Gian Francesco Poggio Bracciolini

When Rome fell and libraries were burned, all the works of Epicurean poet Lucretius nearly disappeared. It’s understandable that the Church would go after Lucretius, as he excoriated religion. His master work was called “On The Nature of Things.”

The Dark Ages snuffed out the book, and with it, most details of Epicuranism – the view that the universe is atomic, made of matter, and our behavior should be based on the idea that fear destroys, and that a balance of knowledge and humility is the key to happiness (though you can’t get enough of both).

A long, pestilent 1400 years later, a scholar in the Papal Court named Gian Francesco Poggio Bracciolini became one of a new breed of hero from history: “the book hunter.” Perhaps because he had worked his way into the upper eschelon of the Church, Bracciolini was very successful at his hobby. He was probably the most successful book hunter of all. He rediscovered and paid for monks to copy major works by Cicero, Vitruvius, Manilius, Eutyches, Probus, and above all, Lucretius.

I’ve been thinking about people like Bracciolini recently. A story about him and his book hunter friends would probably be something like an historical adventure prequel to “The Name of the Rose.” I picture these friends (and rivals) of Bracciolini, racing around the region, bribing people to steal codex that were rumored to be locked away in dark abbeys. They evaded capture and trial by conservative sects when Vitruvius’ nudie human manuscripts were seized. I can picture this band of adventurers breaking each other out of prison. I can see them digging into the buried ruins of old country estates for sealed libraries. I can imagine them loathing the era in which they live, trying desperately to recreate an environment where learning was encouraged like it had been before the rise of the theocracy.

The story would find its natural conclusion in 1417 when Lucretius’ “On the Nature of Things” is found. The poem contains the line: “So, little by little, time brings out each several thing into view, and reason raises it up into the shores of light.”

When all of this is lost, who in the future will rediscover Citizen Kane?

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