Tuesday, November 13, 2007

De morte

Was the first century BC, the years 55-c.40 BC in particular, a boom period for thanatology? I have been looking at some works of that period and I am beginning to compile a relatively long list of works we either have in total or in part or else can be confident belonged to that period:
  1. Lucretius, De rerum natura, book 3, lines 830-end
  2. Cicero, Tusculan disputations, book 1 (Cicero also wrote a Consolatio just before Tusc. His daughter, Tullia, died early in 45 BC.)
  3. Philodemus, On death
  4. L. Varius Rufus, On death (a poem; fragments survive)
  5. And, perhaps: Pseudo-Platonic Axiochus
This may not be a tremendously long list, but in terms of ancient works which survive or are known and considering the relatively close date of at least 1-4, I reckon this looks like a period of particular interest in such matters. If so, why?

Perhaps the most plausible explanation is that it is the result of a growing Roman interest in Epicureanism, the philosophy which emphasised most strongly the importance of getting right about the fear of death. Also, items 1, 3, and 4 were perhaps composed by people who were acquaintances or perhaps more loosely associated. This is therefore perhaps the result of a particular group's interest in this question. And, I imagine we should not discount the possibility that the turbulent times leading up to and after Caesar's assassination, the ongoing upheavals and -- no doubt -- deaths, might have encouraged this kind of reflection. We ought not to over-emphasise this last point, I suppose, since people die all the time and the Romans can't be said to have lived an entirely trouble-free kind of existence before the mid-first century BC. All the same, a number of these works either explicitly mention or can be plausibly linked to political concerns.

Am I missing any items from the list? And is there any other comparable period of activity? Is it that this looks to be unusual simply because we happen to know a bit about the works from this very well-documented period?

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