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Epicureanism across the French Revolution

  • Thomas M. Kavanagh
Part of the The New Antiquity book series (NANT)

Abstract

Understanding how the Epicureanism so central to the French Enlightenment fared during and after the difficult days of the Revolution leads to one of the most intriguing chapters within the complex history of De Rerum Natura and its readers. Jean-Charles Darmon has shown how, by the early seventeenth century, “Epicurean” had become a preferred term for designating where one placed oneself and one’s enemies in the defining cultural conflicts of the early modern period.1 “Epicurean”—whether used to denigrate or to celebrate—became the powerful and protean banner of a philosophical ferment in relation to which everyone felt they must know well where they stood. At the same time, this intense concern with the “Epicurean” left, as it were, little place for what might more legitimately be called the “Lucretian”—a term that comes only reluctantly to modern lips.

Keywords

French Revolution Civic Virtue Early Modern Period Shared Meal Thick Juice 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Jean-Charles Darmon, Philosophie épicurienne et littérature au XVIIe siècle (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1998).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    On Lucretius’s choice of poetic form for his exposition of Epicurean philosophy, see Leo Strauss, “Notes on Lucretius,” in Liberalism Ancient and Modern (New York: Basic Books, 1968), 85–87; James H. Nichols, Epicurean Political Philosophy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1976), 24–45; P. H. Schrijvers, Horror ac divina voluptas: Études sur la poétique et la poésie de Lucrèce (Amsterdam: A. M. Hakkert, 1970), 27–49; Natania Meeker, Voluptuous Philosophy: Literary Materialism in the French Enlightenment (New York: Fordham University Press, 2006), 17–58.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    W. R. Johnson, Lucretius and the Modern World (London: Duckworth, 2000), 81.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Denis Diderot and Jean d’Alembert, Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (1751–57; repr. [17 vols., plus plates and supplement in 5 vols.], New York: Readex Microprint, 1969), vol. 1: 1196.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    On this subject, see Thomas M. Kavanagh, Enlightened Pleasures: Eighteenth-Century France and the New Epicureanism (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2010).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Louis Antoine de Saint-Just, “Rapport au nom du Comité de salut public sur le mode du décret contre les ennemis de la Révolution présentée à la Convention Nationale le 13 Ventôse an II (3 mars 1794),” in Oeuvres Complètes, ed. Anne Kupiec and Miguel Abensour (Paris: Gallimard, 2004), 673.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    The Littré defines physiology as “the study of life phenomena in a philosophical and abstract way.” On the complex semantics of this term and Brillat’s use of it in relation to Anthelme Richerand’s Nouveaux élémens de physiologie (Paris: Crapart, 1802), see Giles MacDonogh, Brillat-Savarin: The Judge and His Stomach (London: John Murray, 1992), 209.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, La Physiologie du goût [1825], ed. Jean-François Revel (Paris: Flammarion, 1982), 62. All subsequent quotations from this work will be followed by parentheses enclosing the page number from this edition. The translations are my own.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    On the broad connotations of and heated debates surrounding the term “taste,” see Elena Russo, Styles of Enlightenment: Taste, Politics and Authorship in Eighteenth-Century France (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    My quotations from Lucretius follow the Esolen verse translation: Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, trans. Anthony M. Esolen (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), Book 5.1011 and 1016–17, p. 187. All subsequent quotations from Lucretius will be followed by parentheses enclosing the book, verse, and page references according to this edition.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Pierre-Marie Morel, “Les Communautés humaines,” in Lire Épicure et les épicuriens, ed. Alain Gigandet and Pierre-Marie Morel (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2007), 167–86, 184.Google Scholar
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    Joseph and Louis Michaud, Biographie universelle ancienne et modern, 85 vols. (Paris: Michaud Frères, 1811–62), vol. 5: 250.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Jean-Baptiste Sanson de Pongerville, “Lucretius,” in Dictionnaire de la conversation et de la lecture (Paris: Belin-Mandar, 1832–39), vol. 36: 53. Subsequent quotations from this article will be followed by parentheses enclosing the page reference.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Eric Baker, “Lucretius and the European Enlightenment,” in The Cambridge Companion to Lucretius, ed. Stuart Gillespie and Philip Hardie (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 274–88, 282.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Thomas M. Kavanagh 2016

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  • Thomas M. Kavanagh

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