A.2. Stolen fire: Aeschylean imagery and Thoreau’s identification of the <i>Graius homo</i> of Lucretius with Prometheus

  • Robert A. Seelinger Westminster College
Keywords: Lucretius, Thoreau, Prometheus


In his Journal for April 26, 1856, Thoreau noted that he had quickly looked over the first 200 lines of the De Rerum Natura but was “…struck only with the lines referring to Promethius (sic)—whose vivida vis animi…extra/processit longe flammantia moenia mundi.” (1.72–73) During this time (i.e., late April and into May) Thoreau was reading the Roman agricultural writers Columella and Palladius, and it is unclear what led him to pick up the De Rerum Natura and then discard it so quickly. Perhaps most curious is Thoreau’s comment that lines 72–73 refer to Prometheus. No commentator in the context of Thoreau has noted that Lucretius is not actually referring to Prometheus in these lines but to Epicurus. The goal of this paper is to show how these lines in their wording and imagery may have reminded Thoreau of Aeschylus’ description of Prometheus in Prometheus Bound and led him to conclude that lines 1.72–73 of the De Rerum Natura refer to Prometheus.


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