chapter  7
19 Pages

HUMANS, NATURE, AND GOD: EPIC LESSONS IN THE FIRST CENTURY

Humans and their place within the natural world are favourite themes for didactic epic. Whether this is displayed against the backdrop of farming, astronomy, or cosmology, the theme is apparent in Hesiod, Parmenides, Empedocles, Aratus, Nicander, Cicero, Lucretius, and Virgil. It took on a particular allure in the first century CEo Witness the poetry of Manilius, Germanicus, the anonymous Aetnapoet, and Columella. It is also reflected in the prose literature of the period: one thinks of the shambling Natural History of Pliny the Elder and of the more pointed Natural Questions of Seneca. This enthusiasm in poetry for natural philosophy represents a step away from the interests of Horace in the Ars Poetica and Ovid in his love lessons. Horace's and Ovid's poems are concerned wholly with matters related to the use of free time: the theatre and love. They offer a version of leisure requiring participation, both in the activities described by the poems and by the ars exhibited in the poems themselves. The four poets to be treated in this chapter focus resolutely on scientific matters. They have stepped back from leisure. This is reflected in both the subject matter and the texture of their poems.