Young People, You WILL Die, So Stop Pretending

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:

  1. The Legend of St. Julian the Hospitaller” by Gustave Flaubert (GGB Vol. 3, pp. 371-392)
  2. Theseus” by Plutarch (GBWW Vol. 13, pp. 1-15)
  3. Of Anger” by Francis Bacon (GGB Vol. 10, pp. 359-360)
  4. Federalist #11-14 (GBWW Vol. 40, pp. 53-62; Anti-Federalist responses are here.)
  5. The Elements of Euclid, Book VI (GBWW Vol. 10, pp. 99-126)
  6. 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:

  1. “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.
  2. “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.
  3. “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.”
  4. 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?
  5. 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.
  6. 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.]

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About Dr. J

I am an Associate Professor and head of the Department of Humanities at Faulkner University. I am also Associate Editor of the Journal of Faith and the Academy.
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One Response to Young People, You WILL Die, So Stop Pretending

  1. Pingback: Man Up with a Memento Mori | The Western Tradition

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