects the spreading and flooding associated with the sleep that releases us from cares with the ejaculation in
the dream that releases the dreamer from his concentration on the concerns of the day (transactis omnibu' rebu', 1035), and his concentration
may be described as a coniectus altior. We find a similar contrast of motions in the wound imagery dominating the two paragraphs (1037-1072)
that follow the discussion of dreams. As I have suggested, the final word
of the paragraph on dreams (cruentent, 1036) sparks off the rather
sarcastic comparison of love to war." The mind that is wounded by love
seeks the body that has wounded it, falling towards the blow so that the
enemy who has struck it is spattered with blood (1045-1051). This violent
image at least implies reciprocity, which is not the case with the image of
the festering wound in the next paragraph (1068-1069):
ulcus enim vivescit et inveterascit alendo
inque dies gliscit furor atque aerumna gravescit.
Instead of spurting blood, this wound digs itself in. The word gravescit
combines the notions of falling (cf. 6.335) and of (figurative) conception
(cf. 4.1250) which take up the image of Venus' sweetness dripping
through the heart to produce afrigida cura (1058-1060):
Haec Venus est nobis; hinc autemst nomen amoris,
hinc illaec primum Veneris dulcedinis in cor
stillavit gutta et successit frigida cura.
The festering of the wound and the dripping of love into the heart to
deposit a "chill pang" 12 are negative opposites of the reciprocal bombarding of the lovers in the previous paragraph (1052-1056). Lucretius
has turned from mutual sex to one-sided love with a change of imagery
from motion outwards to motion inwards, from a wound that spurts
10

Disserere, 1.55; 6.940. Fundere, 5.110; 1.413. Pandere, 1.55; 5.54.

11 This comparison is common in the elegists, reaching its apogee in Ovid, Amores 1.9

(Militat omnis amans). The elegists found it in Roman comedy; compare for example, Terence, Eunuchus 59-61: in amore haec omnia insunt vitia: iniuriae,/suspiciones, inimicitiae, indutiae, /bellum, pax rursum. Cf. also Plautus, Persa 24-25: Sauciusfactus sum in
Veneris proelio,/sagitta Cupido cor meum transfixit; Trinummus 242: Saviis sagittatis
perculsus. This imagery is discussed by Elaine Fantham in Comparative Studies in Republican Latin Imagery (Toronto 1972) 26-28, 85-86. With the wound imagery Lucretius is possibly parodying Plato's description, at Phaedrus 255c, of the fountain of desire which flows
from beloved to lover and back. Blood and sperm are connected again at 1236-1238.
12 1 think that Lucretius is envisaging a stalagmite, which is both cold and grows upwards (successit) from underneath dripping water. It would be characteristic of Lucretius'
satirical style if he were visualizing in this concrete fashion Euripides' image of love dripping desire through the eyes at Hippolytus 525-527. Achilles' description of anger which
"much sweeter than dripping honey spreads in men's limbs like smoke" (Iliad 18. 108-109)
is clearly in Lucretius' mind here, as well as the lines from Euripides.

This content downloaded from 138.253.100.121 on Sat, 12 Dec 2015 23:15:34 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

