Oedipus Goes to Die

When was the last time I went exactly seven days between Great Books posts? I have no idea, to be honest. Nevertheless, we completed 16,500 pages last week and continue our journey through the Great Conversation.

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, Book XI (GBWW Vol. 37, pp. 223-245)*
  2. The Justice and Mercy of God” by St. Thomas Aquinas (GBWW Vol. 18, pp. 124-127; Part One, Chapter 21 of Summa Theologica)
  3. Mother Courage and Her Children by Bertolt Brecht  (GBWW Vol. 60, pp. 397-446)
  4. Alcibiades and Coriolanus Compared” by Plutarch (GBWW Vol. 13, pp. 193-195)
  5. The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin, Chapter 14 (GBWW Vol. 49, pp. 477-499)
  6. Objections Against the Meditations, and Replies by Rene Descartes, Sets 1-2 (GBWW Vol. 28, pp. 330-355)

*The volume and page references from Tom Jones are from the 1952 GBWW edition. This novel was not included in the 1990 edition and is thus “extra” reading for this project, but I’ve never read it before and want to.

I’ve never read anything of Brecht’s except that line about the government “dissolving the people and choosing a new one,” so I’m interested to see what he’s all about.

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, Book X: It’s not quite what I predicted last week, but close enough: Sophia ends up at the inn and learns of Jones’s dallying with Mrs. Waters. Fielding gives us some clever complications with the involvement of the maid and Partridge, and I didn’t foresee Squire Western’s appearance. The leaving of the muff and the problem it caused for Jones was a nice touch. Jones really is—let’s face it—an idiot.
  2. “God’s Love” by St. Thomas Aquinas: Here again St. Thomas attempts to thread a theological needle or two. If God is Love, how does He hate, etc. Unlike some modern commentators who try to gloss over the language of hate by calling it hyperbole or something of the sort, he argues that God actually loves and hates different things; the wicked he loves “as natures,” but hates “as sinners.” For me at least, it was an unexpected way of arguing.
  3. Oedipus_At_ColonusOedipus at Colonus by Sophocles: This play is really depressing to read, even more so than your typical tragedy. The entire dialogue is taken up with laments concerning the suffering of not only Oedipus, but also his daughter Antigone who has accompanied him in exile. Then there’s the other daughter, Ismene, who gets kidnaped along with Antigone, and the two sons, Polyneices and Eteocles, who now war with each other. The whole family is a big mess and labors under a curse. Theseus is a stand-up guy in this play and relieves Oedipus’s suffering to the extent he’s able. 
  4. “Coriolanus” by Plutarch: Everyone gets his comeuppance in this story. Coriolanus is almost killed for being an arrogant jerk. Rome gets its head handed to it in a war because it mistreated Coriolanus. Then Coriolanus gets killed by his erstwhile allies for not sticking to his guns in the offensive campaign against Rome. His mother was pretty impressive in her supplication to him; the episode gives Plutarch occasion to ruminate on the nature of divine intervention. The biography is an outstanding instance of the Great Man genre, since the mere changing sides of Coriolanus completely turns the tide of the war. 
  5. The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin, Chapter 13: This is the first of three (I think) chapters on sexual characteristics of birds. Darwin focuses primarily here on the competition of males for females and the decorative plumage. He discusses knobs on the males’ legs, etc., that appear to be designed for fighting. Some of the brilliant plumage only appears in the mating season. Near the end of the chapter Darwin notes that sometimes the two things seem to work against each other, e.g. the decorative stuff can get in the way when birds fight.
  6. Meditations on First Philosophy by Rene Descartes: These meditations take us deeper into the process by which Descartes came to the conclusions he published in the Discourse on Method, which we read way back in the spring of 2011. The third meditation, in which Descartes elaborates on his argument for God’s existence, is the longest. (In case you don’t remember, Descartes held that the idea of perfection indubitably present in our minds could only have come from a perfect being.) In the fifth meditation, he argues that geometrical proofs themselves rely on the knowledge of God.

Here’s hoping I can maintain a Monday schedule in the near future. I have quite a bit travel ahead of me in the next month, so I’m sure it will be a challenge. I hope you’re able to squeeze in some reading time as the Christmas frenzy revs up!

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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