Radioactive Shrews and BFF’s

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! I expect most of you gentlemen are wooing more like Lucentio than Petruchio; I hope you ladies are receiving your gentleman’s attentions more like Bianca than Katharina!

Here are the readings for the upcoming week:

  1. Mowgli’s Brothers” by Rudyard Kipling (GGB Vol. 2, pp. 126-141)
  2. Learning the River” by Mark Twain (GGB Vol. 6, pp. 50-98; Chapters 1, 4, and 6-14 of Life on the Mississippi)
  3. On Being the Right Size” by J.B.S. Haldane (GGB Vol. 8, pp. 149-154)
  4. Contentment” by Plutarch (GGB Vol. 10, pp. 264-281)
  5. Fingerprints” by Tobias Dantzig (GGB Vol. 9, pp. 165-177; Chapter 1 of Number–The Language of Science)
  6. Apology by Plato (GBWW Vol. 6, pp. 200-212)

The page count this week is a bit higher than usual, but only about a dozen are from GBWW, so maybe we won’t notice too much. The way I figure it, we’ll be caught up to our seven-year pace in another three or four weeks and can come back down to around 110 pages weekly.

Now for some comments on last week’s readings:

  1. The Taming of the Shrew by Shakespeare: I have seen some efforts by feminists to “rehabilitate” this play, but there’s no getting around its endorsement of a husband’s authority over his wife. Ladies, just accept it for what it is (a brilliant work with a message diametrically opposed to contemporary gender egalitarianism) and enjoy it if you can. Did you notice that this play’s narrative frame involving Sly corresponds exactly to Emerson’s reference last week to a “popular fable” in which a sot is treated like nobility and fooled into thinking he had been insane? Everything is connected, folks.
  2. Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen: All this benign-sounding talk about the rights of the people . . . who would have thought that it would turn into a Reign of Terror? Actually, some people predicted it.
  3. “Sketch of Abraham Lincoln” by Nathaniel Hawthorne: Funny that this description of Lincoln was originally deleted from Hawthorne’s manuscript by his publisher because it was considered too disrespectful; it looks pretty tame compared to the way people talk about presidents today. It seems clear to me that Hawthorne had a favorable impression of Lincoln overall.
  4. “The Discovery of Radium” by Eve Curie: I couldn’t get over the passage where Curie was working defiantly in an unheated lab with temperatures in the mid-40s. I remember once when the heat went out in my office and I was trying to work in similar conditions. I got to the point where I couldn’t type and had to leave because my hands were so cold. I guess I’m a weenie.
  5. The Life of Gnaeus Julius Agricola by Tacitus: I had always wondered where that speech of Scottish defiance against the Romans had come from, and now I know. I guess at many points during the Roman Empire’s history it was dangerous to display too much ability, otherwise the emperor would decide he needed your removal.
  6. On Friendship by Cicero: I assign this text to graduate students every year, but it was nice to read through it once without taking notes for class discussions. I love the statement that “friendship can exist only between good men.” I know many would disagree, but I think it’s true. Also the closing admonition: “Make up your minds to this: virtue (without which friendship is impossible) is first; but next to it, and to it alone, the greatest of all things is friendship.” Why Cicero isn’t assigned reading in every school in this country is beyond me.

It’s a sad Valentine’s Day for me; my wife is playing in a symphony concert, and I have to babysit. C’est la vie; I hope the rest of you are able to spend more time with your sweetie than I today. But don’t get so besotted with love that you forget to read this week!

[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.]

About Dr. J

I am Professor of Humanities at Faulkner University, where I chair the Department of Humanities and direct online M.A. and Ph.D. programs based on the Great Books of Western Civilization. I am also Associate Editor of the Journal of Faith and the Academy and a member of the faculty at Liberty Classroom.
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6 Responses to Radioactive Shrews and BFF’s

  1. TopCat2x2 says:

    I was only able to get through three selections this week. But I found your comments about Cicero intriguing and plan to make time for that selection soon.

    #2 Declaration of the Rights of Man – 1789

    Did many people in 1789 actually know how to read?

    And while these rights seemed to represent equality for all, were women, children, people of other nationalities considered part of the ‘rights of man and of the citizen’?

    My last concern is that many of these rights appeared to be valid only if in conjunction with the ‘law’. I have to wonder if the law was the same for every city, town, and village. Not to mention laws for the rich and laws for the poor.

