I confess that there have been a few times since beginning this Great Books project that I’ve looked at my reading list for the week with trepidation, as a chore to be accomplished. This past week, though, I kept on running into passages that got me excited and eager for more. Every week the connections among all the great writers get a little clearer.
Here are the readings for the upcoming week:
- The Tempest by William Shakespeare (GBWW Vol. 25, pp. 524-548)
- The Histories of Herodotus, Book IX (GBWW Vol. 5, pp. 388-416)
- Plato’s Republic, Book II (GBWW Vol. 6, pp. 310-324)
- Federalist #44 (GBWW Vol. 40, pp. 144-147; Antifederalist responses are here)
- “The Sphinx” by Francis Bacon (GGB Vol. 8, pp. 2-4)
- How We Think by John Dewey, Chapter I (GGB Vol. 10, pp. 92-101)
By reading Herodotus’s Histories over the last couple of months we have gotten way ahead of schedule on the Man and Society portion of our readings and way behind on the Imaginative Literature. Next week we’ll start making up for that.
Here are some observations on last week’s readings:
- Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, Chapters XVIII-XX: It struck me as odd that the book doesn’t end with Crusoe’s escape from the island; I’m probably just too influenced by the narrative techniques of film. The adventure with the wolves was pretty intense. The scene with Friday and the bear could never be written today; the author wouldn’t be able to avoid the Scylla and Charybdis of seeming to endorse cruelty towards animals on one side and criticizing an indigenous culture on the other.
- The Histories of Herodotus, Book VIII: Themistocles was a sneaky little devil, wasn’t he? I love the part where he argues with Adeimantus. The anecdotes of this book seemed more relevant than those of the others, since most of them were directly related to the main narrative. (Except for the one near the end with the guy scooping up the sunlight . . . that was bizarre.) Artemisia is a fascinating character, too.
- Plato’s Republic, Book I: I’ve read this several times in the last few years, and I always wonder about Plato’s separation of ruling as a craft from the interest of the ruler. Is it no part of the shepherd’s job to slaughter the sheep at the appropriate time to benefit himself or his employer? Of course, I’m not sad to see Thrasymachus confuted.
- Federalist #43: Lots of random stuff in this one. I find it significant that Madison invokes “necessity” near the end when trying to justify repudiation of the articles even if some states don’t ratify the Constitution. Isn’t this secession?
- “The Sand-Reckoner” by Archimedes: Wow, I felt like I was reading Euclid again! This selection was hard enough with recourse to Arabic numerals. I can’t imagine trying to comprehend it with Greek “multitudes” and the like. You may remember that Kasner and Newman cited this work in discussing the difference between huge (but finite) numbers and infinite numbers.
- “Goethe’s Faust” by George Santayana: I found this essay fascinating; it even gave me an idea for a conference paper. I’ve been running into this whole seeking-is-better-than-finding talk for a few years now, and now I can trace it to German Romanticism. I imagine many “seekers” will be unsettled to learn the provenance of their ideas. I’m going to have to go back and read Santayana’s Dante essay at some point; I assume Adler left it out of the Gateway series because he included an essay on Dante by T.S. Eliot.
I’m into my new house now, but I have no internet service until next week, so the postings will probably be few and far between for one more week. The silver lining is that without the web to distract me, I shouldn’t have any problem doing this week’s readings on time!