Diomedes Against the Immortals

It’s Great Books Monday once again, and I hope you’re ready to wrap up two major works. We’ll have read one of them in its entirety and lengthy excerpts of the other.

Here are the readings for the upcoming week:

  1. The Iliad of Homer, Books VII-IX  (GBWW Vol. 3, pp. 77-111)
  2. Of Experience” by Michel de Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 559-587)
  3. Plato’s Republic, Book X (GBWW Vol. 6, pp. 427-441)
  4. Federalist #54 (GBWW Vol. 40, pp. 170-172; Antifederalist responses are here)
  5. On a Piece of Chalk“by Thomas H. Huxley (GGB Vol. 8, pp. 205-222)
  6. How We Think by John Dewey, Chapter XIX (GGB Vol. 10, pp. 205-213)

If you’ve gotten comfortable with short essays from Bacon and Montaigne, brace yourself; “Of Experience” is really long.

Here are some observations on last week’s readings:

  1. Diomedes Wounding Aphrodite

    The Iliad of Homer, Books IV-VI: For someone who’s not key to the central plot of the Iliad, Diomedes is one impressive fellow. In this reading he not only mows down several Trojan heroes and severely wounds Aeneas, but he also injures two immortals. Hector is no slouch, either, and we see a tender moment tinged with fatalism in his conversation with his wife. Paris, by contrast, fails to inspire.

  2. “Of Youth and Age” by Francis Bacon: I like the urging of cooperation between the young and old so that all can benefit from the strengths of each. Lots more classical references here (three Latin quotations) and even a rabbinic commentary on an Old Testament text. How could this man ever have succumbed to empiricism?
  3. Plato’s Republic, Book IX: So we finally work our way back to issues raised at the beginning of this work. Socrates argues that it’s best to be just even if no one else knows or gives you credit because that is the best thing for your own soul. I don’t really know how persuasive this line of argument would be in a pre-Christian context, although Plato’s yes-men nod enthusiastically whenever Socrates says something.
  4. Federalist #52-53: Much of the attention here is on defending biennial elections for the House of Representatives as opposed to some other interval. In the abstract, annual elections might seem best with the benefits of modern transportation and communication, but then that would subject us to year-round campaigning. Ugh.
  5. “Mathematical Creation” by Henri Poincaré: I was ready to read something technical here, but this piece is really more of an exploration of the psychology of invention. I found this pre-Freudian attempt to account for new ideas striking like a bolt from the blue very interesting. Of course there’s no concession to the possibility of inspiration here.
  6. How We Think by John Dewey, Chapter XV-XVII: I guess it’s a mark of Dewey’s influence over the last century that most of the positions here seem pretty obvious to modern readers. That students shouldn’t be given busy work seems self-evident, although apparently many teachers still do it. The endorsement of the expansion of one’s vocabulary was welcome.

If you’re not working this Labor Day, I hope the weather outside is nice for you. We’re getting rain from Tropical Storm Lee where I live, but I’ll most likely be in the office.

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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1 Response to Diomedes Against the Immortals

  1. Jane says:

    Homer, The Iliad IV-VI: “Many Trojans and Achaens… lay stretched side by side face downwards upon the earth…” And so it goes throughout this august work. I enjoyed the part where Diomed and Glaucus stop and chat in the middle of the battlefield, and finding that their fathers were friendly acquaintances, refrain from fighting (though Homer ends the interlude with the comment that Zeus “made Glaucus take leave of his wits, for he exchanged golden armor for bronze”). There is also a rare domestic scene between Hector and his wife Andromache. Hector concedes that he and Troy may very well not survive the conflict, but “dandled [his infant son] in his arms” and prays that his son should become a greater warrior than he. He also worries in a prophetic way about the probable fate of his wife and other Trojan women, which became the subject of a play by Euripides (perhaps on our reading list somewhere?).

    Plato’s Republic, Book IX: Plato brings the trajectory of the tyrant down to its ignoble conclusion, then continues with a comparison of three main classes of men – lovers of wisdom, lovers of honor, and lovers of gain. Of course “the pleasure of the intelligent part of the soul is the pleasantest of the three.” “Those then who know not wisdom and virtue, and are always busy with gluttony and sensuality, go down and up again as far as the mean; and in this region they move at random throughout life, but they never pass into the true upper world; thither they neither look, nor do they ever find their way, neither are they truly filled with true being, nor do they taste of pure and abiding pleasure.” He then concedes that the perfect city and its perfect ruler “exists in idea only,” but “in heaven, there is laid up a pattern of it, methinks, which he who desires may behold, and beholding, may set his own house in order.”

    Federalist #52-53: Here are arguments for the qualifications and term limits for members of the House and Senate, with reference to a maxim that “the greater the power is, the shorter ought to be its duration; and, conversely, the smaller the power, the more safely may its duration be protracted.” The writer observes that “where annual elections end, tyranny begins.” He concludes that biennial elections for the larger House should be observed so electors could have influence but the elected could have enough time to learn and perform the needed tasks.

    Poincare, Mathematical Creation: Current research bears out Poincare’s observation that a period of rest after mental exertion helps people learn and think creatively, and that the unconscious mind fertilizes what is planted in the conscious. I love his definition of intelligence and creativity as the winnowing out of the irrelevant: “To create consists precisely in not making useless combinations and in making those which are useful and which are only a small minority. Invention is discernment, choice.”

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