This week in the Great Books Project we come within a whisker of our 5,000th page of Imaginative Literature and 3,500th page of Science and Mathematics. That seems like a pretty good way to ring in the new year!
Here are the readings for the coming week:
- Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, Book XIV (GBWW Vol. 37, pp. 296-315)*
- “Of Predestination” by St. Thomas Aquinas (GBWW Vol. 18, pp. 132-141; Part One, Chapter 23 of Summa Theologica)
- The History of Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, Part I, Chapters 15-22 (GBWW Vol. 27, pp. 44-82)
- “Aemilius Paulus” and “Aemilius Paulus and Timoleon Compared” by Plutarch (GBWW Vol. 13, pp. 214-231)
- The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin, Chapter 19-20 (GBWW Vol. 49, pp. 562-589)
- Objections Against the Meditations, and Replies by Rene Descartes, Set 6 (GBWW Vol. 28, pp. 447-459)
*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.
We are nearing the end of Darwin and Descartes and will probably finish them next week. Fielding won’t be far behind.
Here are some observations from last week’s readings:
- Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, Book XIII: Fielding might as well have subtitled this book “In which Mr. Jones becomes a Gigolo.” Now Jones is moving around in the world of London gentility, and the execution of the comic element is pretty good. There are classical elements of the narrative, such as a masquerade and instances of mistaken identity. The repartee between Lady Bellaston and Sophia in the book’s final chapter is clever.
- “On the Morning of Christs Nativity” and “The Hymn” by John Milton: According to notes on the linked website, this poem marked Milton’s maturation as a Christian writer. As always, I’m intrigued by Milton’s freely mixing Christian and classical pagan metaphor. He includes references to the muses, to Pan, etc. Of course the language of both poems is quite beautiful.
- The History of Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, Part I, Chapters 11-14: I’m not into the secondary scholarship on this work, but I assume that feminist scholars get some mileage out of these chapters. By casting the crackpot Don Quixote as the defender of Marcela, is Cervantes condemning her independence, or is he endorsing certain elements of the knight-errant’s chivalric code? I’d love for anyone who knows more about the tradition of interpretation to comment below.
- “Timoleon” by Plutarch: I didn’t know a single thing about Timoleon before reading this life, and I found his story fascinating, particularly the sequence of incidents where he first risked his life to save his brother on the battlefield, and then presided over the same brother’s assassination when the latter tried to set himself up as dictator of Corinth. The story provides great fodder for discussion on the relative demands on one’s loyalties from kin and country.
- The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin, Chapter 17-18: After four chapters of birds, we finally move on to the mammals here. The big generalization is that male mammals fight a lot more than male birds do over the females. “When the males are provided with weapons which in the females are absent, there can be hardly a doubt that these serve for fighting with other males.” I found this statement intriguing as it rests on a package of assumptions that by this time in Darwin’s narrative have become nearly invisible. He interprets features such lions’ manes to be an evolved defense against other male lions. He also repeats the idea that vocalizations and odors of the males are there to attract females.
- Objections Against the Meditations, and Replies by Rene Descartes, Set 5: I always have trouble distinguishing what’s sincere and what’s backhanded in early modern authors. Descartes thanks his interlocutor and then says he hasn’t offered any real arguments, only rhetorical devices. “But I like that!” because it means there aren’t any real arguments left to offer (?). Similar to the exchange with Hobbes, Descartes attributes most of these criticisms to an inability to break free of “immersion in the senses.” The second and third meditations get the most discussion here.
More travel and ebook reading are in store for me this week. In a couple of days I’ll be taking some students to a conference in Albuquerque. Apparently the location has something to do with a popular television show I’ve never watched. I might look into that, but I’ll have to do my reading first!