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Stephen Greenblatt quotes Showing 1-30 of 155

“I think the writing of literature should give pleasure. What else should it be about? It is not nuclear physics. It actually has to give pleasure or it is worth nothing.”
Stephen Greenblatt
“The greatest obstacle to pleasure is not pain; it is delusion.”
Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
“Poems are difficult to silence.”
Stephen Greenblatt
“The exercise of reason is not available only to specialists; it is accessible to everyone.”
Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
“The discussion itself is what most matters, the fact that we can reason together easily, with a blend of wit and seriousness, never descending into gossip or slander and always allowing room for alternative views.”
Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
“Art always penetrates the particular fissures in one's psychic life.”
Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
“What human beings can and should do, he wrote, is to conquer their fears, accept the fact that they themselves and all the things they encounter are transitory, and embrace the beauty and the pleasure of the world.”
Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
“There was a time in the ancient world - a very long time - in which the central cultural problem must have seemed an inexhaustible outpouring of books. Where to put them all? How to organize them on the groaning shelves? How to hold the profusion of knowledge in one's head? The loss of this plenitude would have been virtually inconceivable to anyone living in its midst.
Then, not all at once but with the cumulative force of a mass extinction, the whole enterprise came to an end. What looked stable turned out to be fragile, and what had seemed for all time was only for the time being.”
Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
“The quintessential emblem of religion — and the clearest manifestation of the perversity that lies at its core — is the sacrifice of a child by a parent.

Almost all religious faiths incorporate the myth of such a sacrifice, and some have actually made it real. Lucretius had in mind the sacrifice of Iphigenia by her father Agamemnon, but he may also have been aware of the Jewish story of Abraham and Isaac and other comparable Near Eastern stories for which the Romans of his times had a growing taste. Writing around 50 BCE he could not, of course, have anticipated the great sacrifice myth that would come to dominate the Western world, but he would not have been surprised by it or by the endlessly reiterated, prominently displayed images of the bloody, murdered son.”
Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
“I began with the desire to speak with the dead.”
Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England
“Libraries, museums, and schools are fragile institutions.”
Stephen Greenblatt
“Stability itself is nothing but a more languid motion.”
Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
“A comparably capacious embrace of beauty and pleasure - an embrace that somehow extends to death as well as life, to dissolution as well as creation - characterizes Montaigne's restless reflections on matter in motion, Cervantes's chronicle of his mad knight, Michelangelo's depiction of flayed skin, Leonardo's sketches of whirlpools, Caravaggio's loving attention to the dirty soles of Christ's feet.”
Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
“We are terrified of future catastrophes and are thrown into a continuous state of misery and anxiety, and for fear of becoming miserable, we never cease to be so, always panting for riches and never giving our souls or our bodies a moment’s peace. But those who are content with little live day by day and treat any day like a feast day.”
Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
“Through reading literature we can make ghosts speak to us, and we can speak back to them.”
Stephen Greenblatt
“In short, it became possible - never easy, but possible - in the poet Auden's phrase to find the mortal world enough.”
Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
“I am,” Jefferson wrote to a correspondent who wanted to know his philosophy of life, “an Epicurean.”
Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
“Compared to the unleashed forces of warfare and of faith, Mount Vesuvius was kinder to the legacy of antiquity.”
Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
“What began as downsizing went on to wholesale abandonment. Schools closed, libraries and academies shut their doors, professional grammarians and teachers of rhetoric found themselves out of work. There were more important things to worry about than the fate of books.”
Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
“Our sense that a library is a public good and our idea of what such a place should look like derived precisely from a model created in Rome several thousand years ago.”
Stephen Greenblatt
“The monk in the grip of acedia would find it difficult or impossible to read. Looking away from his book, he might try to distract himself with gossip but would more likely glance in disgust at his surroundings and at his fellow monks. He would feel that things were better somewhere else, that he was wasting his life, that everything was stale and pointless, that he was suffocating.”
Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
“The greatest obstacle to pleasure is not pain; it is delusion. The principal enemies of human happiness are inordinate desire—the fantasy of attaining something that exceeds what the finite mortal world allows—and gnawing fear. Even the dreaded plague, in Lucretius’ account—and his work ends with a graphic account of a catastrophic plague epidemic in Athens—is most horrible not only for the suffering and death that it brings but also and still more for the “perturbation and panic” that it triggers.”
Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
“Independence & self-reliance had no cultural purchase; indeed, they could scarcely be conceived, let alone prized...The best course was humbly to accept the identity to which destiny assigned you: the ploughman needed only to know how to plough, the weaver to weave, the monk to pray.”
Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
“I am committed by trade to urging people to attend carefully to the verbal surfaces of what they read.”
Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
“at Cambridge, a graduate in grammar in the late Middle Ages was required to demonstrate his pedagogical fitness by flogging a dull or recalcitrant boy.”
Stephen Greenblatt, Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare
“Violators of the edict were threatened with eternal damnation and a fine of 10 ducats.”
Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
“Falstaff something roughly similar—a gentleman sinking into mire—but darker and deeper: a debauched genius; a fathomlessly cynical, almost irresistible confidence man; a diseased, cowardly, seductive, lovable monster; a father who cannot be trusted.”
Stephen Greenblatt, Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare
“The highest goal of human life is the enhancement of pleasure and the reduction of pain.”
Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
“What was ridiculous about Christianity, from the perspective of a cultivated pagan, was not only its language—the crude style of the Gospels’ Greek resting on the barbarous otherness of Hebrew and Aramaic—but also its exaltation of divine humiliation and pain conjoined with an arrogant triumphalism.”
Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
“Something happened in the Renaissance, something that surged up against the constraints that centuries had constructed around curiosity, desire, individuality, sustained attention to the material world, the claims of the body.”
Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern

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