I neglected to mention it last week, but Dante’s discourse on world government was the final reading from Volume 7 of the Gateway to the Great Books series. What’s more, we are very close to completing Volume 3, with just one more story after this week’s Turgenev novella. Yippee!
Here are the readings for the coming week:
- “First Love” by Ivan Turgenev (GGB Vol. 3, pp. 217-271)
- The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Book IV (GBWW Vol. 11, p. 248-253)
- “Of Fear” by Michel de Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 81-84)
- “Lycurgus” by Plutarch (GBWW Vol. 13, pp. 32-48)
- Introduction to Arithmetic by Nicomachus of Gerasa (GBWW Vol. 10, pp. 599-636)
- “Preface to the Treatise on the Vacuum” by Blaise Pascal (GBWW Vol. 30, pp. 355-358)
This week is the first of many during which we’ll read Pascal. I’m looking forward to getting into his writing; I’ve only read portions of the Pensees before.
Here are some observations from last week’s readings:
- Samson Agonistes by John Milton: Like Paradise Lost, this is a brilliant blending of Biblical content with classical form. I was surprised that Milton was able to work in via flashback every episode from Samson’s life that’s recorded in Judges. And, of course, Samson’s death occurs off stage.
- The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Book III: In this book Aurelius makes several references to “the deity which is planted in thee.” I wonder what exactly he means by that. He seems to be agnostic on what occurs after death. I also was curious about his assigning of appetites to the soul rather than to the body: “to the body belong sensations, to the soul appetites, to the intelligence principles.”
- “A Trait of Certain Ambassadors” by Michel de Montaigne: Montaigne writes of the tendency of ambassadors to “massage” the information they communicate to their rulers back home. He wonders whether they can be considered good servants: “We corrupt the function of command when we obey through discretion, not subjection.” The modern abhors subjection, so there’s a lot of command corruption going on today.
- “Politics as a Vocation” by Max Weber: Weber repeatedly stresses the violent nature of politics and discusses the tension between political means and the ethic of the Sermon on the Mount. I kept on running across good one-liners. Here’s one: in the spoils system, “quote unprincipled parties oppose one another; they are purely organizations of job hunters drafting their changing platforms according to the chances of vote-grabbing.”
- The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud, Part VII, Section D-End: Fare thee well, Herr Doktor Freud. I was pleased that he conceded near the end that a man’s actions and conscious expressions of thought are more important than his dreams for judging his character. The usefulness of dreams, he writes, is primarily to gain insight into neuroses.
- The Timaeus of Plato: This “dialogue” is apparently set the day after the conversation recorded in the Republic took place. It begins with a blessedly brief recap of that work. Then there’s a neat story about legendary Athenians fighting off the soldiers of Atlantis and saving Mediterranean civilization. But the remainder of the work (at least 80%) is a long speech by Timaeus about the creation of the world and the nature of human beings. It certainly didn’t feel like a dialogue at all. There were some analogues to the Old Testament creation narratives.
After three days of moving the contents of my office from one side of my building to the other, I’m ready for some labor of a more intellectual nature. The books are calling my name . . .