Image, Ideology and Action in Cicero and Lucretius

Author: Penwill, J.L.
Title: Image, Ideology and Action in Cicero and Lucretius
Review/Collection: Ramus, Volume 23, Issue 1-2 = In : Anthony James Boyle, John Patrick Sullivan, Roman literature and ideology : Ramus essays for J.P. Sullivan. Bendigo, Australia: Aureal Publications, 1995. 269 pages.
Year edition: 1994
Pages: 68-91
Keywords: Philosophie - Filosofia - Philosophy
Description: “Images abound,” begins Penwill, in this astute counterpoising of image-as-ideological-icon (Cicero) and image-as-physical-emanation (Lucretius). Penwill argues that this is not just a matter of discrete semantic fields. Cicero in the De Re Publica, as elsewhere in his writing, holds up idealized figures from the glorious Roman past as (obvious) examples for contemporary politicians to emulate, but “he also invites us to see in them a reflection of himself as the author … applying his Greek philosophical learning to present an imago of Rome as the ideal state” (p. 72). Such an enterprise was foredoomed by the glaring disparity between idealized past and corrupt and debased present political realities. Lucretius, Penwill contends, applied a powerful philosophical solvent to the ideologically charged images fashioned by Cicero. For Lucretius’s elaborate presentation of the Epicurean theory of visual perception unveiled the true nature of things: images are mere physical emanations, indispensable of course to visual sensation, but, like all existent objects (sc. composed of atoms), undirected by any princeps deus or other controlling moral force. To see an ethical or political imperative in the images of past patriots is merely to engage in self-delusion: “We perceive the imagines of our ancestors (historical or literary) because our minds are ‘prepared’ to receive them …. The mind is creating its own home video show …. The dead tell us nothing apart from what we choose to put in their mouths” (p. 80). [James Holoka, BMCR 1995.11.04]
Author initials: Penwill 1994