In the last week or so, I’ve stumbled on to one book that I commend to all. It’s “The Swerve” by Stephen Greenblatt, whose recent book about Shakespeare’s life and his place in the world is also a marvel. The Swerve is at once a brilliant historical account of the time just at the beginning of the age of enlightenment , the Renaissance, and an account of the rediscovery of a document that kick started our movement into the modern world. That work is the long poem by Lucretius (99-55 BCE) that lays out a vision of the universe that presages many of our modern concepts of it. The Swerve led me almost immediately back to “De Rerum Natura” itself. I’m looking now at the W. H. D. Rouse translation, with the Latin and English on facing pages. A few sample quotes:
from Book 1 “Time also exists not of itself, but from things themselves is derived the sense of what has been done in the past, then what thing is present with us, further what is to follow after.
and earlier, also in Book 1 “For assuredly a dread holds all mortals thus in bond, because they behold many things happening in heaven and earth whose causes they can by no means see, and think them to be done by divine power. For which reason, when we shall perceive that nothing can be created from nothing, then we shall at once more correctly understand from that principle what we are seeking, both the source from which each thing can be made and the manner in which everything is done without the working of gods.”
This is only a small sample, but we know that Newton read Lucretius, and although Charles Darwin professes no such knowledge, we know that his grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, a philosopher, botanist, and naturalist in his own right, was familiar with “On the Nature of Things.”
So, certainly read “The Swerve’ and I’m confident it will send you back to Lucretius.
The second book I’ve worked my way through and on which I will comment a little later, is Brian Greene’s latest opus, “The Hidden Reality.” I am still trying to distill the sense of aversion it has generated in me, but I think it has a lot to do with the fact that the book seems to have validated its title by devoting 300+ pages to the act of hiding reality. More about this later.