COLLOQUIUM: Ada Palmer, University of Chicago, "How Humanists Read a Famous Atheist: the Evolution of Renaissance Reading Methods Exposed through a Survey of Marginalia in Renaissance Copies of Lucretius, 1417-1600."

Thursday, February 12, 2015 - 4:30pm to 6:00pm

402 Cohen Hall

"Epicurean” appears frequently in Renaissance documents as a generic term of abuse, interchangeable with heretic, atheist, even sodomite.  When Lucretius’ Epicurean poem De Rerum Natura reappeared in 1417, this entrenched association with atheism threatened humanist claims that studying the classics would support Christian virtue.  Lucretius’ Renaissance editors claim that the reader will ignore the unchristian content, especially Lucretius’ attacks on the soul’s immortality.  While their claims may seem to be mere attempts to please the censor, a comprehensive survey of marginalia in the fifty surviving manuscripts reveals a characteristic humanist reading agenda, focused on poetry, philology and moral philosophy, which was indeed indifferent to the scientific content.  This limited the capacity of atomism, and other unorthodox scientific theories, to circulate before 1550.  Notes in printed copies from the later sixteenth century reveal a transformation in reading methods, and an audience much more receptive to Epicureanism’s heterodox science and proto-atheist potential