LUCRETIUS'CURE FOR LOVE

77

blood to a wound that festers. This is analogous to the distinction


between coniectus altior and eiectus largior, as we see more clearly when
the lover is urged not to retain the fluid collected (umorem collectum,
1065) 13 within his body, but to dispose of it by promiscuous ejaculation
in corpora quaeque (1065).
The lover must be diverted from his isolating obsession to the generously expansive perspective of the Epicurean philosopher, and this is
where Lucretius describes his cure for love (1068-1072):
ulcus enim vivescit et inveterascit alendo
inque dies gliscit furor atque aerumna gravescit,
si non prima novis conturbes vulnera plagis
vulgivagaque vagus Venere ante recentia cures
aut alio possis animi traducere motus.
The first wounds are to be confused (conturbes, 1070) by new blows,
or, to put it non-figuratively, intercourse with prostitutes. The tonguetwisting jingle of 1071, with its juxtaposed forms of vagus and the
paradoxical ante recentia is a verbal equivalent of the conturbatio that is
being recommended. Like the conturbatio of the anima that brings about
the release of sleep, it involves the dispersion of a unity: the focus of
love is dissolved in a universal wandering.'4 But this conturbatio is more
complex. The confusion of the anima prior to sleep was caused by blows
(plagae, 941) from the atoms of air penetrating the pores of our skin; in
the present case the confusion is psychological, and produces the paradoxical situation of new blows curing the first wounds. This is curious
advice coming from a philosopher who is supposed to uphold the supreme value of ataraxia, but we should remember that the universe is
held together, interconnected and even generated by plagae.'5 It is not
turmoil, confusion and conflict in themnselvesthat present the greatest
threat to human happiness. In fact, the jostling vitality of the atomic
universe that Lucretius so lovingly describes is often compared to violent
human scenes. 16The real enemy of happiness is any single-minded obsession, any desire for an absolute that eventually stems from the fear of
13 As Bailey points out in his commenitary (Oxford 1947) 1302, this section puns on
ilino/-alno/

14 Lucretius' contemporary, Catullus, recommends conturbatio in a similar context,


though with a ditferent purpose. In poem 5 he painstakingly enumerates the successive
batches of kisses he requires of Lesbia, but thenideclares that they will confuse the addition
(coniu0babimnusil1a, 11) so that neither they themselves nor the envious should be aware of
the total. In this poem power is exercised by those who sum totals; the lovers dismiss the rumors of the cenisor-iousby valuing them unius. . . assis (3), and death transforms the successioIl of kisses into nox una (6). Life and love are sustained by preventing the accumulation
of a total in whlichl they become one thing. For Lucretius, too, accumulation is a cu/a, but
he recommnendsfreedomfto/n love riather thanj/r it.
15 Cf. 1.633-634, varios ConeXvis pondera plagas/clncursus insotus,
pe- quae /es quaeque
ger-unlut-; also 1. 1050-1051, et tal1eii
Opus est vis unditque niaterllai.
16

ti plagae quoque possint

suppetere

ipsae/infinita

See, for instance, 2.116-120, where a ray of light in a dark room reveals tiny particles

which are engaged in constant


(turitnatiin).

battles (aeterno

cerltaiiine)

which they fight in squadrons

This content downloaded from 138.253.100.121 on Sat, 12 Dec 2015 23:15:34 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

78

WILLIAM FITZGERALD

personal death and from the inability to see oneself as part of the atomic
universe. It is the fear of obliteration that causes the most destructive
turmoil. It arises from fierce determination to reach the ultimate limits of
power and wealth (3.56-64):
denique avarities et honorum caeca cupido
quae miseros homines cogunt transcendere finis
iuris et interdum socios scelerum atque ministros
noctes atque dies niti praestante labore
ad summas emergere opes, haec vulnera vitae
non minimam partem mortis formidine aluntur.
The "wounds of life" (363) are like the first wounds of the lover. If those
are fed they will fester, but if they are confused by new blows the lover
will be diverted from his isolating obsession into the realm of a "crowdwandering Venus". The periphrasis is surely not just euphemistic-we
are reminded of the ubiquitous and ranging Venus who is invoked in the
first lines of this work.
The role of plaga in the cure for love can be referred to the important
physical principle of the swerve, where it is also connected with diversion. Without the swerve the atoms would fall through the universe and
never meet (2.221-224):
quod nisi declinare solerent, omnia deorsum,
imbris uti guttae, caderent per inane profundum,
nec foret offensus natus nec plaga creata
principiis: ita nil umquam natura creasset.
Offensus and plaga are here paradoxically connected with natus, creata
and creasset, which reminds us of the paradoxical cure for the wounds of
love. Lucretius' point here is that it is precisely the conflict of atoms that
makes the creation of bodies possible by rescuing the atoms from their
sterile fall. The drops of rain to which the falling atoms are compared
(imbris uti guttae, 222) are analogous to the drip of Venus' sweetness in
the fourth book (Veneris dulcedinis gutta, 1059-1060). In both cases the
diversion or confusion of this simple motion brings about the desired
state of affairs: the lover must turn his mind elsewhere (1063-1064) and
change the direction of its motion (1072) before love becomes fixed on a
single object, and the atoms falling in isolation through the void must be
diverted into the various motions that make up the universe. The clinamen is a prerequisite for the creation of the universe. It is also connected

