Four Emperors in Two Chapters

This week in the Great Books Project we will pass the 5,500-page mark in the Imaginative Literature category. Buckle up!

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. The History of Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, Part II, Chapters 33-45 (GBWW Vol. 27, pp. 364-374)
  2. Of the Custom of Wearing Clothes” by Michel de Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 155-156)
  3. The History of Animals by Aristotle, Book VI (GBWW Vol. 8, pp. 85-106)
  4. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapters 6-7 (GBWW Vol. 37, pp. 52-79)
  5. Elements of Chemistry by Antoine Lavoisier, Part III, Chapters 1-5 (GBWW Vol. 42, pp. 87-111)
  6. Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche, Part VII (GBWW Vol. 43, pp. 511-521)

I hope you haven’t felt as though we’ve been in a rut for the last couple of weeks with the same six authors repeatedly. We’ll be seeing some turnover soon.

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 22-32: The chapters dealing with Don Quixote’s supposed vision in the Cave of Montesinos were completely off the wall, even for this novel. I’m not sure what purpose they served unless it was to confirm Sancho’s opinion that his master is bonkers. I suppose they let Cervantes play with the authorial voice more as well because the narrator gets to speculate on whether the account is apocryphal.
  2. “Of the Custom of Wearing Clothes” by Michel de Montaigne: As usual, Montaigne packs many anecdotes and allusions into a short space, this time on the subject of the various cultural practices dealing with clothing (or the lack thereof). I especially liked the paragraph citing Xenophon’s account of the 10,000 Greeks’ march to the sea, since we read that early on in this project.
  3. The History of Animals by Aristotle, Book V: I thought we were done reading about animals’ copulating when we finished Darwin, but apparently not. (I had no idea you could make a bowstring from a camel’s penis.) I remember hearing in high school that Aristotle believed some animals spontaneously generated, but I had never seen a smoking gun on this topic until this week. 
  4. joaquin-phoenix-commodusThe Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapters 3-5: Chapter 3 is still talking about the good old days of the Pax Romana. Chapters 4-5 is where things start to get juicy, and we encounter four emperors within a two-year period (192-193). When I first saw Gladiator, I remember thinking it laughable that the emperor would actually fight in the Colosseum, but it seems that was one thing they didn’t make up for that movie. Granted, Gibbon records Commodus’s forte as archery rather than swordplay, but still . . . Gibbon clearly doesn’t think much of the Praetorian Guard; their murder of Pertinax and sale of the empire to Julian comes in for some strident condemnation.
  5. Elements of Chemistry by Antoine Lavoisier, Part II, Sections 14-44: This remainder of Part Two of the work is essentially the same as the section from last week. There are lots of tables listing the various substances that result when different acids are combined with a list of bases. I suppose for the chemically inclined it might be very stimulating; I found it a bit tedious.
  6. Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche, Parts VI: I found this chapter a bit off-putting. All the talk of “manly scepticism” and the “indomitably strong and tough masculinity of the great German” thinkers would sound jingoistic coming from almost any other author. I did note with approval how Nietzsche pegs the scientists who think they can lay down laws for philosophy or actually be philosophers (I won’t name names or anything, but I can think of several public intellectuals who fit this description nowadays).

I managed not to lose any ground on the schedule this week, but there’s still lots of catching up to do. Fortunately, I have some classes that aren’t meeting next week, and that should give me some breathing room. Keep reading!

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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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