This week, as in most weeks, I saw at least two or three situations where some sort of observation from or application of the week’s Great Books readings were a propos. I wish I had more blogging time to discuss them in detail. Do you encounter the same phenomenon?
Here are the readings for the coming week:
- The History of Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, Part II, Chapters 46-53 (GBWW Vol. 27, pp. 404-434)
- “How We Cry and Laugh for the Same Thing” by Michel de Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 157-158)
- The History of Animals by Aristotle, Book VII (GBWW Vol. 8, pp. 106-114)
- The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapters 8-9 (GBWW Vol. 37, pp. 79-96)
- Elements of Chemistry by Antoine Lavoisier, Part III, Chapters 6-end (GBWW Vol. 42, pp. 111-160)
- Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche, Part VIII-end (GBWW Vol. 43, pp. 521-545)
This is the last week for Lavoisier and Nietzsche. The jury is still out on who will succeed to their claims on our attention.
Here are some observations from last week’s readings:
- The History of Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, Part II, Chapters 33-45: During this whole section, Don Quixote and Sancho are being entertained/tricked by the duke and duchess they met in Chapter 30. The elaborate pranks they’ve been subjected to are quite ridiculous. The best part to me was when they were blindfolded, put on the wooden horse, and made to believe they had flown through the air. The things Sancho swore he had seen when he got off the horse were hilarious.
- “Of Cato the Younger” by Michel de Montaigne: Montaigne doesn’t even get around to mentioning Cato until halfway through the essay. The nub of the piece is the juxtaposition of five quotes from various poets about Cato. I have to confess that I didn’t react as Montaigne predicted to the five lines . . . probably something lost in translation form the Latin.
- The History of Animals by Aristotle, Book VI: Aristotle moves from a discussion of the mating habits of snakes and inescts in Book V into a discussion of the mating habits of birds, fish, and mammals here. He records many observations about the number of eggs various types of birds lay and how the birds care for nests. Then there’s a discussion of fish’s egg-laying and the mating of dolphins and whales (which he categorizes as fish). He also records mating habits of all sorts of different land mammals, their gestation, and the number of young they bear, etc.
- The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapters 6-7: Before reading this, even though I’m a history professor, most of third-century Rome had been a bit of a blur to me. There were always just way too many assassinations and names of emperors. I appreciate Gibbon’s richness of detail, and his willingness to editorialize about his subjects makes his writing much more engaging. I had not realized (assuming Gibbon’s judgments are more or less accurate) how widely the quality of the emperors varied in this era. He especially likes Alexander (208-235).
- Elements of Chemistry by Antoine Lavoisier, Part III, Chapters 1-5: It looks like Part III of this work consists of a detailed description of the various instruments Lavoisier used to arrive at his calculations. The value of this for anyone wishing to replicate his experiments is obvious. Illustrated plates are an essential aid here. In these chapters we get devices ranging from simple mortars and pestles to very large and (I presume) expensive tools like the “gazometer,” which Lavoisier invented and which is used to “furnish an uniform and continued stream of oxygen gas in experiments of fusion.”
- Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche, Parts VII: There’s plenty of ridicule of the Christian ethic in this chapter, although I’m tempted to cut Nietzsche a little slack because he’s reacting to the completely defanged liberal Protestantism of the 19th century: “Deep in their hearts they are glad there exists a standard according to which those overloaded with the goods and privileges of the spirit are their equals—they struggle for the ‘equality of all before God’ and it is virtually for that purpose that they need the belief in God.” The harangue against assertive women at the end of the chapter is pretty crazy.
The spring semester is winding down; classes end over the next two weeks. I have a big stack of graduate students’ research papers to sort through. When I can’t take it any more I’ll relax with some Cervantes.