(though how is a moot point) with free will,17 which is clearlyan important consideration in the matter of love, since love involves abject slavery
to the beloved (1 122). The swerve that breaks the fatifoedera (2.254) is a
form of motion that may be compared to the flooding of sleep that
17 Mayotte Bollack argues convincingly that the clinamen and free will are connected
analogically rather than causally. She sees them as a third cause of movement, after pondus
and plaga, in the realm of the visible and the invisible respectively. M. Bollack, "Momen
Mutatum: La deviation et le plaisir (Lucr&e 11, 184-293)," in Etudes sur 1'e'picurismeantique, ed. J. Bollack and A. Kak (Lille 1976), 163-201.

This content downloaded from 138.253.100.121 on Sat, 12 Dec 2015 23:15:34 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

LUCRETIUS'CURE FOR LOVE

79

looses our cares (4.907-908) and the ejaculation that releases us from our
workaday concerns (1035-1036).
The paradoxical expression with which Lucretius describes his psychological cure for love, then, has its roots in one of the primary tenets of
Epicurean physics. This is one of the ways in which the poem creates a
single atomic world, breaking down hierarchical distinctions between the
organic and the inorganic. Anne Amory has rightly described this
isonomia as characteristic of the atomic theory which "presented the universe both as a series of objects and as a conclave of forces, in which all
phenomena, from atoms, to inanimate objects, to plants, to animals, to
man, to the earth form an interconnected chain. All are composed of
atoms, so all are basically the same in spite of enormous variations in
qualities and size." 18 Lucretius' concern with freedom and enslavement,
and with pleasure and pain, in the matter of love is expressed in the wvay
that he uses certain contrasting forms of motion. On the negative side,
we have images of concentration, collection, inward withdrawal and
parallel and vertical motion; on the positive side, images of diffusion,
projection, confusion, and wandering. To be at home in the universe is
to accept and participate in its kaleidoscopic generosity, and to be free is
to project one's identity outwards into the chain of atomic motion of
which one is part. The lover tries to fix this variegated motion, to shrink
the world into his own obsession or to obliterate it in a moment of absolute union. One of the most powerful passages in this section describes
the violent destruction of physical pleasure by the insatiable lovers who
try hopelessly to achieve complete interpenetration, tearing at each other
at the very moment that their lovemaking is about to scatter the woman's
fields with seed (1105-1111):
denique cum membris collatis flore fruuntur
aetatis, iam cum praesagit gaudia corpus
atque in eost Venus ut muliebria conserat arva,
adfigunt avide corpus iunguntque salivas
oris et inspirant pressantes dentibus ora,
nequiquam, quoniam nil inde abradere possunt
nec penetrare et abire in corpus corpore toto. . .
The violent and impossible attempt at complete fusion (1111) destroys
the pleasurable diffusion (conserat, 1107) that would associate the lovers
with a happy nature.
Jealousy is one of the most obvious torments of love, and in describing
it Lucretius recalls the festering wound. A certain bitterness (amari aliquid, 1134) taints whatever joy the lover experiences (1137-1140): 19
. . .quod in ambiguo verbum iaculata reliquit
quod cupido adfixum cordi vivescit ut ignis,
aut nimium iactare oculos aliumve tueri
auod Dutat in vultuaue videt vestigia risus.
18 Anne Amory, "Obscura de re lucida carmina: Science and Poetry in the De Rerum
Natura, " YCS 21 (1969) 163.
19 The Veneris dulcedinis. . gutta arises in the fons leporum (1 133) as bitterness.

