The Swerve

In My Library

Stephen Greenblatt makes a good case for dating the beginning of the modern period to the fifteenth century when, because of the rediscovery of the writing of Lucretius “On the Nature of Things” by Italian humanist Poggio Bracciolini and their subsequent publication, European intellectuals were given the philosophical underpinnings of modernity.  Greenblatt calls the new direction in thinking The Swerve: How the World Became Modern.  Lucretius’ ideas were revolutionary and, not unexpectedly, controversial.  But the sheer beauty of Lucretius’s poetic Latin kept his ideas in circulation.  That the physical world is composed of random combinations of atoms, colliding with each other at high speed and with indeterminacy anticipates quantum physics by almost two millennia yet lied at the heart of Lucretius’ thesis.  Without a function for a supernatural power, the intellectual universe moved from the domain of theologians to that of scientists.  Greenblatt does not suggest that Lucretius was correct but that his thinking was influential shaping modern attitudes. 


Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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