I failed to mention last week that we finished yet another volume of the Great Books of the Western World series when we wrapped up Spinoza’s Ethics. I forget exactly how many that makes, but we’ve already knocked out several volumes in 2014.
Here are the readings for the coming week:
- The History of Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, Part II, Chapters 1-10 (GBWW Vol. 27, pp. 239-280)
- “Fortune Is Often Met in the Path of Reason” by Michel de Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 151-152)
- The History of Animals by Aristotle, Book III (GBWW Vol. 8, pp. 32-48)
- The Histories by Tacitus, Book V (GBWW Vol. 14, pp. 294-302)
- Elements of Chemistry by Antoine Lavoisier, Part I, Chapters 9-17 (GBWW Vol. 42, pp. 33-52)
- Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche, Parts II-III (GBWW Vol. 43, pp. 474-489)
We’re in a stretch of reading almost all lengthy works this week. We’ll finish Tacitus, though, and start on something new next time.
Here are some observations from last week’s readings:
- Candide by Voltaire: Out of all the crazy characters in this book, I have always thought the craziest is Cunegonde’s brother. His reaction to Candide’s declared intention of marrying Cunegonde is preposterous, all the genealogy notwithstanding. The party’s disposal of him at the end is quite appropriate.
- “To Flee from Sensual Pleasures at the Price of Life” by Michel de Montaigne: I don’t quite understand the relationship of this essay’s title to its body. Most of it deals with the desirability of death when either material cares weigh too heavily or the spiritual reward of the afterlife shines too brightly. I had not either the Cicero or St. Hilary of Poitiers anecdotes before.
- The History of Animals by Aristotle, Book II: Most of this book discusses quadrupeds, which are further subdivided into “viviparous” (live-bearing, I assume) and “oviparous” (egg-bearing). There’s more discussion of organs and their placement; Aristotle dwells at length on the stomach and intestines for some reason. One highlight was the discussion of wisdom teeth in men and women.
- The Histories by Tacitus, Book IV: Vitellius is out; Vespasian is in. Vespasian and Titus were not actually on the scene in Rome, and the book opens with the opportunistic slaughter occasioned by Vitellius’s overthrow. A good part of the book is also taken up by conflict with the Batavians. An interesting anecdote comes with the oath Senators took after the change in power that they had behaved themselves during all the turmoil. “Great was the alarm, and various the devices for altering the words of the oath, among those who felt the consciousness of guilt. The Senate appreciated the scruple, but denounced the perjury.”
- Elements of Chemistry by Antoine Lavoisier, Part I, Chapters 4-8: I was reading this online this week, and the version I had access to had some pagination problems, so I didn’t get all the text. My only memory of Lavoisier from high school science classes was that he did important work on oxygen. I assume from these chapters that he actually coined the term “oxygenation” and discovered that other substances such as sulphur consume oxygen when they burn. I thought it was significant that Lavoisier was conservative in his terminology, retaining traditional words like “water” and “air” whenever possible, even though he noted that some others wanted to jettison all these words in favor of new “scientific” terms.
- Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche, Preface and Part I: The preface to this work is one of the most remarkable I’ve ever read. Christianity is “Platonism for the ‘people.’” Traditional philosophy is likened to astrology, of all things. Nietzsche rejects democracy up front. The first chapter is hardly less challenging; there’s something for everyone to find offensive. Nietzsche lambastes not only Christianity, but also Kant, Spinoza, and just about everyone who came before him. There’s no “will to truth” but only a “will to power” which is prior even to the impulse of self-preservation. Hmmmmm.
I failed to post last week before I went on the road and am only just now getting around to it. I had just about caught up on pages from the last time I lost a week, but now I appear to be behind the 8-ball again. I must console myself with all the significant sights I am seeing in Virginia this week.