This content downloaded from 138.253.100.121 on Sat, 12 Dec 2015 23:15:34 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

80

WILLIAM FITZGERALD

The ambiguous word tossed off by his mistress becomes fixed in his passionate heart, where it grows like fire; she has no trouble transferring the
motions of her mind and eyes, but this diffusion of her interest only
serves to focus his obsession more fiercely. The words iaculata (1137)
and iactare (1139) recall the following lines from the paragraph comparing war to love, with its bleeding wound (1053-1054):
sive puer membris muliebribus hunc iaculatur
seu mulier toto iactans e corpore amorem.
Unfortunately, what the girl now projects is not necessarily intended for
the lover, though it swiftly makes its mark on him. Vivescit (1138) was
the word used for the festering wound in the earlier passage (1068). The
contrast made in the two earlier paragraphs (1037-1072) is now telescoped into a few lines, and the two incompatible words ambiguo (literally, "going about") and adfixum, juxtaposed in metrically identical positions of consecutive lines, reflect the "motional" and emotional asymmetry of the couple. The female partner of this odd couple projects her
attentions freely outwards, like the mutually bombarding couples of
1049-1057, but this causes the opposite reaction in her lover, who nurses
a festering wound in his heart.
At the end of the book Lucretius expounds, with not a little irony, the
rather severe Roman view of marriage. In this emotionally diminished
context love for a single person is sanctioned, even encouraged; and, as
we might expect, this causes a modification in the values attached to various kinds of motion. The famous image of the last lines recalls, with delicious irony, the dripping of Venus' sweetness through the heart. Here it
is the ability of the homely, yet docile and decent wife to generate love
through sheer force of persistence that is compared to drops of water
wearing away a stone (1286-1287):
nonne vides etiam guttas in saxa cadentis
umoris longo in spatio pertundere saxa?
The Roman marriage, it appears, does not raise the questions of pleasure
or of freedom, so there is no need to divert the persistent drip.
If the main purpose of Roman marriage is the production of children,20then all forms of diversion during intercourse must be avoided,
because they will hinder conception (1268-1277):
nec molles opu' sunt motus uxoribus hilum.
nam mulier prohibet se concipere atque repugnat,
clunibus ipsa viri Venerem si laeta retractat
atque exossato ciet omni pectore fluctus;
eicit enim sulcum recta regione viaque
vomeris atque locis avertit seminis ictum.
idque sua causa consuerunt scorta moveri,
20 "The traditional doctrine, enforced by Roman censors, was that men should marry,
and that the purpose of marriage was the rearing of children." S. Pomeroy, Goddesses,
Whores, Wives and Slaves (Ntw York 1975) 166.

This content downloaded from 138.253.100.121 on Sat, 12 Dec 2015 23:15:34 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

