Lucretius and the Toleration of Intolerable Ideas


Stephen Greenblatt is a Pulitzer Prize winning American literary critic, theorist, and scholar. Regarded as one of the founders of New Historicism, a set of critical practices, which broadly focuses on understanding literature through its historical context and intellectual history through literature, Greenblatt became extremely influential in the 1990s when he introduced the term. In 2012, Professor Greenblatt’s book, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (2011), received the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction. The Puliter board cited The Swerve as “a provocative book arguing that an obscure work of philosophy, discovered nearly 600 years ago, changed the course of history by anticipating the science and sensibilities of today.”

Before writing The Swerve, Professor Greenblatt was a prolific author and he wrote, edited, and published numerous articles and books, including but not limited to: Shakespeare’s Freedom (2010); Cultural Mobility (2010); Will in the World (2004); Hamlet in Purgatory (2001); Co-gen. ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature (2000); Practicing New Historicism (with Catherine Gallagher, 2000); Gen. ed. Norton Shakespeare (1997); ed. New World Encounters (1993); ed. Redrawing the Boundaries (1992); Marvelous Possessions (1991); Learning to Curse (1990); Shakespearean Negotiations (1988); Renaissance Self-Fashioning (1980).

His many honors include the Modern Language Association's James Russell Lowell Prize, for Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England, the Distinguished Humanist Award from the Mellon Foundation, the Distinguished Teaching Award from the University of California, Berkeley. He is also a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.

Currently, Stephen Greenblatt is the John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University. He earned his B.A. from Yale in 1964, his M.Phil from Cambridge in 1966, and his Ph.D. from Yale in 1969.

Stephen Greenblatt is the Ricardo J. Quinones Distinguished Lecturer for 2013. Sponsored by the Gould Center for Humanistic Studies, Greenblatt’s Athenaeum talk centers on why and how the utterly unacceptable ideas reintroduced by the recovery of De rerum natura in 1417 managed to survive and be transmitted during pre-Enlightenment centuries that had no concept of toleration.