Sheep Are No Match for Don Quixote

The Great Books Project marches on in 2014! Expect a summary of our 2013 and overall progress later in the week.

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, Book XV (GBWW Vol. 37, pp. 316-337)*
  2. The Book of Life” by St. Thomas Aquinas (GBWW Vol. 18, pp. 141-143; Part One, Chapter 24 of Summa Theologica)
  3. The History of Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, Part I, Chapters 23-26 (GBWW Vol. 27, pp. 82-104)
  4. Pelopidas” by Plutarch (GBWW Vol. 13, pp. 232-246)
  5. The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin, Chapter 21-end (GBWW Vol. 49, pp. 590-659)
  6. Objections Against the Meditations, and Replies by Rene Descartes, Set 7 (GBWW Vol. 28, pp. 460-504)

*The volume and page references from Tom Jones are from the 1952 GBWW edition. This novel was not included in the 1990 edition and is thus “extra” reading for this project, but I’ve never read it before and want to.

We say farewell to Darwin this week, completing the GBWW volume of his writings. We are also nearing the end of Descartes’s arguments on behalf of his Meditations.

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, Book XIV: I can see why the critics say that Dickens was inspired in large part by Fielding. All of these extended digressions do almost nothing to advance the main plot, but they do have some entertainment value. In this book the story of Mr. Nightingale is quite engaging, and of course you’re rooting for him to end up with the innkeeper’s daughter. But unless this plot line is some sort of foil to Jones’s and Sophie’s romance, I don’t see what it has to do with the main story. 
  2. “Of Predestination” by St. Thomas Aquinas: This topic follows naturally form the discussion of providence. St. Thomas argues that God does predestine men. The predestination places nothing actually within the predestined person; it is only within God’s mind. In opposition to universalists, St. Thomas argues that God does reprobate some. God’s foreknowledge is not the cause of the predestination, in part because the cause of the predestination does not come from the predestined. Nevertheless, the prayers of the saints can further the predestination of others. I’d love to see someone with more theological chops than I do a step-by-step comparison of St. Thomas’s understanding of this topic with those of Calvin and Arminius. 
  3. DonQuixote-sheepThe History of Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, Part I, Chapters 15-22: I must confess I laughed out loud when Don Quixote and Sancho vomited on each other. Even with all the insanity that had been happening up to that point, I hadn’t seen that coming. The long conversations between knight and squire do get a bit tedious, I must say. On the plus side, they got to attack some sheep in this section.
  4. “Aemilius Paulus” and “Aemilius Paulus and Timoleon Compared” by Plutarch: Aemilius Paulus was another figure I had known nothing about before this reading. One can’t help but be impressed with a general who so successfully resisted the temptations to self-aggrandizement following great victories on the battlefield. He fits pretty well into the Cincinnatus mold, I suppose. The Stoic attitude he displayed following the deaths of his two sons was remarkable as well.
  5. The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin, Chapter 19-20: I wonder to what extent Darwin’s characterizations of the secondary sexual characteristics of men and women are accepted by today’s bien-pensant. He claims, for example, that man’s “attaining to a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up” is the result of natural selection in intellectual power. Ditto the claim of women’s “greater tenderness and less selfishness.” Then he gets into racial stuff, too, e.g. Hottentots can’t do music. 
  6. Objections Against the Meditations, and Replies by Rene Descartes, Set 6: I was a bit surprised to see the direction in which this exchange went. They got into things like the question of whether angels are corporeal. Descartes also goes into the nature of deception as non-being. There’s also an exchange on the nature of animal thought. It just seemed like there was more of a medieval flavor to this exchange than there was to most of the others.

Well, I’ve lost another week due to travel, so I’ll have to schedule a higher page count over the next couple of months to make up for it. I’m glad finally to be back home from about three weeks’ worth of journeys that took me as far west as New Mexico for a conference. We don’t have another trip scheduled until March, so I hope to secure the home front (and the blogging front) between now and then.

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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 Sheep Are No Match for Don Quixote

  1. Alice Jewell says:

    Some of those tedious conversations would not be so tedious if we were familiar with the heroes of those books of chivalry which Cervantes is spoofing. One of the funniest lines comes from Sancho, after hearing Don Quixote enthusiastically describe numerous knights on the field, when he states quite realistically that all he can see and hear are sheep.

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