What better way to start the week than with a discussion of some of the greatest literary works of all time? That’s what we do here every week at the Western Tradition, and I hope that you’ll put in your two cents in the comment section.
Here are the readings for the upcoming week:
- The Iliad of Homer, Books IV-VI (GBWW Vol. 3, pp. 38-77)
- “Of Youth and Age” by Francis Bacon (GGB Vol. 7, pp. 3-4)
- Plato’s Republic, Book IX (GBWW Vol. 6, pp. 416-427)
- Federalist #52-53 (GBWW Vol. 40, pp. 165-169; Antifederalist responses are here)
- “Mathematical Creation“by Henri Poincaré (GGB Vol. 9, pp. 294-304; Chapter 3 of Science and Method)
- How We Think by John Dewey, Chapter XVI-XVII (GGB Vol. 10, pp. 185-205)
I had never realized it before, but the books of the Iliad are definitely longer than those of the Odyssey. Whereas it took us six weeks to read the latter earlier this year, it will take us eight weeks to read the former.
Here are some observations on last week’s readings:
The Iliad of Homer, Books I-III: Book II is the dues you have to pay to read this epic. The roll call of Achaians has never been able to hold my attention. One of my professors in grad school, a fine scholar, insisted that in this narrative the gods are just metaphors. For example, when Aphrodite cloaks Paris and sweeps him away from the battlefield in Book III, it’s just a poetic way of saying that Paris ran away. I’ve never been able to accept that interpretation. How about you?
- “Of Bashfulness” by Plutarch: If you pay close attention, you may conclude Plutarch is challenging most of us, because “bashfulness” here is not just a synonym for “shy.” How often do we slight the demands of virtue because we are reluctant to assert them in the face of the desires of either friends or enemies?
- Plato’s Republic, Book VIII: For Plato democracy is the lowest form of government but one, just one step removed from tyranny. Ditto for the “democratic man.” It’s no wonder that no freshman in my survey classes who went through the modern American educational system has ever read anything by him.
- Federalist #51: If Madison thinks that checks and balances within the government’s structure are a sufficient protection against tyranny, history has clearly proven him wrong. No doubt he recognized this at least implicitly in later years with his support of the Virginia Resolutions.
- “The Universe Is Running Down” by Sir Arthur Eddington: The pride of place which Eddington gives to the second law of thermodynamics is noteworthy. I wonder if 21st-century physicists hold the same view. It’s also interesting that Eddington accepts as a “working hypothesis” the act of special creation of the universe, not being able to account for the greater orderliness of the past in any other way.
- How We Think by John Dewey, Chapter XIV-XV: I appreciate Dewey’s defense of abstract thought for its own sake. I don’t know if he concedes too much in terms of his educational project by then saying that most people won’t be able to do it well. The notion that some schools 100 years ago were trying to get children to play with objects that didn’t resemble the real things being imagined is strange.
Another busy stretch kept me from posting for most of last week. I’ve been up at 5:00 a.m. and at the office by 6:00 nearly every day to work on various projects. At least I’ve been able to keep these readings on track. I hope you’re making time to read as well!