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Seminar Latin/Ancient Philosophy: Lucretius: poet and philosopher


Admission requirements

Students enrolled in MA / Research MA Classics and Ancient Civilizations (track Classics); MA students Philosophy with working knowledge of Latin (“eindexamenniveau”).

We expect participants to have read the whole text of Lucretius in translation before the course starts.


Lucretius’ poem De rerum natura (On the nature of things) is one of the most fascinating philosophical poems of antiquity. On the one hand, it is a major source of our knowlegde of Epicurean philosophy in general. On the other hand, it was written in a time when the interest of Roman society in Greek philosophy became stronger (think, e.g., of the philosophical works of Cicero that are contemporary to Lucretius).
In this seminar, we will approach De rerum natura from a philosophical and a literary angle. We will ask what we can learn about Epicurism and whether the interpretatio Romana influenced or changed the original Greek thinking. But we will also look at the poetic qualities of the poem by analysing its intertextual links with previous and contemporary poetry, and by looking at its poetic imagery and form. Furthermore, we shall study the question of the relation between philosophical content and literary form (Epicurus himself was after all rather hostile towards poetry). At the end of our course, we will also quickly glimpse at the impact of Lucretius’ thinking on the early modern intellectual world.

Course objectives

  • Knowledge of didactic poetry and of the poetic tradition of the Roman Republic

  • Knowledge of Epicurean philosophy

  • Understanding of the relation between literary form and philosophical content

  • Understanding of the transmission process of Greek learning into Roman Society


Please consult the timetables on the Classics and Ancient Civilizations website.

Mode of instruction


Course Load

Course load for 10 EC (= 280 hours):

  • Attendance of classes (obligatory): 42 hours (3 hours x 14 weeks);

  • Preparation of classes: 56 hours (4 hours x 14 weeks);

  • Preparation short presentation: 52 hours;

  • Reading Latin pensum: 50 hours (classicists; philosophers will read 50 hours worth of secondary literature);

  • Paper (4000 words): 80 hours.

Assessment method

  • Written examination (25%);

  • Paper (50%);

  • Short presentation (25%).

Pass mark: a weighted score of 6.0 or higher. A candidate who fails the pass mark retakes one or more parts as directed by the instructors.

Attendance is compulsory; students who fail more than one session without valid reason will be excluded from the course.


In this course we make use of Blackboard (distribution of course materials; communication with participants).

Reading list

Every participant should buy the OCT edition: Lucretius, De rerum natura, ed. C. Bailey, Oxford 1963 (or later reprints). The Loeb translation is available via the website of the University Library, but any other existing translation will also do.
Commentaries on individual books are available in the Classics section of the University Library.
Further secundary literature will be made available on a reading shelf in the University Library, and a short bibliography will be distributed at the beginning of the course.


Students are required to register for this course via uSis, the course registration system of Leiden University.

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.


Dr. R.M. van den Berg
Dr. C. Pieper


  • The course will be taught in Dutch or English, depending on the first language of participating students.

  • For students in the MA Classics programme this course can count as a course in Latin or as a cultural historical course.