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This paper offers an interpretation of a possible allusion to Homer in Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura: after demonstrating that the passage (Lucr. 1.271-6) is in fact an allusion to Homer (Od. 5.291-4), I consider it in light of the poem’s own atomic principles, arguing that the letters that compose the (inter)text behave just like the atoms that make up Lucretius' physical world. In conclusion I argue that Lucretius’ philosophical analogy between the nature of language and the movement of atomsis instructive for how we should understand his strategy of using Homeric intertextuality as a way to create philosophical problems for the reader to consider in the context of didactic poetry.

The argument that Epicurean physics can be applied to intertextuality is based on the often repeated analogy which presents atoms and their compounds as equivalent to words and their letters (e.g. Lucr. 1.820-7); this analogy has led many scholars to find parallels between the DRN’s philosophical content and its literary form. For example, Schrijvers connects the Epicurean philosophy of vision with Lucretius’ use of rhetorical analogies. Kennedy discusses how the Epicurean explanation of an infinite universe is provided through the medium of a finite text. Most notably, Schiesaro connects the theory of palingenesis (the repeated destruction and reconstitution of atoms throughout time) with the excessive repetition throughout the poem. These scholars work under the assumption that Lucretius structured his literary work according to the atomic principles of his own philosophy. The current paper, working under the same assumption and taking the next plausible step, draws a similar connection between content and form with respect to Epicurean principles of atomic movement throughout time and intertextuality between two texts.

The argument is as follows: since Lucretius invitesus to analyze textual processes in terms of Epicurean atomic physics, I apply this concept to the poem’s own intertextuality by analyzing an instance of Homeric storm imagery within the DRN (Lucr.1.271-6) and interpreting it in light of Lucretius’ explanation of atomic movement (Lucr. 2.62-332 and 5.110-234). First, I suggest that the way in which a text interacts with and is built upon other texts is equivalent to the way in which atoms interact with and are built upon other atoms, so that the literary mirrors the philosophy, and the form reflects the content. I then argue that the functionality of the form (Homeric intertextuality) also mirrors the content (atomic principles). The evidence for this argument indicates that the language used by Lucretius to describe atomic origins and movement is identical with the literary language of intertextuality: a “pattern” for production (exemplum gignundis), the “idea” for humanity (notities hominum), and a “model” for creation (specimen…creandi) (5.181-6). Interpreting exemplum, notities, and specimen in literary terms makes Lucretius’ final conclusion about atomic motion patently metapoetic: “the particular arrangements [of atoms] by which the totality of the present work (haec rerum… nunc summa) has been produced (geritur), is forever in the process of innovation (novando) ”(5.194). ​

The approach and conclusion of this analysis contributes to our understanding of intertextuality in Lucretius and is suggestive for other didactic poets. The connections made by intertextuality are not meant to have one specific purpose guided by divine/authorial intent; instead, the reader should negotiate each instance of intertextual connection as the result of random movements of texts interacting with one another over time. For example, in Lucretius it is the force of wind that hits the ocean, scatters the clouds apart, and mixes land and sea (Lucr. 1.271-6). In Homer it is Poseidon himself that disturbs the ocean, brings the clouds together, and distorts both land and sea (Od. 5.291-4). The function of Homeric intertextuality in the DRN is thus to create a situation for the Epicurean learner to consider independently, i.e. not to look for specific intentional meaning from an authoritative source but to account for themselves the philosophical juxtaposition that it creates.