I n the winter of the papal secretary Poggio Bracciolini made a great discovery. This event is vividly described by the renaissance scholar Stephen Greenblatt in The Swerve. He sees it as the origin of the renaissance and, in effect, of modernity. What was the poem that Poggio rediscovered? Lucretius was a passionate follower of the Greek philosopher Epicurus.

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Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read. Want to Read saving…. Want to Read Currently Reading Read. Other editions. Enlarge cover. Error rating book. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. Preview — The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt. One of the world's most celebrated scholars, Stephen Greenblatt has crafted both an innovative work of history and a thrilling story of discovery, in which one manuscript, plucked from a thousand years of neglect, changed the course of human thought and made possible the world as we know it.

Nearly six hundred years ago, a short, genial, cannily alert man in his late thirti One of the world's most celebrated scholars, Stephen Greenblatt has crafted both an innovative work of history and a thrilling story of discovery, in which one manuscript, plucked from a thousand years of neglect, changed the course of human thought and made possible the world as we know it.

Nearly six hundred years ago, a short, genial, cannily alert man in his late thirties took a very old manuscript off a library shelf, saw with excitement what he had discovered, and ordered that it be copied. That book was the last surviving manuscript of an ancient Roman philosophical epic, On the Nature of Things , by Lucretius—a beautiful poem of the most dangerous ideas: that the universe functioned without the aid of gods, that religious fear was damaging to human life, and that matter was made up of very small particles in eternal motion, colliding and swerving in new directions.

The copying and translation of this ancient book—the greatest discovery of the greatest book-hunter of his age—fueled the Renaissance, inspiring artists such as Botticelli and thinkers such as Giordano Bruno; shaped the thought of Galileo and Freud, Darwin and Einstein; and had a revolutionary influence on writers such as Montaigne and Shakespeare and even Thomas Jefferson.

Get A Copy. Paperback , pages. Published September 4th by W. Norton Company first published September 26th More Details Original Title. Ovid Roman , Poggio Bracciolini , Lucretius. Other Editions Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about The Swerve , please sign up. See 1 question about The Swerve…. Lists with This Book. Community Reviews. Showing Average rating 3.

Rating details. More filters. Sort order. By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul.

It is not by an unbroken succession of drinking bouts and of revelry, not by sexual lust, nor the enjoyment of fish and other delicacies of a luxurious table, which produce a pleasant life; i "When we say It is not by an unbroken succession of drinking bouts and of revelry, not by sexual lust, nor the enjoyment of fish and other delicacies of a luxurious table, which produce a pleasant life; it is sober reasoning, searching out the grounds of every choice and avoidance, and banishing those beliefs through which the greatest tumults take possession of the soul.

Some of that is born out of my own ignorance, but the wonderful thing about ignorance is I have the means to dismiss it.

I have heard of Hypatia and last year even watched a movie based on her life called Agora starring the lovely Rachel Weisz. I have brushed up against Epicurus and Lucretius, but they are mere footnotes on other files logged sporadically in the dim halls of my memories. Epicurus Lucretius I had no reference to tell me what colossal figures they are, bearing brilliant ideas that give footing to my own paltry concepts of my own life philosophy.

I could only hope I could find Poggio Bracciolini and tag along with him as he "became a midwife to modernity". Poggio in finds himself unemployed.

Most recently he had been Apostolic Scriptor for the pope. His boss had been defrocked and thrown in jail and given the circumstances had no more need of his services.

Poggio short on funds, but long on bibliophilic desire is searching for lost books. He is a charmer and he has to be to convince monks to allow him to poke among the dusty remains of ancient texts in their libraries. Luckily there was a time when Christians were curious about the world beyond the bible and had copied and preserved even those texts that they found to be contrary to their own beliefs.

That time is past and in the s those texts had not been recopied and were vulnerable to bugs, damp, and abuse. Poggio in one such monastery finds a book that was so dangerous that it had been nearly eradicated. On the Nature of Things by Lucretius expounded the views of Epicurus in an epic poem so lovely that even St. Jerome despite it's views so counter to his struggling beliefs could not resist reading it.

If the monastery had really know what it was and that they were the protectorate of such a book I'm sure they would have used it to light a hot fire under the next heretic.

To give you an example of where Christian thinking was at the time. Saint Benedict wandering along a path thinking pious thoughts one day suddenly had the image of a desirable woman intrude upon his heavenly internal discourse and found himself aroused. Oh my what to do what to do. He then noticed a thick patch of nettles and briers next to him. Throwing his garment aside he flung himself into the sharp thorns and stinging nettles.

