The Swerve

The Swerve

  • “nature seemed saturated with the presence of the divine, on mountaintops and springs, in the thermal vents that spewed smoke from a mysterious realm under the earth, in acient groves of trees on whose branches the faithful hung colorful cloths” (68)
  • “The pulling away from the distractions of the everyday world was figured not as a retreat to the solitary cell but as a quiet exchange of words among friends in a garden.” (69)
  • “Just when the gods have ceased to be, and the Christ had not yet come, there was a unique moment in history, between Cicero and Marcus Aurelius, when man stood alone.” – French novelist Gustave Flaubert
  • “Many of the early readers of those works (Cicero, etc.) lacked a fixed repertory of beliefs and practices reinforced by what was said to be the divine will
    • Interesting time!
    • Imagine having no existing system and just conjuring up, entirely freely, conceptions of the world
  • Beginning in 391 CE – (Theodosius the Great) issued edicts forbidding public sacrifices and closing major cultic cites. The state had embarked on the destruction of paganism.” (90)
    • “Centuries of religious plurarlism under paganism … were coming to an end. In the early fourth century, the emperor Constantine began the process whereby Rome’s official religion became Christianity” (89)
    • Back then, this was what life was like! Ideologies were not so free as it is today in America. Freedom of speech is strangely, Epicurean in thought.
  • “Lucretius had urged the person who felt the prompting of sexual desire to satisfy it: “a dash of gentle pleasure sooths the sting.” (4.177)” (103)
    • This is interesting: to refrain or to satisfy pleasure
  • “In one of the great cultural transformations in the history of the West, the pursuit of pain triumphed over the pursuit of pleasure.” (103)
  • “In pagan Rome, the most extravagant version of this pursuit of pleasure came together in the gladiatorial arena with the most extravagant infliction and endurance of pain. If Lucretius offered a moralized and purified version of the Roman pleasure principle, Christianity offered a moralized and purified version of the Roman pain principle.” (104)
  • “After all, the experience of pain was not only punishment; it was a form of pious emulation.” (107)
  • “Poggio was the bastard son of peasants who eked out a living from the soil.” (111)
    • An example of an insult back then
  • “cum quinque solidis” = with five pennies in his pocket (113)
  • “a project that linked the creation of something new with a search for something ancient” (116)
    • Sums up the book
  • Petrach, who came a generation before Poggio, made the “recovery of the cultural heritage of classical Rome a collective obsession” (116)
  • “It was better not to pretend any longer, but to acknowledge that there was no continuity. Instead, there was a corpse, long buried and by now disintegrated, under one’s feet.” (120)
    • Greenblatt is saying here that early humanists the society at the time was and could not emulate the glory of past Rome.
  • “The lure proved irresistible: “Conquered at last by these reasonings, I delivered myself over to Chrysolaras with such passion that what I had received from him by day in hours of waking, occupied my mind at night in hours of sleep.” (126)
    • I like this description of passion and having to make decisions.
  • Poggio: “His spirit was empathically secular and his desired were in and of the world.” (134)
    • A good descriptor to the mysterious Poggio
  • Page 185 to 202 is highly interesting. It is a summary of Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things
    • Idea of randomness on 189
    • “The greatest obstacle is not pain; it is delusion.” (196)
    • “unappeasable desire and the fear of death are the principal obstacles to human happiness” (199)
    • “it is knowing the way things are that awakens the deepest wonder” (199)
      • I totally agree. This is a great definition of wonder: a certain and peculiar coming of knowing of this world
    • The prayer to Venus is something else!
  • Thomas More’s Utopia is an example of Epicureanism! (227)
    • I did not know this.
    • “He insisted that these texts be understood not as isolated philosophical ideas but as expressions of a whole way of life lived in particular physical, historical, cultural, and social circumstances… Epicureanism… made sense for More in the larger context of an entire existence.” (230)
  • “The soul is bodily; the soul like the foot, is part of the body.” (249)
    • Lucretius says this which means the soul dies with the body
    • A daring idea back in his day.
  • “But Lucretius’ poem restored to atoms their missing context, and the implications – for morality, politics, ethics, and theology – were deeply upsetting. (252)
    • Disrupts notions of god, of pain, of fate, that the world did not revolve around earth.
    • “Lucretius denies the immortality of the soul, rejects divine providence, and claims that pleasure is the highest good.” (256)
  • “Galileo defended the oneness of the celestial and terrestrial world: there was no essential difference, he claimed, between the nature of the sun and the planets and the nature of the earth and its inhabitants.”(254)
    • This idea of the oneness of the world.
  • Poggio, his uncovering, and the spread of Lucretius text helped set the stage for “experimental and mathematical science” (262)
  • “Lucretius helped to shape Jefferson’s confidence that ignorance and fear were not necessary components of human existence.” (262)
    • Lucretius’ and Epicureanism’s effect on Western thinking.