Poggio' discovery of the manuscript of 'De rerum natura'  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

One of Poggio's manuscript finds that has become especially famous is Lucretius's De rerum natura.

In January 1417, in a German monastery (never named by Poggio, but probably Fulda), Poggio discovered the only manuscript of Lucretius's De rerum natura known at the time.

Poggio spotted the name, which he remembered as quoted by Cicero. This was a Latin poem of 7,400 lines, divided into six books, giving a full description of the world as viewed by the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus.

It has been translated as On the Nature of the Universe (Oxford World's Classics). The manuscript found by Poggio was not preserved, but he sent the copy he had ordered to Niccolò de' Niccoli, who made a transcription in his beautiful book hand (the creator of italic script), which became the model for the more than fifty other copies circulating at the time. Poggio complained that Niccoli didn't return his original copy for 14 years! Later two 9th-century manuscripts were discovered, the O ("Oblongus", ca. 825) and Q ("Quadratus") codices, now kept at Leiden University. The book was first printed in 1473.

Stephen Greenblatt, in his book The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (2011) describes the discovery of the old Lucretius manuscript by Poggio. Greenblatt analyzes the poem's subsequent impact on the development of the Renaissance, the Reformation and modern science.

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