Date of Degree
Ancient Philosophy | Classical Literature and Philology | Italian Literature | Renaissance Studies
Lucretius, void, Atomism, De Rerum Natura
During the seventeenth century, the revival of atomic theories and the beginning of barometric experiments sparked a philosophical debate on the existence and the nature of void, which in turn generated new attention to the ancient disputes on void and prompted new interpretations of Lucretius’ examination of inane (De Rerum Natura, I.329-397). Commentators began to discuss the passage beyond the ancient philosophical tradition and in relation to modern ideas and recent discoveries, while Vacuists appealed to Lucretian arguments to prove or deny the existence of an absolute void interspersed among corpuscles.
My research contributes to the scholarship on the early modern reception of the De Rerum Natura by exploring the exegesis of Lucretius’ representation and defense of void in seventeenth-century Tuscany. The study develops along four interrelated lines of inquiry, namely, (i) the evolution of the notion of void in ancient atomic theories, from the Abderites to Lucretius; (ii) the interpretations of Lucretius’ void within the Renaissance exegetical tradition; (iii) Galileo’s and the Galileans’ definitions of void and their reuse of Lucretian arguments; (iv) the representation of Lucretius’ void in the first Italian translation of DRN by Galilean scientist and poet Alessandro Marchetti.
I analyze the evolution of void from the early Atomists to the Epicureans, and argue that for Lucretius, space is void, while ‘the full’ denotes the solidity of matter rather than occupancy of space. But in the seventeenth century, due to new representations of space that arose within the Neoplatonic tradition, scholars began to identify void with empty regions of a transcendental geometrical space. At the same time, Lucretius’ exegetes began commenting on void by referring to scientific theories and the debate among modern Vacuists and Plenists.
In Italy, Galileo and his Pisan followers were among the most eminent scientists who proclaimed the existence of atoms and void. Galileo often appealed to Lucretian illustrations to prove the existence of void against his Peripatetic opponents. Yet, he reconciled vacuist theses with the belief that nature abhors vacuum and that void and atoms could be dimensionless and purely mathematical entities. His followers at the University of Pisa, led by Alfonso Borelli, devoted great effort to prove the existence of a vacuum Torricellianum and demonstrate the existence of a microscopic void among atoms. But following Gassendi, they reconciled Atomism with Catholic orthodoxy, denying the cosmological implications of Epicurus mechanistic view of void. For them, void was not an ens but a privatio. Thus, while embracing more openly a “Democritean philosophy”, the Galileans deprived void (and atoms) of agency in the world.
This reinterpretation of Lucretius’ inane is further confirmed by a linguistic analysis of Alessandro Marchetti’s first Italian translation of the poem. A Galilean and a student of Borelli’s, Marchetti conveys void as empty space in a-priori Universe. His lexicon of void also reveals the author’s attempt to avoid clear references to the modern scientific ideas. Yet, from a close examination of his lines it is possible to find traces of Galileo’s elaboration of Lucretius’ proofs of void.
Bottone, Carlo, "Quod Inane Vocamus: Lucretius’ Void in Seventeenth-Century Italy" (2021). CUNY Academic Works.
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