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PDF | On Oct 1, , Tison Pugh and others published BOOK REVIEW FORUM The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. By Stephen. Stephen Greenblatt (). The Swerve: How the World Became. Modern (New York and London: W.W. Norton & Company), pp. , ISBN download: ruthenpress.info?book= Free *PDF* The Swerve: How the World Became Modern TXT,PDF,EPUB.
We are all connected, and when we die, our atoms go off to join other atoms elsewhere. Death is only dispersal; there is no need to fear any afterlife, or mutter spells and prayers to absent deities. We do better to live by the simple Epicurean law: Seek pleasure, avoid pain.
This does not mean indulging ourselves gluttonously, but cultivating tranquillity while avoiding the two greatest human delusions: fear of what we cannot avoid, and desire for what we cannot have. One extraordinary section describes the frenzies of lovers, who exhaust themselves futilely trying to possess one another. The beloved always slips away. Instead, we should step off the wheel and contemplate the universe as it is which brings a deep sense of wonder, rather than mere resignation or gloom.
What human beings can and should do, as Greenblatt summarizes it, is to conquer their fears, accept the fact that they themselves and all the things they encounter are transitory, and embrace the beauty and the pleasure of the world.
It was an attractive philosophy, exquisitely expressed, and a few decades later Ovid enthused that the verses of sublime Lucretius are destined to perish only when a single day will consign the world to destruction. A world without Lucretius seemed unimaginable yet that was just what nearly ensued. All ancient copies vanished, except for a few charred scraps in a library at Herculaneum. Some medieval copies circulated, but these too mostly expired from neglect or deliberate destruction, for Epicurean philosophies were uncongenial to Christianity.
At last, in , probably in the southern German Benedictine abbey of Fulda, one stray ninth-century copy caught the eye of a Renaissance book hunter from Italy, Poggio Bracciolini.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Correc ion: Oc ober 23, A subheading on Oct. He sought out manuscripts of ancient authors for scholarly reasons; he was not a book dealer. The error was repeated in the Editors Choice column on Oct.
He had a copy made and sent to a friend in Florence, who copied it anew. That copy survives; both Poggio s and the original have gone down Didymus Gulch. Two more copies would turn up in Leiden years later, but for now Poggio s was alone, and it spawned more copies.
With the advent of printing, it spread even farther and won more admirers. Among 16th-century readers was the French essayist Michel de Montaigne, who filled his copy with annotations, including one suffused with obvious delight: Since the movements of the atoms are so varied, it is not unbelievable that the atoms once came together in this way, or that in the future they will come together like this again, giving birth to another Montaigne.
It was one of those rare and powerful moments, as Greenblatt writes, when a long-dead author seems to reach directly through time to a particular reader, as if bearing a message meant only for that person. Another such magical moment would occur some years later, when the young Stephen Greenblatt himself picked up a cent copy of Lucretius for vacation reading. He too was amazed by how personally it spoke to him.
Such encounters have become central to the philosophy Greenblatt has elaborated in several decades of work as a literary historian and theorist of the new historicism in literary studies.
It combines hardheaded investigations of historical context with a profound feeling for the way writers somehow pull free from time, to enter the minds of readers. I am constantly struck, Greenblatt told The Harvard Gazette in , when he was named a university professor, by the strangeness of reading works that seem addressed, personally and intimately, to me, and yet were written by people who crumbled to dust long ago.
It is a rich literary paradox: authors are embedded in history, yet they slip away; they time-travel. The voyage of De Rerum Natura through time traced an hourglass shape: it billowed, then dwindled, then billowed again.
At the waist of this hourglass stands Poggio, and his life forms one of the main narrative strands in The Swerve. We follow him from his modest birth in , through a glittering but ill-fated career at the Vatican to an insatiable life of manuscript collecting. Greenblatt tells us that: "Apart from [some] charred papyrus fragments recovered from [a villa near Pompeii], there are no surviving contemporary manuscripts from the ancient Greek and Roman world.
Everything that has reached us is a copy, most often very far removed in time, place and culture from the original. And these copies represent only a small portion of the works even of the most celebrated writers of antiquity.
On a fateful January day in , the intrepid Poggio found himself in the library of a German monastery and reached up for a manuscript.
It turned out to be the only surviving copy of Lucretius's poem, "On the Nature of Things" — a rich, dangerous, mind-blowing poem written around 50 B.
Pretty huge claims, but Greenblatt is both scholar and storyteller enough to support them. Greenblatt says that some of the world shakers who would be directly influenced by Lucretius' ideas are Galileo, Einstein and our very own American apostle of the "pursuit of happiness," Thomas Jefferson. Surely, sales of Lucretius' "On the Nature of Things" will spike as a result of Greenblatt's book: his awe-struck discussions of the poem make it sound so weird and beautiful that most readers will want to give Lucretius a whirl themselves.
And what a service Greenblatt has performed in bringing to light Poggio Bracciolini, a great explorer who discovered, not lost continents, but lost books. The Swerve is one of those brilliant works of non-fiction that's so jam-packed with ideas and stories it literally boggles the mind.