Hell Hath No Fury Like Dido Scorned

It’s another Great Books Monday, and when I checked my spreadsheet to see how much progress we’ve made yesterday, I discovered we had passed the 6,000-page mark three weeks ago without my even realizing it. That’s the sort of surprise I could do with a little more often.

Here are the readings for the upcoming week:

  1. The Aeneid of Virgil, Book V (GBWW Vol. 12, pp. 153-174)
  2. History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides, Book VI (GBWW Vol. 5, pp. 509-537)
  3. Experience and Education by John Dewey, Ch. 5 (GBWW Vol. 55, pp. 114-116)
  4. Micromegas” by Voltaire (GGB Vol. 2, pp. 241-256)
  5. On Airs, Waters, and Places by Hippocrates (GBWW Vol. 9, pp. 18-39)
  6. The City of God by St. Augustine, Book VI (GBWW Vol. 16, pp. 274-288; in the linked text, it’s the material under the heading “Of Varro’s threefold division of theology . . .” and its subheads)

We’re heavily weighted towards the ancients this week, but you’ll have to indulge me since I’m celebrating a birthday. We still have Dewey in the mix to give us a modern voice.

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. death-of-didoThe Aeneid of Virgil, Book IV:  Poor Dido. She’s the plaything of the gods, and then she mistakenly concludes that Aeneas doesn’t care about her when he receives the divine command to leave Carthage. She despairs and kills herself, thus representing (to the Roman mind) the inferior fortitude of Carthage to Rome.
  2. History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides, Book V:It’s striking how both sides immediately set about undermining the “50-year truce” to its own advantage. No wonder they were at war again in five years. The affair at Melos shows the complete moral bankruptcy of the Athenians. After all of Pericles’s pretty words in Book II, too.
  3. Experience and Education by John Dewey, Ch. 4:I don’t know how I feel about the idea that the class is not in fact a class, but a social group. It seems clear to me that this is where the Great Books people got the idea of “shared inquiry,” but in their case they have a higher authority (the Great Books themselves) to which they defer. It’s not obvious to me how, absent that, a teacher steers the learning process while himself being a member of the group.
  4. “Of Studies” by Francis Bacon:  A couple of great aphorisms here in just a few lines: “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” Also, “Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.”
  5. “The Classification of Human Ability” by Sir Francis Galton:  Talk about politically incorrect! Galton would be shouted down at any Western university today if he tried to present this hypothesis. I seem to remember the authors of The Bell Curvearguing for a 60/40 split between the influences of nature and nurture, respectively, and even that caused a firestorm. Of course, Galton’s data set does not measure up to 21st-century standards, but that he was able to put together what he did from available sources is pretty remarkable.
  6. The City of God by St. Augustine, Book V: Here Augustine takes on astrology, classical fatalism, and the ancients’ hankering for glory. How many dragons will he slay before the end of this work? I’d like to know whether any astrologers have ever attempted to answer Augustine; it looks to me like he has pretty well torn the concept apart.

It rained more than three inches in Montgomery over the weekend, and I know some areas got more than that. I suppose it was a good thing since we’ve had drought conditions here for some time. Now the cold weather is back, and I’m going to turn on the fireplace to enjoy a good book.

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 Hell Hath No Fury Like Dido Scorned

  1. Jane says:

    Galton, The Classification of Human Ability: It’s hard not to wince when reading this work in light of the early-20th century “negative breeding” efforts to cull “undesirables” – ranging from forced sterilizations of criminals to the Nazi-perpetrated genocides of Jews, the Roma, homosexuals, and the mentally ill. While Galton had the betterment of society in mind when promoting “positive breeding” among the genetically fortunate, today the possibilities of genetic manipulation to favor characteristics such as beauty and brains are reserved for the wealthy and aimed toward competitive benefits for certain individuals. This seems unfair, but not out of keeping with a capitalist society where inherited wealth and associated prestige is concentrated within a small percentage of the population. Whatever the ratio of nature and nurture combines to raise certain people above the masses, both become more fertile ground with the addition of big money.

    On another level, Galton provides a potentially helpful reality test. So many of us envy the lifestyles of the rich and famous and think if we just keep on plugging away we too will make it big someday. Well, the chances are pretty low, and maybe we’d be happier settling sooner for a life of pleasant mediocrity.

    Bacon, Of Studies: Naturally gifted or no, minds are only developed through study and learning. Here we can refer back to Dewey and the value of an education that is predicated on practical experience. I didn’t realize this essay was the source of the quotation “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” Back in 2010, Google estimated there were 130 million books in the entire world. Stephen Hawking said something in his last book about that number increasing exponentially on a daily basis, particularly now as publishing is made easier via the internet. It would be wise to pull a Galton on them and spend time only on works of genius; those that have been curated like these Great Books, important canons from other cultures, and newer ones that have passed critical muster. Top-100 lists are helpful, and currently there are plenty “Best of the Decade” articles around now that we are moving into 2020.

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