There he rolled and tossed until his whole body was in pain and covered with blood. Yet, once he had conquered pleasure through suffering, his torn and bleeding skin served to drain the poison of temptation from his body. Before long, the pain that was burning his whole body had put out the fires of evil in his heart.

It was by exchanging these two fires that he gained the victory over sin. In one of the great cultural transformations in the history of the West, the pursuit of pain triumphed over the pursuit of pleasure. It leaves little doubt why women get such a bad shake in Christian religion given that the natural desire that a man may feel for a woman is considered EVIL.

Let's see the Epicurean table is right over there excuse me. I'm with those guys. The Way Things Are. If you are like me and have not read Lucretius do not let that keep you from reading this book. Greenblatt provides a list of the principle components addressed in the book with further explanation than what I'm providing in this review.

Now after skimming this list either you are looking for the dislike button, which luckily for us poor reviewers is not available, or you are intrigued and want to read more. I would suggest that even if you do find some of the ideas on this list abhorrent still read this book.

My brain was churning like a frozen Margarita mixer in a Mexican bar on a Friday night while reading this book. It is okay to read about things that you disagree with. It is okay to doubt your beliefs or reformat your thoughts or even change your mind.

My father-in-law, Texas Baptist, refused to read The Da Vinci Code , but he called my wife to ask her what it was about. His beliefs are obviously so fragile he cannot take the chance that a fiction writer of dubious talent might create doubt.

I had sticky notes stuck to other sticky notes filled with sketchy bits of my handwriting Poggio would be appalled at the state of my handwriting. Besides you are going to read this book right? Poggio Bracciolini I'm going to end with a book curse that Greenblatt shared that I intend to tuck into every book I lend out to "friends" from now on.

For him that stealeth, or borroweth and returneth not, this book from its owner let it change into a serpent in his hand and rend him. Let him be struck with palsy, and all his members blasted. Let him languish in pain crying aloud for mercy, and let there be no surcease to his agony till he sing in dissolution.

Let bookworms gnaw his entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not, and when at last he goeth to his final punishment, let the flames of Hell consume him forever.

That ought to get their attention. I leave you fair friends to return to my ivory tower, the walls thick with books, a Royals baseball game playing in the background. My pursuit of pleasure has begun. View all 97 comments. The Anti-Climactic Swerve Greenblatt is a good story-teller and delivers good entertainment value here, but not much informative or educational value, except as an enticing short introductory to Lucretius , Bruno and Montaigne.

As Greenblatt acknowledges, there is no single explanation for the emergence of the Renaissance and the release of the forces that have shaped our own world. This one poem by itself was certainly not responsible for an entire intellectual, moral, and social transformation—no single work was. But, Greenblatt tells us, this particular ancient book, suddenly returning to view, made a difference. The enlightenment is what followed afterwards.

Of course, these book-hunters deserve to be lionized for their sacrifice and great service, but they were pursuing an obsession and most of them never played with the ball tossed by the ideas they uncovered. That is the truly exciting story. Bruno was perhaps the first real intellectual successor to Epicurus and Lucretius, the one who truly took the ball and ran the full distance and dared to assert a new and dangerous world view Bruno is only one example of much intellectual activity that erupted, out of which most kept silent, unlike Bruno.

And even in the arts, the explosion was evident, with Cosimo, Da Vinci, Botticelli, etc. Soon, the printing press made these irresistible ideas even more irrepressible, until they were everywhere, just like the original atoms.


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In the mids, when he was a student at Yale and searching for summer reading, Mr. Greenblatt writes. Greenblatt bleat. This is a warm, intimate start to a warm, intimate book, a volume of apple-cheeked popular intellectual history. Greenblatt, a professor of humanities at Harvard, is a very serious and often thorny scholar, a founder of a discipline called the new historicism.



Greenblatt tells the story of how Poggio Bracciolini , a 15th-century papal emissary and obsessive book hunter, saved the last copy of the Roman poet Lucretius 's De rerum natura On the Nature of Things from near-terminal neglect in a German monastery, thus reintroducing important ideas that sparked the modern age. The title and the subtitle of the book are explained in the author's preface. Greenblatt uses it to describe the history of Lucretius' own book: "The reappearance of his poem was such a swerve, an unforeseen deviation from the direct trajectory—in this case, toward oblivion—on which that poem and its philosophy seemed to be traveling. Greenblatt's claim is that it was a 'key moment' in a larger "story

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