Renowned Renaissance Scholar Gives Lecture
By Brianda Reyes '14, Managing News Editor
On Jan. 28, Stephen Greenblatt gave his lecture, “The Swerve: How the Renaissance Began,” in Fayerweather Hall. Greenblatt is a literary critic and Renaissance expert, as well as the John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University.

The lecture began with some opening remarks from President Anthony Marx. Marx introduced Greenblatt by sharing some personal anecdotes and listing a few of Greenblatt’s many academic and professional accomplishments.

“He is the father of the field of New Historicism, which concentrates on understanding works of literature within their historical, social and anthropological contexts,” Marx said.

Greenblatt stepped up to speak after Marx ended his remarks by saying that Greenblatt’s lecture would change the audience’s lives. Greenblatt began his lecture with a discussion of the different aspects of the term “Renaissance.”

“The Renaissance is an indispensable but a maddeningly blurry term,” he said. “It’s probably retained its most specific meaning in the sphere in which it originated: in the writings of the great Italian artist, Giorgio Vasari.”

Greenblatt described some of Vasari’s thoughts and writings in regards to art, architecture and literature which would lead to his coining the term “Renaissance.” Vasari described “Renaissance” as a series of perfection in art, ruin of that art and then finally, the art’s rebirth. Although Vasari supposed that he would face opposition in his theory, “his vision came to extend the geographical and conceptual boundaries that he himself had imagined.”

The Renaissance, according to Greenblatt, allowed people to change their wordly views. The transformation to this kind of thought did not happen overnight and it was not permanent.

“It became increasingly possible to turn away from a preoccupation with angels and demons and immaterial causes and to focus instead on things in this world, to understand that humans are made of the same stuff as everything else and are part of a natural order,” Greenblatt said.

However, many have critiqued this idea. Critics claim that society did not experience a “rebirth.” Rather, it was a simple transformation.

Greenblatt talked about how works have been lost over the years. He focused on Lucretius, a Roman poet and philosopher, whose work was never known until the Renaissance. After it was found, Lucretius’s work was a vital part of the revival of atomism. Greenblatt went on to discuss theory of atomism and talked about the human body, death and the soul, and how they are all interconnected.

“There’s nothing to fear, nothing to worry about because your soul will not survive. Your body will just return to the mass of atoms which will be recycled in other forms,” Greenblatt said, quoting Lucretius.

Greenblatt ended the talk by describing how he came to become interested and involve himself in the Renaissance field. His interest was reflected in the students who attended the lecture, as Pruyne Lecture Hall was completely filled.

Issue 13, Submitted 2011-02-02 03:30:05