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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 February 2021

Richard Hutchins*
University of Miami


Lucretius is the first classical author to have written a history of animal resistance. In a fifty-line passage from Book Five of De rerum natura, the ‘animal revolt’ (5.1297–349), Lucretius describes the rise of empire and its instrumentalization of animals for war. When the animals are led onto the battlefield, however, they swerve against their ‘armed teachers and savage masters’ (1311). The linear rise of empire, built on the abuse of animals’ bodies, is deterritorialized by those same animal bodies in a chaotic scene that takes place on what Monica Gale has called a ‘cosmic battlefield’. This paper follows Lucretius’ account in Book Five of De rerum natura of the linear rise of empire, its increasing capture of animal life, and the rupture of empire's linear trajectory by a clinamen, or ‘swerve’, of rebel animals. I compare Lucretius’ account of the rise of empire to what Deleuze and Guattari call a ‘molar line’, and the swerve of rebel animals to Deleuze and Guattari's notion of the ‘line of flight’.

Research Article
Copyright © Ramus 2021

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1. I use ‘animal revolt’ throughout this article as shorthand to refer to the passage.

2. Gale (2000), 232–40, describes the ‘cosmic battlefield’ as a return to the indeterminacy of the state of nature. See Deleuze and Guattari's notion of ‘chaosmosis’, a term they borrow from James Joyce, to indicate chaos not as absolute disorder but as a composed or consistent chaos, i.e. a realm of potential difference, consisting of the ceaseless variations of networks, planes, zones, and forces. In Lucretius’ case, this would be chaos but as composed of atoms. In What is Philosophy, Deleuze and Guattari (1994), 118, say that ‘Chaos is defined not so much by its disorder as by the infinite speed with which every form taking shape in it vanishes. It is a void that is not a nothingness but a virtual, containing all possible particles and drawing out all possible forms.’ Grosz (2008), 26, summarizes Deleuze and Guattari's notion of chaos this way, ‘Chaos is not the absence of order but rather the fullness or plethora that, depending on its uneven speed, force, and intensity, is the condition both for any model or activity and for the undoing and transformation of such models or activities.’ See Deleuze and Guattari (1994), 199–204; Colebrook (2002), 76f.; Grosz (2008), 5–10; Murray (2013), 14–18; Bennett (2017), 232.

3. At 1.459–82, Lucretius describes time as an ‘outcome’ (euentum, 470) of the configuration of atoms. For temporality in Lucretius, see Warren (2006); Holmes (2016).

4. For discussions of nonlinear temporality in classics, see Holmes (2012), 323, and (2016); Payne (2016); Bianchi (2012).

5. Deleuze thought of temporality as ‘Time that's the coexistence of all levels of duration’, an idea which Deleuze finds in Bergson: see Deleuze (1988a), 28–32.

6. Deleuze wrote about the Lucretian swerve as a movement in the atom that is not accidental but part of the atom's nature. The swerve is ethically important for Deleuze, because its undecidability characterizes nature as a multiplicity of causes that can never be totalized or thought as a whole. For Deleuze, the swerve secures ontology as an ultimately unknowable difference rather than identity. See Deleuze (1961), (1990b), and especially (1988a), 361, 371, 489f., 553 n.17, 554 n.24; Holmes (2012), 323–8; Johnson (2017), 94–8.

7. For ‘line of flight’, see Deleuze and Guattari (1987), 205, 503f. On pages 222f. of the ‘Micropolitics and Segmentarity’ plateau of A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari use the Roman Empire as an example of the rigid segmentarity of the molar line. For ‘molar line’, see below ‘The Rise of Empire as Molar Line’.

8. For works that treat the political significance of De rerum natura, see Nichols (1976b); Minyard (1985); Fowler (1989); Schiesaro (2007a) and (2007b); Kennedy (2013); Shearin (2015).

9. For description of this narrative thread in Book Five of De rerum natura as an ‘arms race’, see Shelton (1996).

10. Bailey (1947), ad loc. Considering the poetic virtuosity of the passage, there is relatively little scholarship about it. See Shelton (1996), 48–64; Saylor (1972); Segal (1986); de Grummond (1982); Schrijvers (1970), 302–5.

11. The passage has been considered the product of ‘an intelligence fevered, perverted and cancerous’, and Lucretius has been accused of ‘hallucination’ and even ‘mental derangement’ in writing this passage. See the entertaining overview in Segal (1986), 1f. and 31f. n.2–6.

12. For a history of animal resistance in modernity, see Hribal (2010).

13. Lucr. 1.459–82; Warren (2006).

14. For affect in Deleuze and Guattari, see Massumi (1987a). For an overview of Deleuzian affect in classical scholarship, see Telò and Mueller (2018a); Telò (2018), 133f.

