It’s Great Books Monday; are you ready for the Bard? Here are the reading selections for the coming week:
- The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare (GBWW Vol. 24, pp. 199-228)
- “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen” (1789) (GGB Vol. 6, pp. 412-414)
- “Sketch of Abraham Lincoln” by Nathaniel Hawthorne (GGB Vol. 6, pp. 168-171; this passage is from Hawthorne’s essay “Chiefly About War Matters”; begin reading at the paragraph beginning “Of course, there was one other personage . . .” and stop at the end of paragraph that begins “Good heavens!”)
- “The Discovery of Radium” by Eve Curie (GGB Vol. 8, pp. 32-42; Chapter XII of Madame Curie)
- The Life of Gnaeus Julius Agricola by Cornelius Tacitus (GGB Vol. 6, pp. 274-298)
- On Friendship by Cicero (GGB Vol. 10, pp. 286-316)
This week’s readings will be an acid test for me; I’ll be trying to complete them while putting on a conference on my campus. If I succeed, I’m pretty confident I can keep up the pace at least through the rest of this semester.
Now for some thoughts on last week’s readings:
- “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe: It has probably been twenty years since my last reading of this story, and it freaked me out all over again. Just imagine someone coming to your bedroom door every night and waiting for some “signal” to kill you. And then there is the lunatic’s continual assertions of his sanity based on the evidence of his careful planning of the murder. *shudder*
- “The Lantern-Bearers” by Robert Louis Stevenson: The big question here is just what the lanterns represent to these boys (certainly they play a more benign role than the one in the Poe story!). I’m guessing they’re some sort of secret knowledge or power. Stevenson sure doesn’t pull any punches when criticizing Zola and the Naturalists: “This harping on life’s dullness and man’s meanness is a loud profession of incompetence.” Ouch!
- Meno by Plato: Don’t let the math section of this dialogue scare you away. Plato is asserting here a couple of very controversial ideas: first, that virtue cannot be taught; second, that all our knowledge is remembered rather than learned as a result of the soul’s pre-existence. I’m not sure I buy either of those.
- “New Names for Old” by Edward Kasner and James R. Newman: If you have ever wondered where the term “googol” came from, read this selection. Kasner does a very good job of presenting mathematical concepts on a level that young people (and math dunces) can understand. In fact, my eight-year-old son was reading over my shoulder while I was working through this piece and found it very interesting; I ended up discussing several of the visual examples with him.
- “The Land of Montezuma” by William Prescott: So if you were on an extremely risky military expedition in a strange country, seeking to reach your enemies while they’re in a moment of indecision about how to respond to you, would you take a detour to climb an erupting volcano for the heck of it? Apparently, if you were a sixteenth-century Spanish cavalier, you would! It seems like everything was an adventure in those days.
- “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson: In one of my less charitable moments, I decided a better title for this work would be “Self-Absorption.” This is a hugely influential essay, and I would guess that if you boiled its message down into 8th-grade language and polled Americans as to whether they agree with it today, the majority would say yes. I just happen to disagree with about 90% of it: the disdain for tradition, organized religion, recreational travel, other people in general, etc. Emerson makes the divinization of the Self sound really profound, but I kept getting the feeling it was just the acting out of someone with authority issues. On the plus side, there are some glimmers of Stoicism here.
Am I spot on? Out to lunch? Off my rocker? Pile on in the comment section below!
[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.]