The Epicurean Life

June 18, 2019

I am currently working my way through Montaigne’s Essays and I reminded of my 2013 review of “The Swerve: How The World Became Modern” by Stephen Greenblatt, the John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard.  I think it bears repeating.

The Swerve” tells the story of the re-discovery in 1417 of a long poem in Latin by Lucretius called “On The Nature of Things” which, the author claims, led to a flowering of the humanist movement, to a modern scientific view of reality, and to the disintegration of (or at least a serious challenge to) the accepted world view of the Catholic Church.  Enormous claims, and the author does a fine job of defending them.

Lucretius’ poem is a discourse on the philosophy promulgated by Epicurus (341-270 BCE), that life should be led without any fear of death, that the pursuit of personal well-being should be the prime motivator of one’s existence, and that all life and all things are composed of “atoms” that collide and coalesce and then disaggregate once again upon death.

Epicurus

The Epicurean belief that there is no creation, the universe is eternal, that death is the final end, that there is no afterlife would prove to be a major challenge for the Church, a challenge they met with both cruelty and disdain.  It is from their deliberate twisting of these teachings that most people today consider Epicureanism to be a form of gluttony and greed and little more.

The first half of the book gives an excellent background to the Europe of the late medieval period, discusses the growth of humanism through the re-discovery of Latin and Greek texts, and follows the life of Poggio Bracciolini, a Papal secretary who found, copied and circulated a manuscript of Lucretius’ De rerum natura.

The second half describes the Epicureanism of Lucretius in some detail and it is worth noting the major points:

  • Everything is made of invisible particles that are eternal, infinite in number and are in motion in an infinite void
  • Nature ceaselessly experiments
  • The universe was not created for or about humans
  • Humans are not unique
  • The soul dies; there is no afterlife; there are no angels, demons or ghosts
  • All organized religions are superstitious delusions, and are invariably cruel
  • The highest goal of human life is the enhancement of pleasure and the reduction of pain
  • The greatest obstacle to pleasure is not pain; it is delusion
  • Understanding the nature of things generates deep wonder

The book then travels forward through history to show the extent of the poem’s influence.   Early humanists, such as Giordana Bruno, were burnt at the stake for preaching its beliefs.  Thomas More wrote Utopia as a direct attack on Lucretian Epicureanism, while Lucretius was the direct inspiration of Botticelli’s Primavera.  Montaigne’s Essays are infused with epicureanism, and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is a materialist masterpiece, even mentioning “little atomi” in its description of Queen Mab. Gallileo was clearly influenced by the poem,and the Puritan Lucy Hutchinson wrote an early English translation.

Perhaps the most famous political influence was in the work of Thomas Jefferson, a self-confessed Epicurean, who added “…the pursuit of happiness” as one of the three inalienable rights of all people.

This was a fascinating read.

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Mount Pleasant Without Cars!

June 15, 2019

If any of my readers are planning on going to Main Street tomorrow for the Car Free Day event, I would urge them to look out for the Mount Pleasant Heritage Group Heritage Lounge which will  be in front of Heritage Hall.

They have a lot of interesting things to say about how that neighbourhood should recognize and integrate its heritage and history into the ongoing City Plan process.  Stop by and take a look.

 


A Screen By Any Other Name …

June 11, 2019

We are, apparently, at the very cusp  of history where the use of mobile screens by US adults exceeds the use of TV screens.

“We’ve expected that mobile would overtake TV for a while, but seeing it happen is still surprising,” said Yoram Wurmser, eMarketer principal analyst. “As recently as 2014, the average US adult watched nearly 2 hours more TV than they spent on their phones.”  What are people spending time on their devices doing? They’re consistently spending the bulk of their time using apps over web browsers, with the average person spending 2:57 in apps vs. 0:26 on a mobile browser. Within apps, people spent the most time listening to digital audio, followed by social network activity. “Digital audio apps continue to add minutes because people are streaming more music on their phones, and podcasts have taken off in popularity in the past few years,” Wurmser said.

The movies begat television, and television begat YouTube, Fortnite and music streaming on smart phones.  What happens next?


Wise Words on Immigration

June 9, 2019


The Future of Grandview’s Parks

May 28, 2019

The next Grandview Woodland Area Council meeting is on Monday 3rd June at 7:00pm in the Learning Resources Centre beneath Britania Library.

As per their newsletter …


Lucian’s Nudes

May 19, 2019

I have on several occasions before written of my admiration for Lucian Freud.  So it was with great interest that I read Lucian’s Mountains of Flesh by Thomas Michelli at Hyperallergic, a review of the Freud exhibition Monumental.

 

Portrait on Grey Cover

Freud’s nudes, both male and female, are definitely not to everyone’s taste, and I strongly disagree with the political judgement laced within the review, but the article has its moments and is worth reading as one perspective on an important chapter of British art..


A Great Sucking Sound

May 17, 2019

This is one of the most important weeks of the high-end art market. Estimates for sales at the various New York shows this week exceeded $1.5 billion, and I was planning to write something each day.  However, along came the $91.1 million shiny toy

 

… and the whole thing seemed pointless.  I have had my say about Jeff Koons before and I haven’t changed my mind about the waste of it all.

It has been an interesting week in New York and perhaps I’ll be in a better mood to write about it tomorrow.