This week in the Great Books Project we will wrap both Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations. With patience and perseverance, these books continue to move over to the “have read” column.
Here are the readings for the coming week:
- The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, “Second Nun’s Prologue” to the end (GBWW Vol. 19, pp. 448-476)
- The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Book XII (GBWW Vol. 11, p. 290-294)
- “On Time” by John Milton (GBWW Vol. 29, pp. 12)
- An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Book II, Introduction and Chapters 1-2 (GBWW Vol. 36, pp. 132-160)
- The Circulation of the Blood by William Harvey (GBWW Vol. 26, pp. 305-328; the reading begins on p. 89 of the linked book and includes both disquisitions addressed to John Riolan)
- An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke, Book II, Chapters 22-27 (GBWW Vol. 33, pp. 200-228)
Considering how many consecutive weeks we’ve had a reading from a Stoic philosopher (I think it has been going for six months or more), it will be refreshing to change things up a little next week.
Here are some observations from last week’s readings:
- Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, “Merchant’s Prologue” through “The Franklin’s Tale”: Of this group, I may have enjoyed the Franklin’s Tale the most. I didn’t recall any details of it, so the ending was a bit of a surprise. After all the stories of lechery and infidelity, it was nice to have a story where the antagonist reformed himself and didn’t go through with the wickedness he had planned.
- The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Book XI: A former student who’s reading along sent me this quote: “Consider when thou art much vexed or grieved, that man’s life is only a moment, and after a short time we are all laid out dead.” To the modern, that seems like an extremely odd way to comfort oneself. I have to point out the reference in section 22 to the country mouse and the city mouse. That was an unexpected delight. Thanks, Horace!
- “Paraphrase on Psalm 114” and “Psalm 136” by John Milton: I remember singing “Let Us with a Gladsome Mind” in church growing up, but I don’t think I ever knew the words were from Milton. So of course I was humming along with every stanza of his rendering of Psalm 136.
- An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Introduction and Book I, Chapter 11: This chapter deals with the rent of land, which Smith differentiates from the profit deriving from capital. I know that the Austrian school critiques Smith and David Ricardo for breaking rent out in this way, but I’m a bit foggy on the precise reason. I think it has to do with subjective value somehow. There’s a lengthy digression into mining and the connection between rent and the value of precious metals, particularly silver.
- On Injuries of the Head by Hippocrates: Hippocrates throws around several medical terms I didn’t recognize, and apparently even the translator didn’t recognize one of them. I did have an idea of what “trepanning” is, at least. The description of symptoms was a bit grisly. Hippocrates evidently was accustomed to treating battle injuries, because he goes into the differences among wounds made by weapons of different kinds in great detail.
- An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke, Book II, Chapter 21: This chapter is titled “Of Power.” Locke goes into several weighty concepts here, such as liberty, freedom of the will, and the like. He writes about the will in ways that remind me of the economists’ discussion of action: one’s uneasiness or dissatisfaction with something determines one’s will. He also discusses time preference, although he does not use that term. There are sections discussing how one weighs present “good and evil” against future “good and evil” and how it is more difficult to make determinations of future states (entrepreneurial forecasts). Interesting stuff.
This week is a bear, but I’ve managed to make up a day from last week. I should probably be writing a book chapter now, but the really loud weed-eater outside my house is preventing me from concentrating sufficiently. There’s always the wee hours of the morning. Who needs sleep?