Spartans Actually Do Surrender Sometimes

Having just come off a weekend where I had the satisfying experience of seeing a live stream of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung from the Met, I feel like I ought to start an opera (or at least a classical music) project. Maybe later; the Great Books are keeping me busy enough at the present.

Here are the readings for the upcoming week:

  1. The Aeneid of Virgil, Book IV  (GBWWVol. 12, pp. 136-153)
  2. History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides, Book V (GBWW Vol. 5, pp. 482-508)
  3. Experience and Education by John Dewey, Ch. 4 (GBWW Vol. 55, pp. 111-114)
  4. Of Studies” by Francis Bacon (GGBVol. 5, pp. 97-98)
  5. The Classification of Human Ability” by Sir Francis Galton (GGB Vol. 8, pp. 227-261; Chapters I and II of Hereditary Genius; pp. 1-49 in the linked edition)
  6. The City of God by St. Augustine, Book V (GBWW Vol. 16, pp. 249-274; in the linked text, it’s the material under the heading “Of fate, freewill, and God’s prescience . . .” and its subheads)

It’s hard to believe we’re halfway through Thucydides already. When we finish him in March, we’ll have completed our second GBWWvolume.

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. The Aeneid of Virgil, Book III:  I couldn’t decide whether the inclusion of Polyphemus, Scylla, and Charybdis in this book were a fitting homage to Homer or a cheap knockoff. The encounter with Andromache was particularly poignant; it’s nice to think that she eventually ended up in a pleasant situation. Why don’t Aeneas and his people simply stay with the Trojans they found? Are they really driven by a divine plan?
  2. History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides, Book IV:  There was a lot to keep up with in this book, and a few surprises. The Spartan surrender at Pylos was disappointing, not so much from any Spartan greatness, but rather from the glory that accrued to Cleon as a result. (Remember Cleon was the one who wanted to massacre everyone in Mytilene.) Brasidas is one impressive character, both in diplomacy and on the battlefield.
  3. Experience and Education by John Dewey, Ch. 3:  Dewey writes some things in this chapter that sound great. “Preparation” in education means that a person “gets out of his present experience all that there is in it for him at the time in which he has it.” Who wouldn’t want that? I wonder if he’s actually going to be able to explain how that’s to be accomplished in the remaining chapters of this book.
  4. Riders to the Sea by John M. Synge:  Well, this was certainly depressing. Maurya loses her sixth son to the sea, and there’s a sense of purposelessness to it. I had a hard time visualizing how this play would be staged. The sort of poverty depicted in the Aran Islands a mere century ago is hard to conceive as well.
  5. “Numerical Laws and the Use of Mathematics in Science” by Norman Robert Campbell:  I appreciated how Campbell tried to show the relationship between deduction and induction here. Clearly, Christianity would remove the constant sense of surprise he feels at how our intuitions match things in the real world.
  6. The City of God by St. Augustine, Book IV: Lots more exposure of pagan inconsistency in this section. Why, if Victory is a goddess, ascribe the expansion of Rome’s borders to Jove? If Felicity is a goddess, why not worship her only if the point is to receive earthly benefit? And we mustn’t neglect to point out the great anecdote where the cheeky pirate disses Alexander the Great.

We finally got some winter here in Alabama . . . temperatures in the 20s over the weekend. I know that doesn’t sound like much to many of you, but it was our first time to get well below freezing this season. It has made for some good fireplace reading.

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 Spartans Actually Do Surrender Sometimes

  1. Jane says:

    Synge, Riders to the Sea: “No man at all can be living for ever, and we must be satisfied.” So says Maurya at the end of this short play, after losing the last of her six sons to the wild sea. This is my first comment after some months, having gone through my mother’s final stages of COPD and death just short of her 92nd birthday. While the loss of a parent is more in the order of things than the loss of a child (much less 6 of them), the experience can still remind us of the fragility and brevity of life and the opportunity we have as thinking beings to choose what we do with our days. This combined with the news that my sister-in-law has metastatic bone cancer made me think, “Time is short. What *don’t* I want to spend it on?” Part of my answer is – books, movies/tv shows, other media or so-called arts that don’t interest or inspire me. Thus, no more attempts to slog through Thucydides, re-read Virgil or Augustine, or try to like math.

    Although this blog seems abandoned and may sooner or later be deleted, I will continue to use it to motivate and structure further reading of selections that appeal to me and will continue to comment. I print and save my comments to keep tabs on what I’ve learned. Perhaps my reflections will be of interest to someone who discovers them and wants to explore the books for themselves after I’m gone.

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