LUCRETIUS'CURE FORLOVE

81

ne complerentur crebro gravidaeque iacerent


et simul ipsa viris Venus ut concinnior esset;
coniugibus quod nil nostris opus esse videtur.
The direct thrust of the men whose seed must not be diverted from its
recta regione viaque is as proper to marriage as the wife's persistence, the
drip that wears away the hardest stone. Pleasure is still associated with
the diversion of this simple linear motion (molles motus, 1268; ciet omni
pectore fluctus, 1271),21 as is the freedom which the prostitute would lose
if she were to conceive. Again, these things are not relevant to Roman
marriage, which is unlikely to be the locus of Catullan yearnings or, apparently, of pleasure. We may note that the phrase laeta retractat (1270),
signifying the woman's withdrawal accompanying her diversion of the
man's thrust, is used earlier in this book (1200) to indicate the real pleasure that the female (animal or human) experiences in lovemaking; and a
similar phrase, blandaque refrenat morsus admixta voluptas (1085), refers to the mitigation of potential violence by sexual pleasure.22In both
cases, pleasure diverts or modifies another motion.23
With the description of different types of motion during intercourse
we have reached the most literal level of Lucretius' use of motion
imagery in this passage. A similar analysis could be made of Lucretius'
use of "up" and "down" language in connection with the relation of the
gods to the human world. The most important aspects of this usage
would be his insistence that the supply of material that keeps the universe
from decaying comes from below and not from the heavens.24In the case
of the psychological attitudes connected with love, Lucretius' use of contrasting forms of motion aims to convert a blinkered human focus into a
broad atomic perspective. The enslaved lover is isolated by his obsession,
and the cure that confuses his fixed outlook on the world makes him at
home again in a constantly shifting universe.
21 Twice in this book the motion of mollia membra (Bailey suggests "supple") describes
dancing (789-790, 980). 1 am attracted by the translation "makes wriggling movements"
for ciet omnipectorefluctus; cf. C. L. Howard, "Lucretiana," CP 56 (1961) 145-49.
22 In line 1200 Bailey rather coyly translates retractat as "accepts reluctantly." I think
that Lucretius is punning here, and that the woman's withdrawal is connected with the desire to feel again (re-tractare) the man's thrust. Seven lines earlier we have the phrase tractetur blanda voluptas (1263) which sets up the pun.
23 The phrase morsus admixta voluptas is rhythmically identical tofatis avolsa voluptas,
the mss. reading in 2.257, almost universally rejected in favor of the fatis avolsa voluntas
produced by exchanging the last words of 257 and 258. Bollack (n. 17, above) makes a
strong argument in favor of the mss. reading. The parallelism between these phrases is a
further argument: in both cases voluptas implies the modification of, or deviation from,
the pursuit of one thing by another (cause following cause, 2.255; mouth crushing mouth,
4.1080).
24 Part of Lucretius' predilection for the word suppeditare (which occurs 21 times) is
surely that it combines the notion of generous abundance with that of motion from below
(Lewis and Short connect it with subpetere), the latter being brought out by collocations
such as infernaque suppeditantur (1. 1000) and suboriri ac suppeditare (2.1138). Shortly after the second phrase Lucretius ridicules the notion that humankind was let down by a rope
from heaven (2.1153-1154). It is nature working from below, not the gods working from
above, that provides us with such abundance.

This content downloaded from 138.253.100.121 on Sat, 12 Dec 2015 23:15:34 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

82

WILLIAM FITZGERALD

Love is therefore the most important manifestation of a more general


human, or all-too-human, outlook. Probably the fear of death, of losing
this supposedly unique essence, is the root of the problem, and Lucretius
well knew that he was addressing himself to readers who have, like the
lover, already committed themselves to a certain way of seeing things.
Language is, of course, the most important instrument with which we fix
our own perspective on the universe. Lucretius himself stresses its importance when he moves from the subject of sex to that of love with a distinction between muta cupido and nomen amoris (1055-1060):
unde feritur, eo tendit gestitque coire
et iacere umorem in corpus de corpore ductum.
namque voluptatem praesagit muta cupido.
Haec Venus est nobis; hinc autemst nomen amoris,
hinc illaec primum Veneris dulcedinis in cor
stillavit gutta et successit frigida cura.
Venus (sex) is the physical force that has been described in 1037-1057
(Haec Venus est nobis, 1058), but from the muta cupido that anticipates
physical pleasure the name of love has been derived (hinc autemst nomen
amoris, 1058).25This derivation has fixed desire in relation to a single, irreplaceable object, and it is the mythological personification of love
(Amor) who is responsible for instigating passion in one person for
another.26 "Mute desire" is drawn into the province of love when it
learns how to speak and articulate its own mythology, and then the
"darts of Venus" (1052) that strike and make blood spurt forth become
the drip of Venus' sweetness that grows into anguish and feeds the festering wound.
The importance of nomen is underlined by Lucretius' significant diver25 It is not necessary to go as far as Munro in supposing separate references for haec
(voluptas) and hinc (Cupido), though he rightly sees that Venus and amor contrast "the
gratification of the passion with the passion itself." In fact, the adversative force of autem
depends not on the references of haec and hinc but the meaning of the words themselves: this is what sex consists of, but from this is derived the concept and name of love.
Giussani observes this asymmetry to such an extent that he brings out the motion implied in
hinc by adopting Lachmann's momen for the nomen of the mss., which destroys a characteristic Lucretian wordplay.
It is possible that the words muta cupido contain a pun on the word muto, meaning "penis"; it would be this part of the anatomy that would "taste pleasure in advance" (voluptatem praesagit, 1057). Horace seems to be punning on mutus/muto, when in the satire on
adultery, he has the muto take to words (notice the juxtaposition of mutonis and verbis):