15. For contemporary discussions of the threat of hegemonic (imperialistic) human time to nonhuman temporalities, see Heise (1997), 46; Grosz (2005), 8; Currie (2007), 38; Bennett (2010), x, 118. For ‘molecular line’, see n.20 below.

16. Broglio (2013), 3.

17. For overviews of the swerve in discussions of voluntariness, see Asmis (1990), 269–85; Johnson (2013).

18. In a conversation with Foucault, Deleuze characterized theory as concept creation, in which an ‘image of thought’ is articulated and launched into the world in a way that makes it open to multiple domains of thought: ‘A theory is exactly like a box of tools. It has nothing to do with the signifier. It must be useful…As soon as a theory is enmeshed in a particular point, we realize that it will never possess the slightest practical importance unless it can erupt in a totally different area’ (Foucault [1996], 76).

19. Deleuze and Guattari (1987), 274–7; Massumi (1992), 54.

20. For ‘molecular line’, see Deleuze and Guattari (1987), 197, 205, 220, 242, 275, 292.

21. Deleuze and Guattari (1987), 213; DeLanda (2016), 7.

22. Deleuze and Guattari (1987), 88.

23. Deleuze and Guattari (1987), 204. See also 503f. and Deleuze and Parnet (1987), 135.

24. Deleuze and Guattari most famously use the image of the rhizome to describe what an ‘assemblage’ is: an entity that has been deterritorialized so that, like a rhizome, it is constantly producing offshoots and lines of flight, but whose molar qualities are at the same time working to coalesce that same entity back into a more rigid root-like structure that is more organized, segmentary, and hierarchical. See Deleuze and Guattari (1987), 9: ‘Every rhizome contains lines of segmentarity according to which it is stratified, territorialized, organized, signified, attributed, etc., as well as lines of deterritorialization down which it constantly flees. There is a rupture in the rhizome whenever segmentary lines explode into a line of flight, but the line of flight is part of the rhizome…You may make a rupture, draw a line of flight, yet there is still a danger that you will reencounter organizations that restratify everything, formations that restore power to a signifier, attributions that reconstitute a subject—anything you like, from Oedipal resurgences to fascist concretions.’

25. Deleuze sometimes characterizes the line of flight as a possibility within an assemblage in the sense of a relation between the terms or sets of the assemblage that, once deterritorialized, relate the parts of the assemblage to itself in a new way. See Deleuze and Parnet (1987), 34f.; Deleuze (1995), 45.

26. For ‘molar line’, see Deleuze and Guattari (1987), 32–6. Like the line of flight, the molar line is not a metaphor but a material movement that can take place at any stratum of reality.

27. Cf. Deleuze and Guattari (1987), 204.

28. All translations are my own. The Latin text is that of Rouse and Smith (2006).

29. Deleuze and Guattari mention the domestication of horses for war, what they call ‘human-horse-becomings’ several times in A Thousand Plateaus, especially in the ‘Nomadology’ plateau: see Deleuze and Guattari (1987), 155f., 391–407.

30. falciferos is a compound of falx (‘scythe’) and ferus (‘bearing’ or ‘carrying’), with ferus having the double connotation of ferrum (‘iron’) and ferus (‘wild’, ‘uncivilized’).

31. Deleuze and Guattari make metallurgy central to the emergence of militarism and military assemblages in the ‘Nomadology’ plateau: see (1987), 404–23.

32. As Michel Serres (2000) puts it in his description of this moment in De rerum natura, 116: ‘From the same piece of iron we can make a sword or a plough.’

33. Gale (1994), 174 n.59.

34. There is an Empedoclean trace in the linguistic compound that may hint at the increasing influence of Mars (or in Empedoclean terms Νεῖκος). For the ‘Empedoclean fingerprint’, see Sedley (2003). For Empedoclean compound words as a deliberate attempt to capture the essence of things, see Gemelli Marciano (1990), 89f. For ‘naturalcultural’, see Haraway (2008), 19.

35. At Lucr. 4.757–822 and 962–1036 nightmares consist of incongruous combinations of simulacra in the mind. The discordia of empire that Lucretius describes here as resulting from the production of dystopian animal assemblages may be meant to characterize empire as a collective nightmare resembling the unnatural combinations of simulacra in dreams. I thank Brooke Holmes for the suggestion. Cf. Asmis (1981).

36. The word discordia seems to express psychological splitting. For manus used to describe elephant's trunks in ancient biological texts, see Schrijvers (1970), 294 n.7.

