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.
Tracing the resurgence of a classic poem of Roman natural philosophy amidst devotedly Christian medieval Europe, Stephen Greenblatt describes a moment of scholarship he suggests may have altered the course of history. In Greenblatt's account, an obscure monk discovered and copied an ancient verse by Lucretius, thus transforming the Western world into a blossoming Renaissance full of imagination and insight. Greenblatt describes this movement not as the tipping point of complicated factors or a shift of revolutionary inevitability, but, as the title suggests, a mere change in direction as surprising and sudden as a curveball--albeit one with profound impact.
- W W Norton & Co Inc
- September 26, 2011
- September 26, 2011
- Stephen Greenblatt