M. D. Moorman: Lucretius’ Venus and Mars Reconsidered

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Lucretius’ Venus and Mars Reconsidered

M. D. Moorman

1. Asmis’ Interpretation

The opening sections of Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura have been the source of much puzzlement and interpretive speculation. Why does Lucretius begin with an invocation of the goddess Venus when one of the key tenets of Epicureanism is that the gods inhabit a distant realm of tranquility and are unconcerned with the affairs of men? Indeed, the Epicureans saw religion as a source of self-deception, error, and evil. This paper will attempt to ease the paradoxical tension present in these opening passages.

We will begin by considering Elizabeth Asmis’ article, “Lucretius’ Venus and Stoic Zeus,”[1] which offers an interpretation that she believes is “the key to a solution”[2] to this problem. We will agree with Asmis that it is interpretively useful to see a substitution for Stoic Zeus taking place in the text. However, we will argue against her interpretation on three crucial points: (1) that Venus alone supplants Stoic Zeus, (2) that Venus triumphs “utterly” over Mars, and  (3) we will take strong exception to an argument she offers to ‘save the text’ via a distinction she draws between Zeus and Venus. We will then offer an alternative reading of the text, which, while falling well short of a “key to a solution,” may make better sense of the text. We will begin by sketching Asmis’ three central contentions, and then deal with them in reverse order.

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