Tangere enim et tangi: Permeability and Penetrability in Epicurean Aesthetics

Rebecca Moorman (Providence College)

This paper argues that the aesthetic experience of disgust in Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura subverts traditional Roman gender norms by defining Epicurean uirtus as a state of openness and penetrability. In other words, the reader’s ability to draw close to potential contaminants rather than hold them at a safe, objective distance is a positive Epicurean quality. Lucretian optics, a tactile theory of intromission, facilitates the reader’s intimate experience of aesthetic disgust at the end of the poem, demonstrating the poem’s nonbinary aesthetic of intimacy and entanglement. De Rerum Natura thus offers an aesthetic radically different from traditional depictions of Roman masculinity as a state of hardness and impenetrability.