A key to modernity

Friday, January 20, 2012 - 13:20 in Paleontology & Archaeology

Poggio Bracciolini had a passion for books. And not just books, but old books, ones that were copies of even more ancient manuscripts written nearly 1,000 years before he was born. Rummaging through worm-eaten layers of parchment at a monastery in southern Germany in 1417, the scribe and former Vatican secretary discovered a copy of a poem titled “De Rerum Natura,” or “On the Nature of Things,” by the Roman philosopher Titus Lucretius Carus. On that day, according to Professor Stephen Greenblatt, history swerved. “Much of what we understand of modernity made its way back into the world from an older world, thanks to the efforts of Poggio Bracciolini,” Greenblatt, the John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities, told a group of nearly 50 rapt Harvard undergraduates in Sever Hall on Wednesday. “On the Nature of Things” was “an ancient work of philosophy, in magnificent poetry, but it is a work...

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