Use Your Labor Day to Read the Great Books

It’s Great Books Monday again (seemingly the only day of the week I’m able to post these days), and this week we will come within a whisker of our 2,000th page of science and mathematics reading since beginning this project in 2011.

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. Paradise Lost by John Milton, Book V (GBWW Vol. 29, pp. 175-195)
  2. Agesilaus and Pompey Compared” by Plutarch (GBWW Vol. 13, pp. 538-540)
  3. Herodotus” by John Bagnell Bury (GGB Vol. 6, pp. 364-383; Lecture II of Ancient Greek Historians)
  4. An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen, Act IV (GGB Vol. 4, pp. 214-230)
  5. On the Natural Faculties by Galen, Book I (GBWW Vol. 9, pp. 347-381)
  6. Of the Simplicity of God” by St. Thomas Aquinas (GBWW Vol. 17, pp. 14-20; Part I Question 3 of Summa Theologica)

Galen’s ideas ruled medicine for over 1,000 years. I’m very interested to learn about them.

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. Paradise Lost by John Milton, Book IV: I love Satan’s soul-searching moment; he knows himself well enough to understand that any repentance of his will be fleeting. When he says, “Evil, be thou my good,” he’s irrevocably the guy you love to hate. The confrontation between Satan and the (good) angels is pretty impressive, too. I imagine that feminists loathe the passages with Adam and Eve in this book, with Eve in complete submission to Adam’s will.
  2. “Pompey” by Plutarch: The thing that stuck with me most from this narrative wasn’t anything to do with Pompey at all. Instead, I was thoroughly repulsed by the behavior of Mithridates, who slew all his own soldiers who were sick or wounded before retreating before Pompey’s forces. It’s hard to shake fingers at the Romans when their opponents were so awful. Pompey, like so many of Plutarch’s other subjects, is so admirable in certain respects and so deplorable in others. Still, you can’t help but feel for him when Caesar’s army comes into his camp after Pharsalus. 
  3. “Of Natural Affection” by Epictetus (Book I Chapter 11 of the Discourses): Epictetus will have none of the man’s rationalizations about his actions. In a manner reminiscent of Socrates, he verbally brings him to an admission that his abandoning of his sick daughter was neither in accord with nature or reason, but was purely an act of his will. These Stoics could teach 21st-century society a thing or two about personal responsibilities. 
  4. An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen, Act III: So now we see clearly that everyone is a jerk. No one cares about the truth or falsehood of the doctor’s claims; to them the situation is simply to be exploited in an opportunistic way to advance agendas already in place. Ibsen is a modernist, but his characters act in ways that would make postmodernists proud. At least the wife came back around to support him (for now).
  5. “The Postulates of the Science of Space” by William Kingdon Clifford: This was my first introduction to non-Euclidean geometry, and my head is still a bit muddled. The exposition is fairly straightforward and presented in a much more civil and respectful way than Bertrand Russell’s, but the questioning of some common-sense assumptions about space leads to some weird (to me ) conclusions.
  6. “The Existence of God” by St. Thomas Aquinas (Part I, Question 2 of Summa Theologica): Although it seems most of the modern attention paid to St. Thomas centers on his five proofs of God’s existence (offered in the third article of this question), I actually liked reading his earlier articles on whether God’s existence is self-evident and on whether God’s existence can be demonstrated. We get interaction with Anselm, and even an answer to the matter-in-motion people.

With everything that has been happening in my world, it’s a minor miracle that I have maintained this reading schedule over the last couple of months. I can foresee my schedule settling down to some extent within the next week or two, and I’m very much looking forward to it. The holiday today won’t hurt. Happy Labor Day!

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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