With The Lucretian Renaissance, Gerard Passannante offers a radical rethinking of a familiar narrative: the rise of materialism in early modern Europe. Passannante begins by taking up the ancient philosophical notion that the world is composed of two fundamental opposites: atoms, as the philosopher Epicurus theorized, intrinsically unchangeable and moving about the void; and the void itself, or nothingness. Passannante considers the fact that this strain of ancient Greek philosophy survived and was transmitted to the Renaissance primarily by means of a poem that had seemingly been lost—a poem insisting that the letters of the alphabet are like the atoms that make up the universe.
By tracing this elemental analogy through the fortunes of Lucretius’s On the Nature of Things, Passannante argues that, long before it took on its familiar shape during the Scientific Revolution, the philosophy of atoms and the void reemerged in the Renaissance as a story about reading and letters—a story that materialized in texts, in their physical recomposition, and in their scattering.
From the works of Virgil and Macrobius to those of Petrarch, Poliziano, Lambin, Montaigne, Bacon, Spenser, Gassendi, Henry More, and Newton, The Lucretian Renaissance recovers a forgotten history of materialism in humanist thought and scholarly practice and asks us to reconsider one of the most enduring questions of the period: what does it mean for a text, a poem, and philosophy to be “reborn”?
Ada Palmer explores how Renaissance poets and philologists, not scientists, rescued Lucretius and his atomism theory. This heterodoxy circulated in the premodern world, not on the conspicuous stage of heresy trials and public debates but in the classrooms, libraries, studies, and bookshops where quiet scholars met transformative ideas.
How deeply into the structure of physical reality do the effects of our way of representing it reach? To what extent do constructivist accounts of scientific theorizing involve realist assumptions, and vice versa? This book provides a lucid and concise introduction to contemporary debates, taking as its theme the question of the relationship of representation and reality. It treats in an attractive and accessible way the historical, philosophical, and literary aspects of this question. In particular, it explores how the present relates to and configures claims to scientific knowledge from the past, taking as its main case study On the Nature of Things (De Rerum Natura), the poem on physics written by the Roman poet Lucretius in the 50s B.C.E.
The book engages in a sustained argument about realist assumptions in scientific and other discourses through detailed analysis and discussion of some of the most important recent contributions to this debate. Engaging sympathetically but not uncritically with constructivist accounts of scientific knowledge, the book takes up a sustained critique of recent contributions to that debate, including those of Ian Hacking, Evelyn Fox Keller, Bruno Latour, and Hans-Jörg Rheinberger. What are the implications of regarding such knowledge as "discovered" or "invented"? How is the rhetoric of such claims to be identified and the pretentions of those claims assessed?In what ways can realist and constructivist approaches be reconciled? How do these considerations affect the way we read scientific texts from the past and regard them historically?
What emerges is a fresh and challenging assessment of the role of time and temporal perspective in assessing claims to knowledge in scientific thought and of the importance of textuality to the history of knowledge. A wide variety of readers, from classicists and intellectual historians to epistemologists of science, will enjoy and learn from Rethinking Reality.
Duncan Kennedy is Reader in Latin Literature and the Theory of Criticism, University of Bristol. He is also the author of The Arts of Love: Five Studies in the Discourse of Roman Love Elegy.
Today we do not expect poems to carry scientifically valid information. But it was not always so. In Sweet Science, Amanda Jo Goldstein returns to the beginnings of the division of labor between literature and science to recover a tradition of Romantic life writing for which poetry was a privileged technique of empirical inquiry.
Goldstein puts apparently literary projects, such as William Blake’s poetry of embryogenesis, Goethe’s journals On Morphology, and Percy Shelley’s “poetry of life,” back into conversation with the openly poetic life sciences of Erasmus Darwin, J. G. Herder, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, and Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. Such poetic sciences, Goldstein argues, share in reviving Lucretius’s De rerum natura to advance a view of biological life as neither self-organized nor autonomous, but rather dependent on the collaborative and symbolic processes that give it viable and recognizable form. They summon De rerum natura for a logic of life resistant to the vitalist stress on self-authorizing power and to make a monumental case for poetry’s role in the perception and communication of empirical realities. The first dedicated study of this mortal and materialist dimension of Romantic biopoetics, Sweet Science opens a through-line between Enlightenment materialisms of nature and Marx’s coming historical materialism.
The debate about evolution and creationism is striking evidence of the tensions between biblical and philosophical-scientific explanations of the origins of the universe. For most of the past twenty centuries, important historical context for the debate has been supplied by the relation (or "counterpoint") between two monumental texts: Plato's Timaeus and the Book of Genesis.
In What Has Athens to Do with Jerusalem?, Jaroslav Pelikan examines the origins of this counterpoint. He reviews the central philosophical issues of origins as posed in classical Rome by Lucretius, and he then proceeds to an examination of Timaeus and Genesis, with Timaeus' Plato representing Athens and Genesis' Moses representing Jerusalem. He then follows the three most important case studies of the counterpoint--in the Jewish philosophical theology of Alexandria, in the Christian thought of Constantinople, and in the intellectual foundations of the Western Middles Ages represented by Catholic Rome, where Timaeus would be the only Platonic dialogue in general circulation.
Whatever Plato may have intended originally in writing Timaeus, it has for most of the intervening period been read in the light of Genesis. Conversely, Genesis has been known, not in the original Hebrew, but in Greek and Latin translations that were seen to bear a distinct resemblance to one another and to the Latin version of Timaeus. Pelikan's study leads to original findings that deal with Christian doctrine in the period of the church fathers, including the Three Cappadocians (Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa) in the East, and in the West, Ambrose, Augustine, and Boethius. All of these vitally important authors addressed the problem of the "counterpoint," and neither they nor these primary texts can become fully intelligible without attention to the central issues being explored here.
What Has Athens to Do with Jerusalem? will be of interest to historians, theologians, and philosophers and to anyone with interest in any of the religious traditions addressed herein.