I just finished reading The Swerve by the eminent Shakespearean scholar Stephen Greenblatt (whose wonderful Will in the World I enjoyed so much a few years ago). The new book describes an intellectual and historical adventure, which has nothing directly to do with Shakespeare; its subtitle is "How the World Became Modern." Greenblatt examines the time when the iron grip held by the Church over intellectual inquiry began to be eroded not only by new ideas but by the rediscovery of old ones.
The heroes of his story are the ancient philosopher Lucretius (a follower of the still-earlier Epicurus) — about whom almost nothing is known — and a man named Poggio Bracciolini, an Italian of the 15th Century and an avid bibliophile who managed to discover in a monastery a copy of Lucretius' masterpiece, On the Nature of Things, which had not been seen or heard of for more than a thousand years. The discovery was one of the seminal moments of the Renaissance and established a connection with the glories of Greek and Roman antiquity, so many traces of which had simply vanished over time.