Monday, January 13, 2014

Endless pockets of wonder

Had a nice Sunday afternoon hike with Younger Daughter, up to Lea's Lookout at Percy Warner Park. She thought it'd be cute to text her sister, away at college, a skyline pic with the insinuating dig: "We just went for a hike, what are you doing?" 

Older Daughter's quick reply: "I'm reading Lucretius."

That's not a bad way to spend an afternoon either, but she later conceded finding De Rerum Natura a difficult read. Most students nowadays probably feel that way, about an almost 2,000 year-old epic Roman poem. But it's definitely worth the slog, kids.  The view is bracing.

It might help to take a look at Jennifer Hecht's gloss in Doubt, where she points out that Lucretius was an Epicurean naturalist and celebrant of our place in the material cosmos. He was a doubter who affirmed the meaning and value of mortal life, an atomist for whom death is nothing to fear and life is all the sweeter for its brevity. He "perfected the irreligious sneer," in a good way, especially directed at those whose religious dogmas prevent them from appreciating nature's "endless pockets of wonder."

Stephen Greenblatt's The Swerve updates the story of the Renaissance "discovery" of Lucretius. The author is also struck by the wonder that struck his subject.
Wonder did not depend on gods and demons and the dream of an afterlife; in Lucretius it welled up out of a recognition that we are made of the same matter as the stars and the oceans and all things else. And this recognition was the basis for the way he thought we should live our lives.
How? Fearlessly, happily, naturally. Standing firmly, not kneeling. Moving forward. Boldly going to the summit on our own strong legs.

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