    #3 Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1804-1864 – Chiefly About War Matters

    Mr. Hawthorne’s reflections about President Lincoln’s coarse physiognomy and personal qualities, the man and his upbringing, seemed to almost have a sense of surprise that such a fellow as Lincoln had attained a position as statesman, let alone the presidency.

    Yet on the other hand, Hawthorne’s descriptions expressed a kind of awe toward many of those same simple, upright qualities, a maturing of tact and wisdom over time, making Lincoln acceptable, in his mind, as being chief magistrate as any other man fit for the job.

    I don’t know as I would call Hawthorne’s approval of Lincoln’s qualifications as high praise, but he did declare his liking for the president as a person.

    #4 “The Discovery of Radium” Madame Curie: A Biography by Eve Curie

    I was absolutely riveted and found myself reading well passed the selected pages.

    • Dr. J says:

      The “Declaration” is primarily an assertion of the rights of “the nation” as against the king. “The people” here is really an aggregate concept. The declaration was drafted for the most part by educated members of the middle class. A major concern was that members of the nobility had a certain legal status and privileges not shared by the rest. The majority of France was illiterate.

  2. Vickie says:

    “Now friendship may be thus defined: a complete accord on all subjects human and divine, joined with mutual good will and affection.”


  3. Kay Pelham says:

    I was able to complete 4 of the 6.

    I’m still working on Agricola and want to finish as I’m very interested in that period of history. I’m enjoying the telling of Roman occupation of Britain. As part of my son’s History readings we’re reading Our Island Story, a text that we’re scheduled to read over a 3 year period. The book begins with stories of this time period and the story of Boudicea and her sacrifice is still strong in my memory even though we read it fall 2009.

    I put Taming of the Shrew aside until I finished the others. I know that I will eventually get to that since Shakespeare is a part of our curriculum.

    I enjoyed the Curie story. I was trying very hard to understand the scientific aspects of it since science is a big weakness of mine, but what I was most taken by was the relationship between husband and wife.

    The Declaration of the Rights of Man was nice and short and sweet. Many similar thoughts and concepts found in our own Declaration and Constitution. It seems the immediate aftermath of our guys publishing such thoughts turned out a little better.

    The Hawthorne observations about Lincoln were interesting. I did anticipate something really scandalous when I read that this section had been canceled when the article was originally published. Hard to see what was so objectionable. Hawthorne’s description seemed to fit it right well with the rest of the Lincoln homespunny lore.

    The Cicero On Friendship —- my oh my, he do go on, don’t he? I spread this one out through the week and read the smaller articles in between. There was a lot of good points in there. I made many notes on the side and did lots of underlining and asterisking. The thing that I find the most interesting about reading these documents of real live people of many, many years ago — provided they have been accurately preserved and translated — is seeing non-Judeo/Christian people with values that I was raised to believe could only be possible with Judeo/Christian teachings. The things that Cicero speaks of here (and what he says his friend Scaevola said that his father-in-law said), as well as some concepts that Tacitus addresses in Agricola are amazingly “Christian.” It seems that prizing virtue is a self-evident truth. It brings to mind the apostle Paul’s reference to “Gentiles who don’t have the law do by nature the things of the law.” You grow up watching all the movies about crazed and depraved Roman leaders — real sickos —- and then you read documents like this and find something so unexpected. I like it. I like to know that it is in our nature to strive for goodness.

  4. Modern people should definitely do a deeper reading of The Taming of the Shrew. There is the obvious message that hits you in the face, but the theme of deception seems to me to be the main intent of the play. How much of the rest was just meant to be funny (like Petruchio’s treatment of Katherine) can be up for more debate. But the way everything in the play was a deception, from the introduction not actually being relevant, to all of the characters, is much more interesting. Either way, the brilliance lay in how nothing in the play was as expected, except for maybe the father showing up.

    Still hoping to catch up one day!

  5. Jane says:

    I enjoy how each of the readings comes from a different subject area, forcing me into works I would ordinarily avoid. Roman military history? Comic plays as opposed to dramatic? Not selections I would’ve willingly chosen, but enlightening and worthwhile. I did some additional reading on Marie Curie and was so impressed by her partnership with her husband and how they reported all of their work in the first person plural, e.g. “we discovered” and “our findings.” What a tragedy when Pierre was killed in the carriage accident….

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