O Voltaire! O Humanity! O Idiocy!

With the completion of the Histories of Tacitus, we have finished another volume in the GBWW series. This week we continue our readings in Roman history with our first foray into Gibbon.

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. The History of Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, Part II, Chapters 11-21 (GBWW Vol. 27, pp. 280-321)
  2. Of a Lack in Our Administrations” by Michel de Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 152-153)
  3. The History of Animals by Aristotle, Book IV (GBWW Vol. 8, pp. 48-65)
  4. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapters 1-2 (GBWW Vol. 37, pp. 1-24)
  5. Elements of Chemistry by Antoine Lavoisier, Part II, Sections 1-13 (GBWW Vol. 42, pp. 53-68)
  6. Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche, Parts IV-V (GBWW Vol. 43, pp. 490-503)

Gibbon’s Decline and Fall fills two full volumes of the GBWW series, so I expect we’ll break it up into more manageable pieces rather than try to read it straight through.

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. The History of Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, Part II, Chapters 1-10: The early chapters of Part II, which was published several years after Part I, involve a bunch of “remember-when” moments. The device used is a “bachelor” who visits Don Quixote and Sancho and describes a book that has been published about their adventures. It takes until Chapter 8 for them to leave the house, and by Chapter 10 Dulcinea still has not made an appearance. 
  2. “Fortune Is Often Met in the Path of Reason” by Michel de Montaigne: Here’s another essay the title of which left me perplexed, but the anecdotes Montaigne relates are fascinating. I remembered the story about Timoleon’s would-be assassin from Plutarch. The account of the curing of Jason of Pheres by being wounded in battle was pretty bizarre. And then there were multiple instances of city walls unaccountably falling down. 
  3. The History of Animals by Aristotle, Book III: Aristotle begins this book by describing “the organs that contribute to generation.” Then he goes on to discuss blood and the veins. Having already read Harvey’s work on circulation a couple of years ago, I wasn’t sure what to expect from an author who predated that theory. Aristotle says to learn anything about the veins, you have to starve and then strangle your animal subject (ick). But he is apparently the first to identify the heart as “headquarters” for the veins. 
  4. The Histories by Tacitus, Book V: Unfortunately, this book breaks off abruptly, leaving us hanging in regards to both the siege of Jerusalem and the rebellion of Civilis in Germany. Reading Tacitus’s descriptions of the Jews and their supposed origins was intriguing; apparently the Romans recognized them as a very ancient people, but the theories surrounding their history were all over the place. I would have loved to seen his account of the final destruction of the city to compare it to one like Josephus’s. 
  5. Elements of Chemistry by Antoine Lavoisier, Part I, Chapters 9-17: Lavoisier begins these chapters with measurements of how much oxygen is consumed by the burning of specific weights of different substances, e.g. charcoal or hydrogen. After some general discussion of acids, he moves on to treating chemical reactions that decompose animal and vegetable matter: burning, fermentation, putrefaction. The final section deals with the formation of salts. Once again, I’m dealing with scanned pages that often are incomplete, so it’s a bit frustrating . . .
  6. nietzscheBeyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche, Parts II-III: More bracing stuff in these chapters. Every “select man” wants a refuge from the herd. The dull cannot understand the bright, who live and think at a more rapid tempo. At least with respect to the French Revolution, “the text has disappeared under the interpretation.” The new philosophers are “tempters,” with positive connotations attached to that word. I found Chapter 3 (“The Religious Mood”) less stimulating, but Nietzsche’s diagnosis of all modern philosophy as anti-Christian is pretty perceptive. (Also, did you catch the Don Quixote reference Nietzsche made?)

Still on the road this week, but my next Great Books Project should come from home. Reading while traveling with kids is no less challenging this time around; I hope you’re able to find some time this week to curl up with a book, especially if it’s still snowing on you.

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 O Voltaire! O Humanity! O Idiocy!

  1. Alice Jewell says:

    What is the link to the Dragging Kids blog?

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