This week we’ll pass the 4,500-page mark in the Man and Society category of this Great Books Project. It’s good to have Gibbon’s lively prose carrying us forward.
Here are the readings for the coming week:
- The History of Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, Part II, Chapters 62-end (GBWW Vol. 27, pp. 463-509)
- “A Consideration upon Cicero” by Michel de Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 163-166)
- The History of Animals by Aristotle, Book IX (GBWW Vol. 8, pp. 133-158)
- The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapter 12 (GBWW Vol. 37, pp. 128-142)
- An Introduction to Mathematics by Alfred North Whitehead, Part III, Chapters 6-10 (GBWW Vol. 56, pp. 141-160)
- “An Epitaph on the Marchioness of Winchester” by John Milton (GBWW Vol. 29, p. 14-15)
Any suggestions on what should follow Aristotle after we finish The History of Animals this week?
Here are some observations from last week’s readings:
- The History of Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, Part II, Chapters 54-61: We’ve finally gotten Don Quixote and Sancho away from the prankster duke and duchess. I was glad to see that the duenna’s daughter found a husband. I think Cervantes may be carrying things a bit too far when he has the two run into people reading Part Two of Don Quixote, but it does give a device to bring Dulcinea back into the plot. Now Sancho has the pressure on once again to spank himself to break her supposed enchantment.
- “Of Solitude” by Michel de Montaigne: I don’t know why Montaigne accuses Cicero of having an “ostentatious and talky philosophy,” but I suppose the next essay, which is devoted to Cicero, will shed more light on the statement. I like how Montaigne weighs pros and cons of solitude without recycling observations on the active life versus the contemplative life. The point about solitude not helping you much if you have to take all your flaws with you is a good one.
- The History of Animals by Aristotle, Book VIII: This book is fun, being devoted to the “habits and modes of living” of various species. Aristotle points out the “psychical qualities and attitudes” of animals and makes interesting analogies to man’s “knowledge, wisdom, and sagacity.” But in the end he’s fairly reductionist: “The life of animals, then, may be divided into two acts—procreation and feeding; for on these two acts all their interests and life concentrate.”
- The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapters 10-11: These two chapters are a whirlwind of emperors. It’s nearly impossible to keep up with them all, with one getting killed every year or two and a new one taking his place. Valerian and Aurelian are more noteworthy than most of the others. Zenobia is an interesting character not heard much about these days. I had no idea she was alleged to be connected with Paul of Samosata, who, if I am remembering correctly, was an important influence on Arius. One of the best things about reading works like this one is the continual connecting of dots that goes on in your mind as you make progress.
- An Introduction to Mathematics by Alfred North Whitehead, Chapters 1-5: I like the tone of Whitehead’s prose more than I like Bertrand Russell’s; Russell comes off as arrogant (as I’ve noted previously). The two were collaborators and co-authors on an important multi-volume work on mathematics and symbolic logic. Here I like Whitehead’s discussion of the applications of mathematical reasoning in the case of Newton’s theory of gravity. The discussion of Archimedes leads into an interesting contrasting of the Greeks and Romans in which the Romans come off the worse: “They did not improve upon the knowledge of their forefathers, and all their advances were confined to the minor technical details of engineering.” Spoken like a true lover of abstractions.
- “At a Solemn Musick” by John Milton: There’s music of the spheres stuff happening here; humanity was able to answer the heavenly music “till disproportion’d sin/Jarr’d against natures chime.” Milton places, as usual, a hopeful prayer at the end: “O may we soon again renew that Song,/and keep in tune with Heav’n, till God ere long/To his celestial consort us unite,/To live with him, and sing in endles morn of light.”
After three days at home, I have another five days of travel this week before settling down for about six straight weeks at home. So it’s e-books once again! If you are on a university calendar, and your spring semester has ended, this is the perfect time to make headway on some works from our reading list.