Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Classics
In this dissertation, I seek to refine our understanding of the genre of didactic poetry in antiquity through examination of the relationship between knowledge and divinity as it is presented by Greek and Latin didactic poets. Focusing on the poetic portrayal of the didactic student, I argue for a continuity in the didactic poetic discourse based on a conception of the divinizing power of knowledge, and show the (quasi-)deification of the student to be a recurrent generic feature. This “deification” can take different forms, ranging from a qualified return to the mythological Golden Age where humans “lived like the gods,” as seen in Hesiod’s Just City, to the philosophical conception of ὁμοίωσις θεῷ, in which the promotion of the rational part of the soul brings humanity closer to divinity. Despite this diversity of forms, each poet can be seen self-consciously working within a shared tradition, portraying new articulations on this divinizing role in ways meant to recall poetic predecessors and offer students the potential for “a life like the gods.” Chapter 1 provides an overview of this divinization or return to a state like that of the Golden Age as it is portrayed by the Greek didactic poets Hesiod, Empedocles, and Aratus. Chapter 2 looks at Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura, examining how Lucretius combines poetic and philosophical models to argue for the deification of the Epicurean student and especially Epicurus himself. Chapter 3 turns to Vergil’s Georgics to show the ways in which Vergil’s polyvalent text plays with its readers’ expectations to assert and reject simultaneously the possibility for his student to achieve a “life like the gods.” Chapter 4 concludes the dissertation with a study of Manilius’ Astronomica, showing how the poet exploits contradictions in his predecessors for his own ends while arguing for the inherent divinity of humanity.