I’ll Take Herodotus Over “300,” Thank You Very Much

Here are some of my observations from last week’s Great Books readings:

  1. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, Chapter XVII: Assuming that this wasn’t a “Mutiny on the Bounty,” I suppose we can say Crusoe did the right thing by helping the English ship’s officers overpower the mutineers on the island. Will English, Spanish, and Portuguese all be able to get along?
  2. The Histories of Herodotus, Book VII: Even though this book was LONG, I really enjoyed it. Xerxes’ vision, his skepticism of Demaratus’s claims about the Spartans, the oracle’s prophecy about wooden walls . . . it’s all extremely dramatic. The high point, of course, is the Spartan heroism at Thermopylae. The fight over Leonidas’s body is positively Homeric. Oh, and did anyone else get the idea that Xerxes is psychotic? (Unfortunately, it seems the text I linked breaks off during the description of the Persian army. Anyone know of a complete text online?)
  3. “The Rocking-Horse Winner” by D.H. Lawrence: This was my first time to read anything by Lawrence (you’ll hear me say that a lot about 20th-century authors). The story is very well written. I’m not feeling much sympathy for the mother . . . demanding all the windfall money at once instead of accepting the yearly installments is definitely a red flag. Is the boy’s death her fault? Poor kid, driven to death to “stop the voices.” I need to get rid of the rocking horse in my house.
  4. Federalist #42: Madison strikes me as a much more reasonable person than Hamilton. The case for the Constitution was strongest in the area of foreign affairs, and this essay does a good job of summarizing the advantages of a central government in that department.
  5. “On Time” by Loren Eiseley: For those who were unable to find this essay, the author relates how he found a fissure  while horseback riding out West and went into it to excavate some bones. This essay dovetails perfectly with Santayana’s, because Eiseley’s rhapsody on the vast spans of time he believes have passed is a powerful work of imagination, just like Lucretius’s. Staring into the eyes of the skull, thinking he’ll see a mastodon when he comes out of the fissure, etc.
  6. “Lucretius” by George Santayana: I’m more interested in reading Lucretius now than I had been. Santayana was known for his pessimism, and now I can see why; he clearly thinks Lucretius’s view was essentially correct. I found the section on the materialist’s psychological need to banish thoughts on the afterlife very interesting.

Have you noticed that one page from a Great Books of the Western World volume has a much higher word count than a page from most other books? I noticed yesterday that whereas Book VII of Herodotus took up 48 pages in the GBWW volume, it ran to nearly 80 pages in the Folio Society edition I read from yesterday. So the page counts from our reading progress I occasionally post are actually understating the amount of reading we’ve done. Don’t you feel smarter now?

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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