Sing Psalms When You’re Shipwrecked

We’re back to normal with a real Great Books Monday post. Those of you in education are probably entering or nearing the beginning of your summer break. If you are foolish like me, you’ve loaded yourself up with numerous projects for the next three months and won’t be able to let up much. At least I’ll be able to defend myself against accusations of sloth, though!

Here are the readings for the upcoming week:

  1. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, Chapters V-VII* (GGB Vol. 2, pp. 37-39)
  2. The Histories of Herodotus, Book I (GBWW Vol. 5, pp. 1-48)
  3. Dream Children, a Reverie” by Charles Lamb (GGB Vol. 6, pp. 150-165)
  4. Federalist #26-28 (GBWW Vol. 40, pp. 92-98)
  5. The Elements of Euclid, Book X, Part I (GGBW Vol. 10, pp. 191-229)
  6. The Confessions of St. Augustine, Books XIII (GBWW Vol. 16, pp. 140-159)

*The GGB set contains only 117 pages of excerpts from Robinson Crusoe. I plan to read the whole novel, but if you want to stick with Adler, read the following sections from Chapters V-VII on the linked site: V. Paragraph beginning, “During this time . . .” to the statement “But to return to my Journal.”; VI. Omit.; VII. Omit.

For the first time, in this reading program, I’m going to do some double dipping. Beginning this week, I’ll be conducting a one-on-one tutorial with a graduate student on Herodotus’s Histories, and it has been several years since I’ve read the entire work. I hope no one is too offended by my mixing business with pleasure.

We’ll also be finishing the Confessions this week and beginning the really, really long book of the Elements.

Here are some observations on last week’s readings:

  1. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, Chapters I-IV: Do you have vivid memories of the times and places where you first read great works? My first reading of Robinson Crusoe took place in China, of all places, in January of 1998. That I was able to walk into a college bookstore where most titles were in Chinese and find an English copy of this work is a testament to its worldwide appeal and enduring influence. If these first few chapters don’t make you appreciate a quiet middle-class life, I don’t know what will.
  2. The Hippocratic Oath: So for 2,500 years, part of the bedrock foundation of medical ethics has been to have nothing to do with euthanasia or abortions. How interesting.
  3. “Thoreau” by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “He was bred to no profession; he never married; he lived alone; he never went to church; he never voted; he refused to pay a tax to the State; he ate no flesh, he drank no wine, he never knew the use of tobacco; and, though a naturalist, he used neither trap nor gun.” An interesting specimen, to be sure. Not someone to imitate, though. Oh, and did you notice the reference to Robinson Crusoe here?
  4. Federalist #24-25: Hamilton makes some fair points in these papers, and the argument for a common defense is, I think, the strongest to be offered in favor of political centralization, although even it is not conclusive. Kudos to him for bringing up the Greeks again.
  5. The Elements of Euclid, Book IX: I find it interesting how we can go from such simple proofs as demonstrating that an odd number multiplied by an odd number will always yield an odd number, straight into two-page-long proofs like the one for Proposition 36, which left my head spinning. On the whole, this book wasn’t too bad, though.
  6. The Confessions of St. Augustine, Books XI-XII: Who knew that the opening verses of Genesis 1 could be interpreted in so many different ways? And I had to laugh at the “frivolous answer” to the question of what God was doing before He made heaven and earth: “He was preparing Hell for people who pry into mysteries.” Let it never be said that St. Augustine didn’t have a sense of humor!

We’ve got beautiful weather in the 70s here in Montgomery for a couple of days, and I plan to enjoy it while it lasts. I hope spring is nice wherever you are, and that you’ll be able to do some reading outside this week.

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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4 Responses to Sing Psalms When You’re Shipwrecked

  1. Vickie says:

    OK, so I’m way behind on the Federalist – but in #17

    “It may be said that it would tend to render the government of the Union too powerful, and to enable it to absorb those residuary authorities, which it might be judged proper to leave with the States for local purposes. Allowing the utmost latitude to the love of power which any reasonable man can require, I confess I am at a loss to discover what temptation the persons intrusted with the administration of the general government could ever feel to divest the States of the authorities of that description.”

    You’ve got to be joking – right?

  2. Vickie says:

    Wait! It gets better:

    “The administration of private justice between the citizens of the same State, the supervision of agriculture and of other concerns of a similar nature, all those things, in short, which are proper to be provided for by local legislation, can never be desirable cares of a general jurisdiction. It is therefore improbable that there should exist a disposition in the federal councils to usurp the powers with which they are connected; because the attempt to exercise those powers would be as troublesome as it would be nugatory; and the possession of them, for that reason, would contribute nothing to the dignity, to the importance, or to the splendor of the national government.”

    Let’s see – what did he neglect to mention? Education, health care, marriage, retirement funding, housing subsidies . . . . etc infinity

  3. Vickie says:

    “It will always be far more easy for the State governments to encroach upon the national authorities than for the national government to encroach upon the State authorities.”

    WOW! This is mind-blowing – I guess I shouldn’t have given up on these things so quickly.

  4. Jane says:

    A quote by Emerson from “Society and Solitude” I always appreciated – “Travelling is a fool’s paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places” – is echoed in “Thoreau”: “I think nothing is to be hoped from you, if this bit of mold under your feet is not sweeter to you to eat than any other in this world, or in any world.” And I love this: “The bluebird carries the sky on his back.” Finally, as regards the idealism of youth: “The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon, or, perchance, a palace or temple in the earth, and, at length the middle-aged man concludes to build a woodshed with them.”

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