Corydon Ireland in the Harvard Gazette:
Harvard literary scholar Stephen Greenblatt has proposed a sort of metaphor for how the world became modern. An ancient Roman poem, lost for 1,000 years, was recovered in 1417. Its presciently modern ideas — that the world is made of atoms, that there is no life after death, and that there is no purpose to creation beyond pleasure — dropped like an atomic bomb on the fixedly Christian culture of Western Europe.
But this poem’s radical and transformative ideas survived what could have been a full-blown campaign against it, said Greenblatt in an Oct. 26 lecture. One reason is that it was art. A tract would have drawn the critical attention of the authorities, who during the Renaissance still hewed to Augustine’s notion that Christian beliefs were “unshakeable, unchangeable, coherent.”
The ancient poem that contained such explosive ideas, and that packaged them so pleasingly, was “On the Nature of Things” (“De Rerum Natura”) by Roman poet and philosopher Titus Lucretius Carus, who died five decades before the start of the Christian era. Its intent was to counter the fear of death and the fear of the supernatural. Lucretius rendered into poetry the ideas of Epicurus, a Greek philosopher who had died some 200 years earlier. Both men embraced a core idea: that life was about the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain.
More here. [For Morgan Meis, our in-house classical scholar.]