A Party Where Everyone Dies Is No Fun

Happy Memorial Day to everyone! What better way to spend a portion of your day off work than to read part of one of the great works of Western Civilization?

Here are the readings for the upcoming week:

  1. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, Chapters XI-XIII* (GGB Vol. 2, pp. 61-67)
  2. The Histories of Herodotus, Book III (GBWW Vol. 5, pp. 89-123)
  3. Two Friends” by Guy de Maupassant (GGB Vol. 2, pp. 159-164)
  4. Federalist #30-36 (GBWW Vol. 40, pp. 101-117; Antifederalist responses are here)
  5. The Elements of Euclid, Book X, Part III (GGBW Vol. 10, pp. 264-300)
  6. Immortality” by Sir Thomas Browne (GGB Vol. 10, pp. 575-580)

*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 XI-XIII on the linked site: XI. All; XII. Omit; XIII. Omit.

Here are some observations on last week’s readings:

  1. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, Chapters VIII-X: Would it really be possible for one guy without any training to recreate all these elements of civilization from scratch? Boat building, crop raising, goat tending, etc. It’s interesting to think about, but I have a feeling Defoe may be overestimating what we can accomplish without the division of labor and inherited wisdom.
  2. The Histories of Herodotus, Book II: The message of this book: Egyptians are weirdos. I’m sure it seemed that way to the Greeks. Lots of interesting vignettes here; I wonder how many of them are true. The story about the king who ensured his own downfall by killing the messenger who had come to warn him about an uprising was pretty striking.
  3. “The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe: When I was a kid, back before children’s books got insufferably sappy, I got a young reader’s picture-book edition of this story. It’s still on the shelf in the kids’ schoolroom waiting to traumatize my children one day. Is this story just nihilistic, or are the revelers being cosmically judged somehow?
  4. Federalist #29: I couldn’t help thinking that Hamilton was setting up a straw man here. Still, I could see the other side of this question in a day when every man of fighting age was considered part of the militia. It makes sense that a lot of people would be hesitant to cede control of the militia to a central government, since that would mean allowing it to reach right down to the individual level, the very thing at issue in much of this debate.
  5. The Elements of Euclid, Book X, Part II: Binomials, medials . . . I’m still lost. I actually tried to find some help online for this one, and the best I could do was a guy who had issued “an invitation to read Book X” and wanted $31.50 for a readers’ guide. That wasn’t in the budget this week, so I’m just going to have to suffer a little more.
  6. “Letter to Menoeceus” by Epicurus: I used to walk freshmen through this letter to demonstrate to them that Epicurus did not fit the modern understanding of an Epicurean. When I figured out that none of them had ever heard the word “Epicurean” before in their lives, I began to question the value of the exercise. Still, even the heathens among them need to hear the message of avoiding excess, so I soldier on.

I’m going to spend this Memorial Day in the office since the rest of my family is out of town. It’s amazing how much office work you can get done when no one else is around to interrupt you. Have a great 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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3 Responses to A Party Where Everyone Dies Is No Fun

  1. Hi !

    Isn’t your Sir Thomas Browne extract really chapter five of ‘Urn-Burial’? But a fitting subject-matter title and good idea to encourage the reader to partake of just a smattering of Browne’s ornate, baroque prose, without getting too bloated on his idiosyncratic style and imagery. Always interested to read others perceptions of my home City’s very encyclopaedia and philosopher.

  2. Jane says:

    “The Masque of the Red Death” is a creepy but effective commentary on the fact that plagues and just everyday kinds of deaths come for all, regardless of wealth or position in life. The rich man throwing the ball thought he could close the doors and party on unaffected…. not so.

    In a similar vein, Herodotus describes how the rich in Egypt gave banquets during which a servant would walk around carrying a coffin with a lifelike wooden image of a corpse inside, and on showing it to each guest would say “Gaze here, and drink and be merry; for when you die, such will you be.”

    Epicurus says “there is nothing terrible in life for the man who has truly comprehended that there is nothing terrible in not living…. so long as we exist, death is not with us; but when death comes, then we do not exist.” We should thus seek “freedom from pain in the body and from trouble in the mind” while living “prudently, honorably and justly.”

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