37. turrito corpore may refer to Mahouts atop elephants’ backs, but Lucretius’ point is about the technification by humans of the elephants’ bodies. Gale notes that anguimanus is apparently a Lucretian coinage: see Gale (2008), ad loc.

38. Lucretius may be alluding to Epicurus’ famous definition of falsehood (τὸ ψεῦδος) as the ‘addition of human thought/opinion’ (τῷ προσδοξαζομένῳ) to the raw sense data of natura. See Ep. Hdt. 50.9.

39. Gale (2008), ad loc., notes that discordia may invokes the idea of Νεῖκος, or Strife, from Empedocles.

40. See n.38 above.

41. sufferre is enjambed in the following line, as if to hold the animals’ pain. The boundary between the human narrative voice and the animal's pain seems deliberately blurred.

42. Grosz (2005), 146f. Cf. Brill (2011), 245–7.

43. OLD s.v. 1 a–d.

44. Cf. Serres (2000), 27f.: ‘turbare means a disorder, a confusion, a disruption or…a perturbation…The origin of things and the beginning of order consist simply in the narrow space between turba and turbo, an incalculable population tossed by storms, by unrest, in vortical movement.’ The ‘narrow space’ that Serres is talking about resembles Deleuze and Guattari's notion of the line of flight as emerging in the space between two terms.

45. OLD s.v. 1a, 1d. munus can also refer to a gladiatorial show. See n.78 below.

46. Lucretius’ structure of thought—how empire colonizes nature in a way that makes the colonizers themselves ‘savage’—can be connected to later theorists about the problematic notion of the ‘savage’, such as Aimé Césaire, who in his Discourse on Colonialism turns colonialism on its head by ironizing the colonizers as ‘savages’. Cf. Césaire (2000), 39–42. I thank Kyle Khellaf for the reference. Segal (1986), 2f., says of saeuus in this passage (my italics for emphasis): ‘Enframed by “savage” animals on either side, the trainers are no less saeui than the beasts that they vainly try to control (saeui magistri [“savage masters”], 1311; cf. sues saeuos [“savage boars”], 1309, and saeui leones [“savage lions”], 1314).’ Segal seems to think that the human masters are not just ‘savage’ in a metaphorical sense, but become ‘savage’ partly as a result of being surrounded by ‘savage’ animals.

47. De Grummond (1982), 52.

48. Deleuze and Guattari (1987), 32: ‘Lines of flight or of deterritorialization, becoming-wolf, becoming-inhuman, deterritorialized intensities: that is what multiplicity is. To become wolf…is to deterritorialize oneself following distinct but entangled lines.’

49. For ‘block of becoming’, see Deleuze and Guattari (1987), 237–9. A synonym for ‘block of becoming’ in Deleuze and Guattari is ‘shared deterritorialization’ ([1987], 293). Both are characterized by Deleuze and Guattari as forms of the line of flight, as is the concept of ‘becoming-animal’. But for Deleuze and Guattari it is only ‘demonic animals’, i.e. wild, pack animals, that offer humans the possibility of ‘becoming-animal’ through the material contagion, or exchange of particles, that results from encountering them. Oedipal and State animals, the two other kinds of animal in Deleuze and Guattari's classification of animals, do not offer the possibility of becoming-animal (1987), 242: ‘Bands, human and animal, proliferate by contagion, epidemics, battlefields, and catastrophes…These multiplicities with heterogeneous terms, cofunctioning by contagion, enter certain assemblages…The pack is simultaneously animal reality and the reality of the becoming-animal of the human being; contagion is simultaneously animal populating [peuplement animal], and propagation of the animal populating of the human being [et propagation du peuplement animal de l'homme].’ For a critique of Deleuze and Guattari's notion of becoming-animal as taking wild animals as representative of all animals, see Haraway (2008), 27–30. For a more extreme version of molecular becoming, see the famous passage about the wasp and the orchid transforming each other in Deleuze and Guattari (1987), 10f.: ‘Wasp and orchid, as heterogeneous elements, form a rhizome. It could be said that the orchid imitates the wasp, reproducing its image in a signifying fashion (mimesis, mimicry, lure, etc.). But this is true only on the level of the strata—a parallelism between two strata such that a plant organization on one imitates an animal organization on the other. At the same time, something else entirely is going on: not imitation at all but a capture of code, surplus value of code, an increase in valence, a veritable becoming, a becoming-wasp of the orchid and a becoming-orchid of the wasp.’

