Metaphor and Argumentation in Lucretius

Matthew Johncock

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

5298 Downloads (Pure)


This thesis argues that Lucretius employs five coherent groups of imagery in his De Rerum Natura to explain the fundamental laws and processes of his materialist philosophy. These groups, embedded in human experience, guide Lucretius’ reader through the difficult, and at times unpalatable, doctrines of Epicureanism. Inspired by Lucretius’ weaving metaphors for argumentation, and the way in which these groups of imagery intertwine to form the expository fabric of the DRN, I have labelled them ‘conceptual threads’.
Part 1 applies this framework to the Book 1 prologue, and creates new readings for several key passages (not least the hymn to Venus), while enhancing the coherence of the prologue as a whole. Lucretius introduces the conceptual threads prominently here, to ensure his reader comprehends them before they are expanded throughout the DRN.
From this foundation, Part 2 individually maps the development and principal applications of each thread, and explores how Lucretius applies each consistently to depict a fundamental law or process, and the more specific laws and processes relying on these. The broad variety of contexts in which the threads occur emphasises that the fundamental tenets of Lucretius’ philosophy are universal.
Part 3 considers how the threads intertwine to express more complex theories, and uncovers deeper meaning in Lucretius’ most important doctrines – of creation, the soul, sensation, cosmology and ethics. To comprehend these, the reader must employ their understanding of the individual threads as they have been consistently developed in the epic, and often apply new knowledge retrospectively to gain deeper understanding of earlier theories.
The Epilogue considers how the conceptual threads depict Lucretius’ methodology of composition, and how they enhance the consolatory aspects of the DRN, especially in the doctrine that ‘death is nothing to us’ in Book 3, and the harrowing plague scene at the end of Book 6.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Powell, Jonathan G.F., Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Jun 2016
Publication statusUnpublished - 2016


  • Lucretius
  • De Rerum Natura
  • Metaphor
  • Epicureanism
  • Ancient philosophy
  • Persuasion
  • Author and reader

Cite this