“Better to Reign in Hell . . .”

It’s Great Books Monday once again, and we’re taking a foray into late-19th-century naturalism this week. I’m getting ready for my first Ibsen play . . . 

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. Paradise Lost by John Milton, Book II (GBWW Vol. 29, pp. 111-134)
  2. Antony and Demetrius Compared” by Plutarch (GBWW Vol. 13, pp. 780-781)
  3. On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings” by William James (GGB Vol. 7, pp. 141-156)
  4. An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen, Act I (GGB Vol. 4, pp. 164-179)
  5. The Book of Prognostics by Hippocrates (GBWW Vol. 9, pp. 39-53)
  6. The Advancement of Learning by Francis Bacon, Book II, Chapters I-XVI (GBWW Vol. 28, pp. 29-64)

I found it necessary to take a break from Epictetus this week, but we’ll return to the Discourses soon enough.

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. satan-paradise-lostParadise Lost by John Milton, Book I: This first book contains many obvious parallels to the ancient epics: the invocation of the muse, etc. Reading the roll call of demons, I got a glimpse of what the ancients probably experienced while reading or listening to parallel passages in Homer and Virgil, i.e., I actually found it interesting because I was familiar with the names from the Bible.
  2. “Antony” by Plutarch: The love affair between Antony and Cleopatra is the stuff of legend, but it sure made Antony stupid. According to Plutarch, he made ridiculous campaign decisions so that he could spend more time with her (not to mention disrespecting his wife, Octavia, who comes out smelling like roses in this account), and then abandons the fleet at Actium to pursue her fleeing ship. 
  3. “Against Those Who Eagerly Seek Preferment at Rome” by Epictetus (Discourses Book I Chapter 10): Epictetus’s story about his friend who couldn’t resist getting back into public affairs brought to mind the proverb about the dog returning to his vomit. What makes people fall all over themselves to deplete their energies at the prince’s word? Is it the feeling of power or influence? 
  4. “Our Feelings Reach Out Beyond Us” by Michel de Montaigne: I thought this essay’s title was pretty misleading; most of the essay is about efforts to extend a person’s influence after his death. As usual, Montaigne gives us  many scriptural and classical examples of people whose bones were carried into battle or whose skin was made into a drum at his own command. We also got some references to more recent people such as Edward I of England and Renaissance Venice.
  5. ““The Relations of Man to the Lower Animals” by Thomas H. Huxley: I suppose that when this essay first appeared it was very controversial for classifying human beings alongside apes on the basis of their physical characteristics. As the stuff of every high school science textbook for the last hundred years, it didn’t strike me with any particular feeling. 
  6. “The Nature and Extent of Divine Doctrine” by St. Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologica First Part, Question I): In this short treatise, St. Thomas argues several points that never would have occurred to me about the nature of theology. such as the question of whether it’s appropriate for the scripture to employ metaphor. I notice that it didn’t take him long to bring up the fourfold interpretation of scripture so beloved by medieval theologians.

There’s a busy week ahead for me: Freshman Experience today and tomorrow, classes beginning Wednesday, and mounds of paperwork to take care of. At least the temperatures here have been tolerable for several days, and I actually got to see a couple of meteors before sunrise this morning. Happy reading this week!

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 “Better to Reign in Hell . . .”

  1. pdefor says:

    The ‘better to reign in Hell’ line stuck with me too. It’s fascinating to think that the refusal to serve was at the core of Satan’s rebellion.

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