The Swerve: How the World Became Modern | Stephen Greenblatt, W.W. Norton, 365p.
An unusual history read follows bibliophile and Papal secretary Poggio Bracciionli, who discovered 1417 a Latin poem, De Rerum Natura (On Nature), by Titus Lucretius Caro. It’s superbly written. Making mundane events in an age now distant, so enlivened and captivating is a treat. Greenblatt creates a historically inaccurate version of the Middle Ages, presumably to boost the importance of the tome’s topic. For instance, he writes at length about asceticism as a mainstream value. It never was. Anti-pleasure seeking was always a sub-cult trend confined to various minority religious sects. While fiction, a reading of Chaucer makes this abundantly clear. And while lurid, possibly the book form of click-bait, his description of self-flagellation as widespread falls well short of the evidence. These misinterpretations are not only intellectually dishonest but also provide a politically correct narrative of a modern enlightened value trumping in the darkness of years prior over knuckle-dragging theologians. One can appreciate the rediscovery of Lucretius without falsehood. Lucretius, a student of Epicurus, deserves celebration. And like most ancients, he challenges us more than most moderns to live lives of a higher form. Truth being a prerequisite to virtue, the accuracy of history is required for anything lasting to be built upon. The Swerve is recommended as a work of historical fiction. It will be enjoyed, but check the footnotes before reciting its imagery as fact. A plain reading of On Nature is a better focus for substance or meaningful contemplation.