Friday, June 1, 2012

#152 / The Swerve

The Swerve is a book by Stephen Greenblatt, who is John Cogan Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University, and the general editor of The Norton Shakespeare. The Swerve is advertised as an account of "how the Renaissance began."

According to Greenblatt, the Renaissance began with the rediscovery of the long lost text of On The Nature of Things, a poem and philosophical treatise by the Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius. According to Greenblatt, Lucretius argued that:

  • Everything is made of invisible particles.
  • The elementary particles of matter are eternal.
  • The elementary particles are infinite in number.
  • All particles are in motion in an infinite void.
  • Nature ceaselessly experiments.
  • Everything comes into being as a result of a "swerve."
  • The universe was not created for or about humans.
  • Human society began in a primitive battle for survival.
  • The soul dies.
  • There is no afterlife.
  • All organized religions are superstitious delusions.
  • Religions are invariably cruel.
  • There are no angels, demons, or ghosts.
  • The goal of human life is the enhancement of pleasure.
  • The greatest obstacle to pleasure is not pain; it is delusion.
  • Understanding the nature of things generates deep wonder.

These thoughts do seem to reflect much of what our society has come to think of as "truth" in the modern world. According to Greenblatt, it all began with Lucretius, and Lucretius' thoughts came to light through the work of Poggio Bracciolini, the "Book Hunter" hero of Greenblatt's book.

Next off my bookshelf: Lucretius himself.

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