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UCLA CMRS | A Woman’s Pleasure: Philosophy and Sexuality in the Poetry of Sulpicia
February 9 @ 2:00 pm - 3:30 pm
“A Woman’s Pleasure: Philosophy and Sexuality in the Poetry of Sulpicia”
A lecture by Erin McKenna Hanses (Penn State University), part of the Winter 2022 CMRS-CEGS Research Seminar, Classics 250, “Eros. Amor. The Erotic Cultures of the Early Global World” taught by Professor Giulia Sissa (Political Science and Classics).
In his diatribe against love in De Rerum Natura Book 4, Lucretius includes an idea found rarely in male-authored Roman poetry: the Epicurean asserts that there is mutua voluptas between men and women and that both partners can experience pleasure in matters of sex. In this paper, I argue that Sulpicia, the female speaker and possible author of various poems in Corpus Tibullianum 3.8-18, provides an emphatic endorsement—and vivid illustration—of this notable Lucretian assertion. Through clever use of Lucretian diction, Sulpicia is able to identify herself as the kind of woman envisioned by the Epicurean in DRN 4, while providing a fuller illustration of what it is like to be a woman experiencing the often painful voluptas Lucretius warns of. The philosophical nature of Sulpicia’s comments on pleasure are further confirmed by her simultaneous engagement with the epigrams of Philodemus, an Epicurean contemporary of Lucretius. This female insertion into elegy’s engagement with Epicurean thought is appropriate to a Hellenistic school known to have included women among its members.