“I Do Bite My Thumb, Sir”

We continue to plug along in the Great Books Project, and I believe we will have caught up with our original schedule within a couple of weeks. (Recall that I lost a week due to travels and workload some time back.) I’m a bit scared of some of this week’s readings, but hanging back won’t do any good. Let’s plunge in!

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen (GBWW Vol. 52, pp. 439-474)
  2. We Should Meddle Soberly With Judging Divine Ordinances” by Michel de Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 149-150)
  3. The History of Animals by Aristotle, Book I (GBWW Vol. 8, pp. 1-19)
  4. The Histories by Tacitus, Book III (GBWW Vol. 14, pp. 241-266)
  5. Elements of Chemistry by Antoine Lavoisier, Preface and Part I, Chapters 1-3 (GBWW Vol. 42, pp. 1-21)
  6. Ethics by Benedict de Spinoza, Part V (GBWW Vol. 28, pp. 685-697)

This week we finish one long work (Spinoza) and begin two others (Aristotle and Lavoisier). I think we’ll finish Tacitus next week.

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. romeo-julietRomeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare: Is it just me, or do other people feel tempted to skip over Act IV of Shakespeare’s tragedies? I suppose I have been to influenced by modern storytelling that puts the climax of the story just a few pages before the end. I need to have more patience for falling action. At any rate, I hadn’t read this play in many years, and I enjoyed rediscovering several nice passages. I also noted more than before how the lovers’ deaths brings about a restoration of peace and order in Verona; in a sense, it’s a happy ending!
  2. “Of Moderation” by Michel de Montaigne: This is a short essay, but even so it meanders a bit. It opens oddly with Montaigne asserting that “a man may both love virtue too much, and perform excessively in a just action.” He goes on to say that marital love should be “mixed with austerity,” and then decries certain forms of asceticism. By the end he’s talking about human sacrifice in America.
  3. “On Shakespeare” by John Milton: This poem is an effective testimony to the power of words. Instead of erecting a monument of stone to commemorate himself, Shakespeare created something far more impressive in his written work. “Kings for such a tomb would wish to die.”
  4. The Histories by Tacitus, Book II: We’ve already made it through another emperor by the time we get two-thirds of the way through this book. Otho is dead and Vitellius has been installed. The portrayal of Otho in this book is quite different from that of Book I. Here he acts nobly and refuses to pursue what he considers a lost cause after his troops suffer a significant defeat. Instead, he takes precautions in attempts to ensure his supporters do not suffer at Vitellius’s hands and then commits suicide. Vitellius, on the other hand, comes across as a total jerk. By the end of the book, Vespasian has already started his rebellion in the East.
  5. “The Origin and Development of Psychoanalysis” by Sigmund Freud: This work is actually a transcription of a series of lectures Freud did it the U.S. He recounts some of the early cases that convinced him of the efficacy of interviewing patients to discover repressions of past events. I came away satisfied that my basic understanding of Freud’s methodology had been correct. I thought his comments on hypnosis and why he ultimately rejected it were pretty interesting. 
  6. Ethics by Benedict de Spinoza, Part IV: Spinoza shows his hand clearly in the preface of this book: God and Nature are synonyms, God has no purpose and acts for no purpose, etc. He explicitly rejects several tenets of Christian ethics throughout the book; for example, he says humility is no virtue and that one who repents is “doubly wretched.” Everything is to be subjected to reason, etc. There’s lots of Enlightenment-sounding stuff here.

I’m pleased to have been able to make up two days this week on the posting schedule. A week without travels does wonders that way. I hope you’re able to find some good reading time this week. The early morning works well for me!

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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1 Response to “I Do Bite My Thumb, Sir”

  1. I tried to convince my fellow students in my college Shakespeare class that one of the themes of Romeo and Juliet is “Children obey your parents.”

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