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Aesthetic Disgust in Lucretius or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Plague

March 5, 2020 @ 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm

Portrait image of Rebecca Moorman standing outdoors in front of trees. Moorman has short hair, is smiling, and wears a patterned blouse under a brown jacket and dark glassesDissertation Fellow Seminar:

Rebecca Moorman

IRH Robert J. Reinhold Dissertation Fellow

Classical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies, UW-Madison


The Epicurean epic De Rerum Natura, by the Roman poet Lucretius (1st c. BCE), concludes with a grisly depiction of the Athenian plague, a passage that has left many scholars scratching their heads. Why does a poem ostensibly about pleasure, a didactic epic meant to assuage the reader’s fear of death, end this way? In this talk, I suggest a new reading of the poem’s conclusion that encourages readers to find pleasure in, not despite, the poet’s account of disease and death, through the aesthetic appreciation of disgust.


Rebecca Moorman is a Ph.D. Candidate in Classics at UW-Madison in the Department of Classical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies, and Robert J. Reinhold Dissertation Fellow in Classics at the IRH. Rebecca’s dissertation explores the role of disgust in three Roman authors, Lucretius, Persius, and Apuleius, to argue for the positive role of negative emotions in both literary pleasure and philosophical instruction. Her general research interests include Latin poetry, Republican and Imperial Latin literature, ancient emotions and the senses, and ancient philosophy, especially Hellenistic and Roman.


March 5, 2020
2:00 pm - 3:00 pm
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University Club, Room 212
432 East Campus Mall
Madison, Wisconsin 53703 United States