Huic si mutonis verbis mala tanta videnti/diceret haec animus. . .(Satires, 1.2.68-69)
Notice the distinction between Venus (sex) and amor (love) in the next paragraph (1073,
1084). In both cases the latter is connected with a poena (1074, 1084) that the former lacks.
26 It may be that the Romans distinguished two sons of Venus, Cupid and Amor, or desire and love respectively. Though Lucretius is, I think, stressing the passage from physical
to psychological phenomenon, he is probably reversing the traditional evaluation of the
two as expressed in Afranius' stoically influenced amabit sapiens, cupient ceteri (fr. 221
Ribbeck). Cf. Antonie Wlosok, "Amor and Cupid," HSCP79 (1975) 165-79.

This content downloaded from 138.253.100.121 on Sat, 12 Dec 2015 23:15:34 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

LUCRETIUS'CURE FORLOVE

83

sion from Epicurus' statement that without the presence of the beloved
love itself wanes (1061-1062): 27
nam si abest quod ames, praesto simulacra tamen sunt
illius et nomen dulce obversatur ad auris.
Further emphasis on the role of language occurs in the brilliant satire on
the power of words to turn the deficiencies of the beloved into merits
(1160-1170), a passage which shows how language is used to filter the external world through our own emotions. This being so, it must be part of
Lucretius' project to work against this function of language and to make
it an instrument of the correct atomic perspective.
In the line that describes the cure for love there is, I think, a deliberate
confusion of perspective (1071):
vulgivagaque vagus Venere ante recentia cures.
Not only is the line, with its juxtapositions, polyptoton, alliteration and
assonance, so hard to pronounce that it almost degenerates into pure
sound, but the perspective of the grammatical subject is lost in a universal wandering (vaga/vagus) which even confuses temporal sequence (ante
recentia). The effect of this resolution of language into verbal matter is
perhaps comparable to the effect of seeing a familiar body as a pattern of
atomic motion. Lucretius himself makes a comparison between the behavior of the letters that make up the words of his poem to that of the
atoms themselves, indicating that it is not only the doctrine expounded
by the words that reveals the atomic universe, but the poetic texture itself, the functioning of language.28As I have suggested, the cure for love
not only calls for a confusion, its wording is a confusion, whose purpose
is to confuse and diffuse certain fixed perspectives, to reassume the isolated human into the atomic dance.
Lucretius uses a number of techniques of linguistic confusion aimed at
liberating the confined perspective of the reader. When he calls disease
an "architect of death" (leti fabricator, 3.472), he is making a paradoxical connection between destruction and creation which conflates the individual's loss with the potential of the released atoms to build new compounds. This is a condensed version of what W. S. Anderson has called
"discontinuity of symbolism" in the De Rerum Natura.29 As he points
out, Lucretius uses certain words or symbols with positive or neutral
emotional force when they apply to the processes of nature and with
negative force when they are applied to human affairs. For instance,
words such as caecus, error and vagari are often used in a neutral sense
of the movement of the atoms and in a negative sense of the human ignorance that fails to comprehend this movement. In the following passage the verb vagari is used in both senses within the space of two lines
(2.80-85):
27 Sent. Vat. 14.
28 1.912-914; 2.688-690.
29 W. S. Anderson, "Discontinuity in Lucretian Symbolism," TAPA 91 (1960) 1-29.

