Reading Lucretius in the Renaissance by Ada Palmer

By Ada Palmer

After its rediscovery in 1417, Lucretius’s Epicurean didactic poem De Rerum Natura threatened to provide radicals and atheists with the only weapon unbelief had lacked within the center a long time: sturdy solutions. students may perhaps now problem Christian styles of proposal by way of utilizing the speculation of atomistic physics, a cosmopolitan process that defined common phenomena with out entice divine participation, and argued powerfully opposed to the immortality of the soul, the afterlife, and a writer God.

Ada Palmer explores how Renaissance readers, equivalent to Machiavelli, Pomponio Leto, and Montaigne, truly ingested and disseminated Lucretius, and the ways that this strategy of studying reworked glossy inspiration. She uncovers humanist equipment for reconciling Christian and pagan philosophy, and indicates how principles of emergent order and usual choice, so serious to our present pondering, turned embedded in Europe’s highbrow panorama ahead of the 17th century. This heterodoxy circulated within the premodern international, no longer at the conspicuous level of heresy trials and public debates, yet within the school rooms, libraries, stories, and bookshops the place quiet students met the guidelines that might quickly rework the realm. Renaissance readers―poets and philologists instead of scientists―were moved by way of their love of classical literature to rescue Lucretius and his atomism, thereby injecting his theories again into clinical discourse.

Palmer employs a brand new quantitative strategy for reading marginalia in manuscripts and revealed books, exposing how adjustments in scholarly studying practices over the process the 16th century progressively increased Europe’s receptivity to radical technological know-how, surroundings the degree for the clinical revolution.

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Epicureanism in the Renaissance At the beginning of the Renaissance, most of these details of Epicurean doctrine were inaccessible, leaving Europe with a fractured and largely inaccurate impression. 38 Lactantius especially presented Epicureanism as a perverse and wrong-headed sect closer to madness and wanton sensualism than philosophical tranquility. Such sources did not predispose figures like Dante to categorize Lucretius and Epicurus with such “virtuous pagans” as Homer and Virgil. A glance at Petrarch may demonstrate what one leading scholar thought he knew about Epicurus before Lucretius’s return.

58 Although this reflects the authentic Epicurean conviction that the retired passive life is more tranquil than the socially engaged active one, this benevolent Nature does not feel like the unplanned world full of pains and inconveniences described in the De rerum natura, nor are these escapable evils the all-destroying Athenian plague that ends the unfi nished Book VI. 59 Atoms, meanwhile, are nowhere in Valla’s scheme; his Epicureanism is a moral system and to some degree a religious one, intended to provide guidelines for living, not for science or understanding.

Without Providence one lost both, so it was an easy step from denial of Providence to denial of God, but it was not at all easy to deny Providence in the first place. Traditionally, denial of Providence stems from theodicy, debates over the problem of evil. In his treatise of 1707, Jean La Placette wrote that arguments regarding the incompatibility between the existence of God and the reality of evil would “give proselytes to atheism and to the philosophy of Epicurus,”93 which he further defines as denial of Providence.

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