50. Lucretius already indexed moderarier as a thematic word at the beginning of the rise of empire when he described the ‘moderating/guiding’ of horses (5.1298). Gale comments that the distance travelled between the first animal experiments in the domestication of horses that end with the attempt to control wild animals with chains here reveals the futility of the entire arms race going back to its origins in domesticating horses for war: see Gale (2008), ad loc. For a Deleuzian take on ironies in which humans try to control the vitalism and flux of life (as the human masters are doing here), see Colebrook (2004), 48–51.

51. This moment has been foreshadowed by previous mentions of the animals as being taught to turbare cateruas (1304) and having turbabantturmas (1312); quoted in full and translated above resp. below.

52. Deleuze and Guattari (1987), 361f. Deleuze and Guattari add the following endnote (553 n.19), further explaining what they mean by the swerve as a movement in which a turba becomes a turbo, once again acknowledging their debt to Michel Serres’ work on Lucretius: ‘TRANS: Turba “designates a multitude, a large population, confusion and tumult.” Turbo “is a round form in movement…a revolving cone or vortical spiral.” “The origin of things and the beginning of order consists simply in the subtle passage from turba to turbo”; Serres, ibid., pp. 38–39.’

53. Guattari (2016), 234, my italics.

54. Deleuze (1995), 161; Deleuze and Parnet (1987), vii–viii.

55. May (2005), 160–2.

56. See Englert (1987), 127f., for the idea that the swerve is not a constituent of uoluntas in humans and animals but occurs randomly after the uoluntas of the human or animal has been formed, as is the case with the animals in the revolt, who, as Lucretius specifies below, first become enraged, then swerve. See also Asmis (1990), 280.

57. See n.49 above.

58. Deleuze and Guattari (1987), 220: ‘At this point, we must introduce a distinction between the two notions of connection and conjugation of flows. “Connection” indicates the way in which decoded and deterritorialized flows boost one another, accelerate their shared escape, and augment or stoke their quanta; the “conjugation” of these same flows, on the other hand, indicates their relative stoppage, like a point of accumulation that plugs or seals the lines of flight, performs a general reterritorialization, and brings the flows under the dominance of a single flow capable of overcoding them.’

59. nequiquam, could be called a ‘bifurcation point’ in Lucretius’ materialist narrative structure. Prigogine and Stengers (1984), 140–5, 160–76, 301–5, describe a bifurcation point as a moment in far-from-equilibrium systems, when small initial changes start to have huge, even startling effects, and in which it is impossible to determine in advance which direction the change will take, whether into higher, more differentiated levels of order, or into disintegration and chaos. The idea that small initial changes can later have huge effects is sometimes called the ‘signature of chaos’.

60. Lucretius regularly uses permixta and turbabant to describe atomic mixing and disorder (permixta: 1.1107 world destruction, 2.585, 2.687, 2.769, 2.990, 3.351, 3.643, 6.790; turba/turbare: 1.1113, 2.1, 2.126f., 2.438, 2.550, 3.928, 4.530, 5.502, 5.504, 5.439, 5.1329, 6.370, 6.465).

61. For thinking about nature and organisms as machines, see Berryman (2009); Roby (2013).

62. The connotation is that of an ocean becoming heated and giving rise to a storm or vortex (turbo). In effect, Lucretius is investing the rebel animals with connotations of multiple forces of nature—heat, water, storm, whirlwind—as if to make them vessels for the revenge of natura: see Lucr. 1.760–2; 2.40f., 3.294–8, 3.492–4; 5.366–9, 5.1226–35, 6.175–80, 6.426–30, 6.438–42; Ep. Men. 128. Cf. O'Keefe (2005), 84f.

63. Vaan (2008), 634, says: ‘The noun turma may or may not be related to turba. If related, it might point to both words being loanwords, with b and m as different renderings of a labial consonant in the donor language.’

64. It was important to Deleuze that any event be seen to have both personal and impersonal dimensions. The impersonal dimension he called ‘the fourth person’ perspective. The language of atomic turbulence in the animal revolt, I would suggest, stages this impersonal, fourth person perspective of natura fighting back against empire. For the ‘fourth person’, see Deleuze (1990b), 152; Deleuze and Guattari (1987), 266.

65. Bailey (1947), vol. 3, ad loc.

66. Bailey (1947), vol. 3, ad loc., thought that the ‘separate treatment of the behaviour of the lionesses is another strange element in Lucr.'s description’.

67. See Deleuze and Guattari's notion of ‘faciality’ (1987), 115: ‘The face crystallizes all redundancies, it emits and receives, releases and recaptures signifying signs. It is a whole body unto itself: it is like the body of the center of signifiance to which all of the deterritorialized signs affix themselves, and it marks the limit of their deterritorialization…Conversely, when the face is effaced, when the faciality traits disappear, we can be sure that we have entered another regime, other zones infinitely muter and more imperceptible where subterranean becomings-animal occur, becoming-molecular.’

