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No New Pleasures Under the Sun: From Lucretius to Montaigne (via Ecclesiastes)

Thursday, November 3, 2016, 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm

When Michel de Montaigne retired to his estate to write his famous
Essais, he inscribed into the roof beams of his library mottos in
Latin and Greek, often from ancient philosophical sources.  One was a
line of Lucretius: "No new pleasure is forged by living."  This
inscription, which finds close parallels in Montaigne's essay on death
(1.20), was later erased.  My talk will explore the philosophical
background of this line of Lucretius and similar ancient ideas that
"everything is always the same;" I show how different philosophical
schools used these seemingly gloomy conclusions to support their more
positive views about the stability and autonomy of human happiness.  I
end my paper by suggesting how passages in Montaigne's later essays
and his travel journal may explain the striking erasure of this
inscription and his rejection of Classical assumptions about the
nature of happiness.

Nathan Gilbert is currently a Junior Research Fellow at Durham 
University.  He received his PhD from the University of Toronto in 
2015 with a dissertation entitled "Among Friends: Cicero and the  
Epicureans."  He has forthcoming articles on Republican intellectual  
history and papyrology, and is currently working on a monograph which  
traces the development of Cicero's philosophical works to his  
epistolary debates with his Roman contemporaries.