It’s Great Books Monday, and I want to thank everyone who has encouraged me or otherwise given me feedback on this project. We are still in the early stages of this reading plan, and I want to emphasize again that any reading of the Great Books is better than none, so if this looks like a good idea to you, but you don’t have time to read everything on the weekly lists, please just select one or two pieces to work through in the time that you do have.
Here are the selections for the coming week:
- The Odyssey of Homer, Books IX-XII (GBWW Vol. 3, pp. 384-427)
- Crito by Plato (GBWW Vol. 6, pp. 213-219)
- “Observations on Mental Education” by Michael Faraday (GGB Vol. 7, pp. 208-232; the lecture begins on p. 39 of the linked file)
- “The Empty Column” by Tobias Dantzig (GGB Vol. 9, pp. 178-189; Chapter 2 of Number: The Language of Science)
- The New Atlantis by Francis Bacon (GBWW Vol. 28, pp. 199-214)
- “The Art of Life” by Walter Pater (GGB Vol. 10, pp. 258-261; the concluding section to The Renaissance)
If any of you are itching to sink your teeth into more long works like the Odyssey, rest assured that they will be appearing soon.
Here are some comments on last week’s selections:
- The Odyssey of Homer, Books V-VIII: I hope you think Odysseus was worth the wait. Here we see him escape Calypso’s island, spend three weeks on a raft, survive an attack by Poseidon, have the Phaiakian ruler practically throw his teenage daughter (who’s willing) at him, and finally put to shame the young men of the place in an athletic contest. He is apparently one impressive fellow.
- Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776): “It is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.” Someone forgot to tell the Virginians that Christianity had nothing to do with the founding of the United States.
- “A Call to Patriots–December 23, 1776” by Thomas Paine: I suppose we can forgive Mr. Paine, freezing his hindquarters off in New Jersey, his hard feelings towards those who weren’t enthusiastic about secession from the British Empire. He does make a good point about the inappropriateness of kicking the can down the road and expecting a later generation to deal with the problems of one’s own time.
- Cosmic View by Kees Boeke: This was an unexpected trip down memory lane. I’d never read this book before, but I immediately recognized the sequence of images from a film I was shown in a grade school science class many years ago. I have to admit my mind went out of focus at both extremes of scale, but on the whole this was a fascinating mental exercise.
- “To the Reader” by Michel de Montaigne: “Please don’t read this book. It’s a waste of your time.” Pretty clever. Now if you have anything to criticize, Montaigne can always say, “I told you already it was bad; what more do you want?” I guess I’ll play along, though.
- “Montaigne; or, the Skeptic” by Ralph Waldo Emerson: I think Emerson’s argument here is a bit weird; the skeptic balances the philosopher and the man of the senses. But then his praise of Montaigne seems to revolve around his frankness as much as or more than his judgment. I can see why Montaigne is held in such high regard today, when so many intellectuals view hypocrisy as the very worst of all vices. Better to have no standards at all than to have standards and fail to live up to them, right?
One of science’s greatest classics is on deck for next week, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise. Keep reading!
[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.]