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'The Swerve': Ideas That Rooted The Renaissance

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BridgeTheGap Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Sep-21-11 08:36 AM
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'The Swerve': Ideas That Rooted The Renaissance
The latest distress signal being sounded on the chat sites I share with my bookish friends is that IKEA is about to introduce an updated version of its classic BILLY bookcase some 10 of which totter to overflowing in my own basement. Anticipating "the death of the book," IKEA has redesigned the good old BILLY with deeper shelves and glass doors, thus transforming it from a bookcase into a tchotchke cabinet. What a relief, then, it is to be able to escape from this most recent alarmist speculation into (what else?) a book that itself attests to the power of books, or in this case, a single book to change the world. Stephen Greenblatt's new non-fiction wonder called, The Swerve, is part adventure tale, part enthralling history of ideas. As Greenblatt's story reminds us, there have been other, much grimmer times in history when books as objects very nearly disappeared without Kindles, Nooks or iPads to take their place.

At the center of The Swerve is the forgotten story of a 15th-century Italian book hunter named Poggio Bracciolini, who set out on several expeditions throughout monasteries on the Continent and England, hoping to discover some lost classical texts. Poggio served as scribe and secretary in the Papal Court, a place he cynically thought of as, "The Lie Factory." But his passion was for books, especially for the ancient authors, copies of whose books, if they survived at all, had been squirreled away in monasteries.

One of the startling pieces of information Greenblatt shares with the lay reader is just how few classical works managed to crawl into the Middle Ages. Greenblatt tells us that: "Apart from charred papyrus fragments recovered from , 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. f Aeschylus' 80 or 90 plays and the roughly 120 by Sophocles, only seven each have survived."
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Hestia Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Sep-21-11 09:07 AM
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1. Thank you for this article - I've got on pre-order now.
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Frosty1 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Sep-21-11 10:41 AM
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2. This is really interesting!
I've ordered it on kindle. The hardcover edition is available now. Thanks for the link.

An exerpt from the book:

"One of the ancients whose works seemed to have completely disappeared in what Greenblatt calls the "great vanishing" was the Roman poet Lucretius, whose name was mentioned in some other classical works that did survive. On a fateful January day in 1417, 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.C., whose ideas, Greenblatt says, would jumpstart the Renaissance and lay the groundwork for Modernity. Pretty huge claims, but Greenblatt is both scholar and storyteller enough to support them.

Among other radical notions, Lucretius, who was a follower of the philosopher Epicurus, claimed that all matter is composed of atoms; that matter is constantly in motion; that human beings return to this cosmic atomic dance when we die and that there is no religiously sanctioned afterlife; and, finally, that joy in existence not suffering, or atoning or endurance is the point of life. 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:"
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Frosty1 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Sep-21-11 10:44 AM
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3. Not only did Lucretius write this more than 2,000 years ago
somehow his book managed to survive the fall of Rome, the burning, looting and desecration of the great libraries, a thousand years of cold storage in medieval monasteries where bookworms, censorship and erasures were common, so that at one point, maybe three that's all, three copies were in existence and yet, says Stephen, On the Nature of Things emerged to become one of the most radical and talked about essays of the post-Renaissance, a favorite of Machiavelli, Montaigne, Sir Thomas More and Thomas Jefferson.
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BookSavoury Donating Member (14 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Oct-03-11 01:43 PM
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4. I hope Greenblatt's book will cause more people to read Lucretius
How amazing that his philosophical ideas seem so modern today. We have such a filtered view of history. We need to be informed that people were able to imagine the world in ways that did not conform to the ideas that led to the dark ages long before the Renaissance and the beginning of technology that made it possible for us to verify so many of the things Lucretius was able to think about.
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