Being an Emperor’s Heir is a Dangerous Job

While I wasn’t paying attention last week, we passed the 3,000-page mark in the Man and Society category of the Great Books Project. We should hit 13,000 pages overall in the next few weeks.

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. The Divine Comedy: Inferno by Dante Alighieri, Cantos I-XVII (GBWW Vol. 19, pp. 1-22)
  2. Against Epicurus” by Epictetus (GBWW Vol. 11, pp. 121; Book I Chapter 23 of the Discourses)
  3. The Annals of Tacitus, Book V-VI (GBWW Vol. 14, pp. 83-100)
  4. The Theory of the Leisure Class by Thorstein Veblen, Chapters 2-3 (GBWW Vol. 57, pp. 9-29)
  5. The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud, Introduction and Part I, Sections A-C (GBWW Vol. 54, pp. 135-155; pp. 1-16 of the linked PDF)
  6. The Philosophy of Right by G.W.F. Hegel, Third Part, Sections I-II (GBWW Vol. 43, pp. 58-93)

To compensate for diving into Freud for the first time, I’ve also scheduled us to read the last of the five great epics of Western civilization over the next several weeks.

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. 6_charactersSix Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello: This play is so clever in exploring the tension between “reality” (as represented by the characters’ story) and the requirements of representing reality on the stage. Then it gets all degraded with the pseudo-incest stuff. I’m not clear on what place the gunshot and death at then end has in connection to what has gone before, though. 
  2. “On Precognitions” by Epictetus: I’ve normally thought of precognition as a kind of foresight, but Epictetus appears to be using it in the sense of a “conception of the good,” or at least a judgment about which action will lead to the best outcome. Epictetus, not surprisingly, advises focusing on what we can control, i.e. the inner life. 
  3. The Annals of Tacitus, Book IV: Tacitus writes that this is when Tiberius becomes a tyrant, and that it’s because of Sejanus. However, Sejanus’s plot hasn’t been fully realized yet, so I assume Tacitus that it’s Sejanus’s malign influences on Tiberius he’s talking about. The poisoning of Drusus is dealt with surprisingly quickly. I also found it noteworthy that Tacitus lingers over the court case of a son accusing his father. To Romans (as I suppose it should be to us) that is something monstrous.
  4. The Theory of the Leisure Class by Thorstein Veblen, Introduction: Veblen posits a contrast between “exploit” and “drudgery” in primitive society. The guys who go out and kill huge animals, fight other people, etc., have prestige and exercise power in the tribe. This includes priestly figures who, I guess, demonstrate their prowess with the unseen world. Those involved in industry, such as growing crops, are seen as inferior. An interesting idea, to be sure, but like Hobbes, Rousseau, and the rest, Veblen is speculating, not demonstrating.
  5. On Floating Bodies by Archimedes: Amazingly, Archimedes can tell us what solid bodies floating in liquid will do without ever actually looking at one. As far as I can tell, the math works, even though I started getting lost in the second half. 
  6. The Philosophy of Right by G.W.F. Hegel, Second Part: Apparently Hegel, like William James, thinks that intention is the judge of our actions. That puts him in tension with W.K. Clifford and some of the other authors in the Great Books corpus, to say nothing of Thomas Sowell, every Austrian economist, etc. I noticed that Hegel also defines action differently from the Austrians, as the “externalization of the will,” something which requires an external environment. In other words, something like reflection would not qualify as action for Hegel.

We’re now 27 months into this project. Can you believe it? I find it amusing that I recently got a comment on my original “Master Plan” post to the effect that I’d give up on this the first year. Yet here we are.

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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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One Response to Being an Emperor’s Heir is a Dangerous Job

  1. Stan says:

    The person who thought you would give up doesn’t know just how amazing these books are. Once you get some forward momentum, it’s too much fun to stop. No need to compensate for Freud. Interpretation of Dreams is a fun book, even if it is a bit loopy/sexual. I recommend keeping a dream journal and applying his methods while reading it.

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