Pontano's Use of the Didactic Genre: Rhetoric, Irony and the Manipulation of Lucretius in Urania
Giovanni Pontano's astronomical poem Urania (c. 1475, published 1505) is densely scientific, describing in turn each sign of the zodiac, each star and planet, their mythologies and influences. It seems likely that his choice of verse stems from his particular familiarity with Lucretius, whom he edited and restored and who, as a didactic poet, was especially suited to Pontano's own intention of defending astronomy. However, Pontano, unlike his mentor, asserts divine providence, and the interplay between source and intention provides opportunities for irony and polemic, particularly evident in his treatment of the themes of human happiness and civilization, and superstition: for the first, Pontano imitates Lucretius in order to rejct him, and this rejection emphasizes his own religious orthodoxy, while he is able to dissociate his science from the second. Unlike fellow Neapolitan scientific poets, he subverts Lucretius rather than attacking Epicureanism.