Tuesday, February 4, 2014

How poetry saved the world

Book: The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
Author: Stephen Greenblatt
Published: 2011 (Norton)
Pages: 266
Did you know there’s this poem from ancient Rome that pretty much pulled us into the modern world?

When I say “us” and “the modern world,” I mean renaissance Europe, basically, specifically Italy, which found its emerging humanism all laid out in a manuscript that a book-crazy scribe found in a German monastery and carefully copied to bring back with him to share with other bibliophiles, who since books were so expensive (= pain in the butt to make and replicate) tended to be the upper elite of society, i.e. the ones who were doing all the thinking that led to grand societal changes.
Yeah. That’s what this book follows. It was sort of a no-brainer interesting to me considering how much I like books and consider them important influences, but there’s also plenty of high-court (from the Pope’s offices!) gossip and tracing of difficult yet determined journeys and did you know monks used to scrape old manuscripts clean to write over them when they needed more paper (well, writing sheets)? This author and I both shuddered over what was lost through that.
But even if we can’t get all that back, we do have a record of the poem that caused the “swerve” in thinking towards the modern era. That chronicle is bookshelf worthy.

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