Thursday, February 4, 2016

Book Review: "Reading Lucretius in the Renaissance" by Ada Palmer

"Reading Lucretius in the Renaissance" is a scholarly history.  It explores how ordinary scholars read Lucretius's 'De Rerum Natura' in the two centuries after it was rediscovered in 1417.  Ada Palmer has done this by examining the marginalia from many different copies of 'De Rerum Natura' from the renaissance.

I found the book interesting and recommend you read it if you're interested in history.  The writing is clear and very readable.  The supporting evidence is provided with the conclusions.  If you don't know if this sort of thing would be interesting I suggest starting with Ada Palmer's blog,

The first chapter provides a quick overview of Epicureanism, the atheism it was often accused of, atomism and skepticism, which sometimes supported atheistic arguments.  This chapter is separable from the rest of the work and is the most like the essays Ada Palmer posts on her blog.  There are several interesting tidbits in this chapter.  One of which is that atheism in the Renaissance functioned differently from modern atheism.  At the time anything that might lead people to doubt the existence of God counted, including actions that brought the church into disrepute.  Luther, Calvin, and basically all the Popes of the period made the lists of famous atheists.

The second chapter includes a discussion of the methodology used in the rest of the book along with a description of what conclusions Ada drew from the data.  The data here is the marginalia in 52 manuscripts.  She lays out some cautions that are worth bearing in mind.  After going through the methodology the chapter describes the different sorts of marginalia and what conclusions Ada draws from them.

The third and fourth chapters deal with the ancient references and biographies that were added to manuscripts.  She goes through the material added and then discusses what they tell us about the editor's concerns.  Over time they changed in very obvious ways.  Initially, the focus seems to be on showing that Lucretius is part of the Roman canon and a virtuous man. There are several interesting approaches here.  Ranging from treating the errors as obvious and the poem as an example of difficult Latin, to Lucretius as divinely inspired, to Lucretius as a source of ancient scientific theories.

The fifth chapter contains a detailed discussion of the print editions before 1600 and the marginalia through the first few decades of the 1600s.  There are plenty of interesting points here.  Like the fighting between Lambin and Gifanius over Gifanius putting out an edition that was suspiciously similar to the Lambin edition.  Another section addresses the way De Rerum Natura was used by philosophical skeptics of the period.

No comments:

Post a Comment