68. She-lions were killed in antiquity for their hide (tergum). The she-lions attacking their human abusers a tergo (‘from behind’, ‘their hides’) could be seen as poetic justice. I thank Darrel Janzen for this suggestion.

69. See n.19 above for the line of flight as non-metaphorical.

70. deplexae is a hapax legomenon in Latin literature. plectere (Gk. πλέκω) means ‘to plait’ or ‘to twine’. The metaphor of the universe as an atomic fabric, or textum, is common in De rerum natura.

71. Gale (2000), 232–40, notes that the chaos of the animals is such as to return civilization to the state of nature.

72. Segal (1986), 3, has noted that, while Lucretius described early humans as using their hands, nails, and teeth as weapons, here we see civilized humans using those same body parts in other animals as weapons. This is another example of the rebel animals not exactly becoming human but becoming a human who is more like an animal, in this case sharing traits with a prehistoric human.

73. For human-horse assemblages in Deleuze and Guattari, see (1987), 89, 391–407. Compare the connotations at Lucr. 1.1105–10, where permixtasruinas describes the collapse of the world. See also Lucr. 2.1145, 5.347.

74. Cf. OLD uerto 1: ‘to cause to revolve or move about a centre, turn, spin’; 5b: ‘to subvert (an institution)’; 22: ‘to turn something into something else, alter, change’.

75. Hribal (2010), 25f., argues that there is a history of belittling animal resistance by framing it as merely ‘going wild’.

76. The rebel animals’ fera facta may recall the fortia facta of past human heroes in battle, e.g. Verg. Aen. 1.641, 10.369. I thank Darrel Janzen for this suggestion.

77. Deleuze and Guattari (1987), 160.

78. Deleuze (1995), 6.

79. Bennett (2010) argues for a ‘vibrant materialism’ that avoids entirely removing subjectivity from the material world, as Object Oriented Ontology does, and instead retains a link between subjectivity and the material world, in which subjectivity can affect and be affected by the material world and can to a certain degree know it. See Sheldon (2015), 204.

80. Lucretius specifies at 5.855–77 that humans and animals entered into an interspecies social contract in which the humans and animals who were party to that contract ‘gave’ each other benefits. When the animals ‘give’ justice here, dare reverses the positive connotations dare had in the animal contract, while still invoking Epicurean notions of justice as the giving and receiving of benefits. For the ‘animal contract’, see Shelton (1996), 48–54; Gale (2013), 44; Holmes (2013), 164f.; Hutchins (2017).

81. Cf. Lucr. 1.760–2: quare aut congressa peribunt / aut ita diffugient ut tempestate coacta / fulmina diffugere atque imbris uentosque uidemus (‘Therefore, when they [the atoms] meet [in war] they will either perish, or will flee, as when a tempest has gathered we see lightning and rain and wind flee’); and 5.366–9: neque autem corpora desunt, / ex infinito quae possint forte coorta / corruere hance rerum uiolento turbine summam / aut aliam quamuis cladem inportare pericli (‘moreover does [the world] not lack bodies that can by chance gather out of the infinite and overwhelm this sum of things in a violent whirlwind or bring upon it another disaster of danger’). See also 5.1226–35.

82. Scholars have speculated whether Lucretius saw a staged animal hunt (uenatio) or, in the middle Republican period, an urban show of animal killing (ludus) that went wrong. See Schrijvers (1970), 298–305; Shelton (2014), 467f. As to what I am calling Lucretius’ genealogical moment, James Warren has argued that Epicureans (and Stoics) were committed to the view that a statement about the past is true in virtue of how the world is now, that is, that some state of affairs obtains in the contemporary atomic structure of reality for each and every true statement: see Warren (2006), esp. 384f. That some present state of affairs of material reality provides the basis for the truth or falsity of statements about the past may help to explain why, while Lucretius has a hard time believing that the animal revolt really happened, he nonetheless appeals to the contemporary state of affairs in Roman culture to support the animal revolt's historicity.

83. For discussions of Lucretius’ incredulity at the historical veracity of the animal revolt, see Costa (1984), ad loc.; Schrijvers (1970), 303–5; Nussbaum (1994), 272f. Lucretius’ doubt about the veracity of the animal revolt is expressed at 5.1341–9.

84. Massumi (1987a), xvi.

85. I am grateful to Kyle Khellaf for his insightful comments on this paper, Brooke Holmes, Darrel Janzen, and Georgos Gittis for reading earlier drafts, and the anonymous referees at Ramus.

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