A Farewell to Homer (Sort Of)

Whew! Many apologies for the delay in posting this week’s readings. I lost three days over the weekend by traveling to Arkansas for my 20-year high school reunion (which, by the way, was fantastic). I didn’t finish the Iliad until this afternoon and will have to buckle down to get through this week’s readings by next Monday.

Here are the readings for the upcoming week:

  1. White Nights” by Fyodor Dostoevsky  (GGB Vol. 3, pp. 276-319)
  2. The Character of Socrates” by Xenophon (GGB Vol. 6, pp. 223-226; Book IV, Chapters VII-VIII of Memorabilia)
  3. Second Treatise on Civil Government by John Locke, Ch. XVI-XIX (GBWW Vol. 33, pp. 65-81)
  4. Federalist #64-65 (GBWW Vol. 40, pp. 195-200; Antifederalist responses are here)
  5. On Ancient Medicine” by Hippocrates (GBWW Vol. 9, pp. 1-17)
  6. The Way Things Are (or On the Nature of Things) by Lucretius, Book IV (GBWW Vol. 11, pp. 43-58)

We get to check off Locke’s Second Treatise this week; we’re knocking out these works pretty quickly.

Here are some observations on last week’s readings:

  1. The Iliad of Homer, Books XXII-XXIV: The ancients had some intense mourning customs: Priam was still rolling around in dung twelve days after Hector’s death. The exchange between Achilles and Priam is so powerful that even my freshmen get it. I wonder how many modern readers are surprised or angered when they get to the end of the poem. Where’s the Trojan Horse? Who wins? Clearly we’re supposed to be taking something else away from this.
  2. “Address at Cooper Institute” by Abraham Lincoln: This is a very clever speech, and it makes some valid points. Of course Lincoln doesn’t bother to bring up the Northern demonization of the South in the 1850s, nor does he note that the Founders formulated their policy on slavery in the territories in an era when the Western border of the U.S. was the Mississippi River, and there was no obvious prospect of westward expansion.
  3. Second Treatise on Civil Government by John Locke, Chapters X-XV: I was really surprised by the chapter on the prerogative. Locke is working in an environment where there’s a sharp distinction between the rulers and “the people,” and I think this accounts for his uncritical acceptance of acts of prerogative that purport to be in the people’s interest.
  4. Federalist #62-63: “It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is to-day, can guess what it will be to-morrow.” Can a better indictment of our system be found?
  5. “The Chemical History of a Candle” Michael Faraday, Lectures V-VI: When I started this series of lectures, I had no idea Faraday would end up talking about respiration, charcoal, etc. He certainly got a lot of mileage out of the simple candle he started with.
  6. The Way Things Are (or On the Nature of Things) by Lucretius, Book III: This book reminded me of the story of the guy who tried to weigh people both immediately before and immediately after the moment of death to determine the weight of the soul that had just left them. And the soul generates the worms in the body? Wow. This book seemed more pessimistic than the first two, but I may just be projecting.

One volume down! We say farewell to Homer now, but be assured that we’ll come across many, many more references to his characters before our project is complete.

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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2 Responses to A Farewell to Homer (Sort Of)

  1. Pingback: Homer » Blog Archive » A Farewell to Homer (Sort Of) | The Western Tradition

  2. Jane says:

    Homer, The Iliad: What an ending! Hector, the epitome of bravery in the face of a lost cause, now aware that his time has come, running laps around the walls of Troy with Achilles at his heels (no pun initially intended): we are left to imagine what was going through his mind but can sympathize with the effort to buy a little more time before the inevitable final stroke. And then the joint lamentations of Achilles and Priam for their lost loved ones, reminding us of the cost of war and the fact that death, unlike the poem’s gods, does not play favorites.

    Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, III: Lucretius flies in the face religious dogma by equating the mind and the soul and stating that both die with the body. Nor is there any karmic recurrence or reincarnation: “The nature of the soul is seen to be neither without a birthday nor exempt from death.” Why seek for power then, “which empty as it is is never given, and always in the case of it to undergo severe toil, this is forcing uphill with much effort a stone which after all rolls back again from the summit and seeks in headlong hast the levels of the plain.”

    Federalist #62-63: The early framers’ desire to balance proportional with equal representation is understandable, hence the number of representatives based on population and the senators based on two per state. But in modern times, things have gotten seriously out of whack. Should California’s 30+million population have the same representation in this body as Wyoming’s 500,000? And all you have to do is look at a map of political states to comprehend the imbalance, with the larger, more numerous but less populous states voting one way and the more densely populated another.

    Locke, Concerning Civil Government, X-XV: What stood out for me in this selection was Locke’s discussion of prerogative, because it dovetailed with my reading about Hamilton’s fight to establish the Federal Bank by calling upon the “implied powers” of the Constitution (the “general welfare clause” and the “necessary and proper clause”). He no doubt knew Locke’s arguments to a T….

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