This talk investigates the so-called Return of Lucretius—the impact of Epicurean natural philosophy, especially of Democritan atomism--to Renaissance Europe via a New World heterotopia of Brazilian cannibalism in seminal texts by Amerigo Vespucci, Thomas More, Jean de Léry, André Thévet, and Michel de Montaigne. The Renaissance humanists’ engagement with classical pagan natural philosophy was facilitated through a rhetoric of “cannibal ventriloquism,” where un-Christian but perennially powerful ideas such as pre-Socratic atomism were placed in the mouths of New World cannibals by European humanists who discovered an uncanny resemblance between Brazilian cannibal metaphysics and the sublimated forms of materialism evident in the common medieval and early modern European practice of medicinal cannibalism and the Catholic Eucharist.
This event has been organized by the Early Modern Studies Group's Mellon-funded project entitled "The Southern Strategies of Early Modern Empires (circa 1444-1800). This three-year project combines a speaker series with curated course offerings and other events to promote the study of early modern souths. Co-sponsored by the Willson Center for the Humanities and Arts.