This content downloaded from 138.253.100.121 on Sat, 12 Dec 2015 23:15:34 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

84

WILLIAM FITZGERALD

Si cessare putas rerum primordia posse


cessandoque novos rerum progignere motus,
avius a vera longe ratione vagaris.
nam quoniam per inane vagantur, cuncta necessest
aut gravitate sua ferri primordia rerum
aut ictu forte alterius.
The metaphorical usage isolates the human standpoint from which we
are interpreters of the physical world. However, even if from this detached standpoint we fail to comprehend it, we are also part of the world
we interpret, to such an extent that even our ignorance of its workings
exemplifies those workings. Mind wanders through the void (inane) just
as the ignorant wander in their empty (inane) speculation. Lucretius
seems to have enjoyed the pun on inane, for Heraclitus, author of a false
theory about matter is described (1.639-640) as:
clarus <ob> obscuram linguam magis inter inanis
quamde gravis inter Graios qui vera requirunt.
The metaphorical distinction between the empty (inanes) and the weighty
(graves) philosophers recalls the literal conjunction of void and body in
the universe itself. What is separated on the human level is reintegrated
in the wider context of the universe. The emotive force of words like
vagari and inane derives from the problematic nature of human endeavor, concerned always with goals.30Nature, on the other hand, is not goaldirected but strikes a happy balance between limit and variety. Hence the
discontinuity in the force of certain words, which Anderson sees as
stemming from Lucretius' vivid sense of "the dichotomy between a happy, eternal nature and an unhappy, doomed and suicidal mankind." 31
But the effect of this discontinuity, this confusion of language, is to subsume an unhappy mankind within a happy nature, not to widen the dichotomy. It is, in this way, comparable to the confusion that diverts the
isolating passion of the lover into the joyful wandering of Venus.
One of the most common forms of linguistic "confusion" in Lucretius
occurs when language used to describe one phenomenon suggests
another at the same time. Arguing, in Book 3, that the animus is more
crucial to the preservation of life than the anima, Lucretius compares it
to the pupil of the eye. If the part around the pupil is damaged, sight may
still be preserved providing the pupil remains intact. The reverse, however, is not the case (3.413-415):
at si tantula pars oculi media illa peresa est,
occidit extemplo lumen tenebraeque sequuntur,
incolumis quamvis alioquist splendidus orbis.
30 In the fifth book Lucretius defends his citation of several causes for certain astronomical phenomena, claiming that certainty is impossible but that he will explain what
could happen in variis mundis varia ratione creatis (5.528). Even in the field of knowledge
variety is privileged over absolutes.
31 Anderson (n. 29, above) 24.

This content downloaded from 138.253.100.121 on Sat, 12 Dec 2015 23:15:34 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

