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It can be terrifying – and electrifying–when a radical thinker turns out to be right. Especially a radical Roman philosopher who wrote almost 2100 years ago. No one writes cultural, intellectual and literary history like Stephen Greenblatt. William Shakespeare, (or just “Will,” as we know him in Greenblatt’s fabulous Will In The World) becomes flesh and blood as Greenblatt explains him, and his plays, through the prism of 16th and 17th century England. Greenblatt’s histories are, simply, thrilling.
His new book, Swerve, is a book collector’s dream on steroids. It’s about an early 15th century Italian man, a book and manuscript collector, who roams Europe’s villages on horseback, searching for Roman manuscripts, often tucked away, forgotten or ignored, in monasteries. On one expedition to southern Germany in 1417, he discovers the manuscript that would later come to signal the end of the Middle Ages and would define the Renaissance. The manuscript, “De rerum natura,” or “On the Nature of Things,” was written by Roman poet Lucretius in 50 BC. Take heart if you think that this is a book reserved for literary wonks, for only those who recite ancient Roman poetry in Latin. No way. This book is thrilling, because it’s also about how the Church reacts to the heresy and shocking ideas our book hunter brings back to Italy.
Lucretius’ poem, his treatise, raises questions that crop up in our own 21st century conversations: atheism, atomic science; religion and its use of fear; the nature of the universe, with and without gods; questions of life after death; sexual desire, virtue and the pursuit of pleasure; and so much more. But Greenblatt’s Swerve isn’t just about Lucretius– it is at heart about his pervasive reach into modern thought, from Shakespeare to Thomas More, from Thomas Jefferson to Darwin. Renaissance thinking, then, is really rooted in 1st century writing. This is a book that reads like a detective novel. Greenblatt follows the book collector in his discovery, through the collector’s careful discussion of the manuscript, and to its controversial nature vis-à-vis the church and socieity. Greenblatt swings the discovery of the manuscript back to the 21st century as he traces the proof that giants of modern thought, such as Shakespeare, Jefferson, and Darwin, relied on Lucretius’ “On The Nature of Things” as a basis for their own writings.
Eric Idle is a noted expert in medieval history and medieval Christian theology. No one does medieval better than Eric Idle. He is, after all, one of the creators of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, Monty Python and The Holy Grail, and Spamalot, among so many other treats.
At the newly renovated and completely redesigned Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills located at:
300 N. Clark Drive, Beverly Hills. It is located between Doheny and Robertson, immediately south of Burton Way, and three blocks NORTH of Wilshire Blvd. It is a gorgeous space and we hope you’ll join us.
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