Another Monday, another 100+ pages of Western civilization’s best in the books. What’s not to like?
Here are the readings for the upcoming week:
- “The Legend of St. Julian the Hospitaller” by Gustave Flaubert (GGB Vol. 3, pp. 371-392)
- “Theseus” by Plutarch (GBWW Vol. 13, pp. 1-15)
- “Of Anger” by Francis Bacon (GGB Vol. 10, pp. 359-360)
- Federalist #11-14 (GBWW Vol. 40, pp. 53-62; Anti-Federalist responses are here.)
- The Elements of Euclid, Book VI (GBWW Vol. 10, pp. 99-126)
- The Confessions of St. Augustine, Books IV-VI (GBWW Vol. 16, pp. 24-54)
We’ll have our first taste of Plutarch’s Lives this week; it is a very long work, but episodic by its nature, so we won’t have to read from it every week. I expect we’ll take it in small doses over a couple of years.
Here are some comments on last week’s readings:
- “The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane: This story is autobiographical, based on a real shipwreck Crane survived off the Florida coast. It is a frustrating read in part because of its realism. When the vacationers wave to the men in the boat, obviously not realizing their plight, you want to scream.
- “On the Feeling of Immortality in Youth” by William Hazlitt: This piece reminded me of Cicero’s “On Old Age,” which we read several weeks ago. I know that when I was younger, I felt as though I had all the time in the world to accomplish every possible goal in life, and since becoming a professor I have talked to many students who apparently feel the same way. The awareness of one’s limited time comes only gradually. I pity those who face the prospect thinking there is nothing beyond this life.
- “Of the Education of Children” by Montaigne: Did anyone else notice the irony of Montaigne’s dismissal of the study of classical languages even as he drenches his discourse in quotations from and allusions to classical authors? I like the part about teaching philosophy to children: “A hundred students have caught the syphilis before they came to Aristotle’s lesson on temperance.”
- Federalist #6-10: I don’t know about you, but Hamilton’s not really convincing me. Madison in #10 is better, and I can see why #10 is one of the most quoted of the essays. Still, nothing in Madison’s argument would warn us against world government, and can anyone imagine a State on such a scale free of faction?
- The Elements of Euclid, Book V: I kept thinking as I read this book, “Surely there’s a simpler way to prove these propositions; they seem almost self-evident.” I am guessing that fractional notation had not been developed in Euclid’s day; that alone would have simplified his proofs greatly, I think. There actually were one or two surprises for me here.
- The Confessions of St. Augustine, Books I-III: There is so much to admire in this work that it’s difficult to know where to focus. For one thing, it seems like every other sentence contains a quotation from the Psalms. Also, the unflinching manner in which the author confronts his sins is remarkable. I have yet to meet a classroom full of students that didn’t immediately relate to the story about stealing pears. I’ve always found the circuitous route by which Augustine came to Christianity to be fascinating.
After a harried week of house-hunting, I’m looking forward to a more relaxed schedule for reading this week. I hope you’re finding some time away from whatever tends to distract you so that you can enjoy some of these works as well.
[This post is part of my seven-year plan to read through the Gateway to the Great Books and Great Books of the Western World sets. The original post describing the plan is here.]