LUCRETIUS'CURE FORLOVE

85

The language (occidit lumen, tenebrae, splendidus orbis) is appropriate


to a sunset, as has been observed,32and this gives the final line a peculiarly ambivalent emotional force. From the point of view of the human organism it is a cruel irony that, although the part is resplendently intact,
the whole is plunged into darkness. But we are reminded that, in the universe as a whole, loss to one part is gain to another, and that the sun that
sets here is rising elsewhere as a splendidus orbis. The "confusion" of
phenomena and of emotional effect is again due to the coincidence of an
exclusive with an inclusive point of view, and is intended to divert the
former to the latter.
The same connection of light with life produces another example of
this technique in Lucretius' discussion of shadow (4.364-378). Clearly his
physical explanation of this phenomenon, that it is merely lumine cassus
aer and not some doppelganger that follows us about and imitates our
movements, is directed against the belief in ghosts. In the introduction to
the fourth book Lucretius declares that part of his concern in dealing
with visual phenomena is to dispel the belief in ghosts and the afterlife
(4.41-42):
. . . ne forte animas Acherunte reamur
effugere aut umbras inter vivos volitare.
So the paragraph on the physics of shadow begins with the singular form
of umbra and ends with the plural form that carries the meaning
"ghosts", accompanied by an adjective (nigras) associated with the
underworld (4.377-378): 33
propterea facile et spoliatur lumine terra
et repletur item nigrasque sibi abluit umbras.
Lucretius has explained that shadow is the result of the privation of light
from the earth caused by the intervention of our bodies: as our bodies
move, so different parts of the earth are obscured and our shadow seems
to move. But the above lines are so phrased that they could also be taken
as a description of the cycle of life and death. We may read the phrase
spoliatur lumine to mean both "deprived of light" and "bereft of
life." 34 The phrase occurs once again in Lucretius in a passage in which
he is clearly making a similar "confusion" of astronomical phenomena
and death, in this case with decidedly military imagery that culminates
with the conqueror straddling a defeated enemy (5.758-763): 35
solque suos etiam dimittere languidus ignis
tempore cur certo nequeat recreareque lumen,
cum loca praeteriit flammis infesta per auras,
quae faciunt ignis interstingui atqueperire?
et cur terra queat lunam spoliare vicissim
lumine et oppressum solem super ipsa tenere. ...
32
33
34
35

E. Kenney, Lucretius De Rerum Natura, Book III (Cambridge 1971) ad loc.


Cf. 3.52.
Vergil uses the phrase in this sense at Aeneid 12.935.
For military imagery used of the heavenly bodies, cf. 4.407-409.

This content downloaded from 138.253.100.121 on Sat, 12 Dec 2015 23:15:34 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

86

WILLIAM FITZGERALD

Buried in the description of the physics of shadow, then, is the Epicurean


view of death as a simple matter of exchange, a mere transition in the
cyclical process of loss and renewal, which "wipes away the dark
shades" (nigrasque sibi abluit umbras) that make death a matter of personal fear.
What all these examples of linguistic "confusion" have in common is
the goal of diverting the reader from a narrowly human to an inclusively
atomic perspective. Words and phenomena that characterize or concern
a troubled humanity are projected into an unproblematic universe of
which we are part, just as the obsessed love of Lucretius' lover is projected into the universal wandering of Venus by a confusion of the first
wounds with new blows. Lucretius' project to reintegrate an isolated humanity into a happy nature connects this cure for love with the linguistic
therapy of the poem's own poetic texture. It also lies behind his treatment of love in terms of different forms of motion, for in this way the
ethical and the physical become one. The confusion or diffusion of motions associated with a narrow concentration, sterile isolation or festering obsession is comparable to the confusion on the linguistic level that
diverts the reader from his all-too-human perspective.36
University of California at San Diego
CW78.2 (1984)

WILLIAM FITZGERALD

36 1 would like to thanikthe anonymous readeerof CW for helpful criticisms of' an earlier
draft ot this article.

ROME/ATHENS SCHOLARSHIP
The Classical Association of the Atlantic States is pleased to announce availability of the E. Adelaide Hahn Rome/Athens Scholarship for the summer of
1985.
An award of $1,500 will be made this spring and will be applicable to study in
the summer of 1985 at either the American Academy in Rome or the American School in Athens. Preference will be given to CAAS members currently
employed as teachers below the university level.
Applicanits must have been members of CAAS for two years prior to the
award. The winner on returning from Europe will be expected to deliver a
viva voce and w\ritten report to the CAAS membership.
Applications for the scholarship are available from:
James W. Poultney
Department of Classics
The Johns Hopkins University
Baltimore, MD 21218
Deadline for application is March 1, 1985.

This content downloaded from 138.253.100.121 on Sat, 12 Dec 2015 23:15:34 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions