Another Volume Down

With the completion of Don Quixote this past week, we have finished reading ten volumes of the Great Books of the Western World series in their entirety. That leaves 48 to go, only five of which we haven’t read at least partially already.

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. Philoctetes by Sophocles (GBWW Vol. 4, pp. 234-254)
  2. Of Not Communicating One’s Glory” by Michel de Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 166-167)
  3. Song on May Morning” by John Milton (GBWW Vol. 29, p. 15)
  4. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapters 13-14 (GBWW Vol. 37, pp. 142-179)
  5. An Introduction to Mathematics by Alfred North Whitehead, Part III, Chapters 11-17 (GBWW Vol. 56, pp. 160-186)
  6. The Parmenides of Plato (GBWW Vol. 6, pp. 486-511)

Can you believe it has been nine months since our last reading from Plato?

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. donquixote-deathThe History of Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, Part II, Chapters 62-end: I got the same feeling reading the concluding chapters of this work as I did with Dickens’s Pickwick Papers; it seemed like Cervantes didn’t really know how to wind this plot down. The disjointed nature of the attempts to tie off subplots wasn’t very satisfying. The deathbed repudiation of everything he had done also rang hollow. Still, on the whole it was a great work with lots of humor as well as serious reflections.
  2. “A Consideration upon Cicero” by Michel de Montaigne: This is all wrong. Montaigne lambastes the greatest Latin stylist of the ancient world because he thinks Cicero should have been doing more manly things than writing pretty letters. He doesn’t seem to show any awareness that Cicero’s skill in rhetoric was a big part of what made him a successful statesman. Is Montaigne just jealous?
  3. The History of Animals by Aristotle, Book IX: This final book of the work continues discussion of the habits of various species: mammals, birds, insects, fish, etc. One new wrinkle here was Aristotle’s description of how various animals behaved in groups; for some reason this struck me as a significant departure from the previous books dealing with anatomy, mating habits, and the like. Natural interspecies rivalries also get some interesting treatment here.
  4. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapters 12: Depending on whether you count the reigns of Carus’s sons, there are at least four emperors dealt with in this chapter. Some of these poor guys didn’t want to be emperor at all and got dragooned into the position by the legions. This chapter contains the famous description of the Colosseum, or “the Amphitheater of Titus.” Gibbon highlights how the floor could be altered to suit the setting of the contest, or even flooded via the network of subterranean pipes to be “converted into a wide lake, covered with armed vessels, and replenished with the monsters of the deep.” (I’m not sure how they handled that last one.”
  5. An Introduction to Mathematics by Alfred North Whitehead, Chapters 6-10: In these chapters Whitehead introduces, among other things, imaginary numbers and coordinate geometry. We have several memorable quotations here, such as this: “Any limitation whatsoever upon the generality of theorems, or of proofs, or of interpretation is abhorrent to the mathematical instinct.” I have to say I wish some of the ancient mathematicians we’ve read had such flair. 
  6. “An Epitaph on the Marchioness of Winchester” by John Milton: I wonder what prompted Milton to write this commemoration of the 23-year-old marchioness who died in childbirth. Milton was 22 and a university student at the time. The poem laments the lady’s early passing, but then goes on to describe her new estate in heaven, “No Marchioness, but now a Queen.”

I am settling in for about six weeks of continuous residence at home (an oddity in 2014 so far), during which time I will be doing some intensive course development for my university. I foresee many reading breaks, though.

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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2 Responses to Another Volume Down

  1. Barry Tarpley says:

    I just discovered your website and reading plan today. I have the 61 volume set of the GBWW, but do not have the Gateway set. Would you recommend that I get the Gateway set and begin at the beginning of the reading plan from January 2011? Any thoughts or recommendations would be greatly appreciated.

    • Dr. J says:

      Hi, Barry, and thanks for your message. I enjoy the Gateway series. There are many outstanding pieces in it, and they’re all of a reasonable length. I’m sure you’d get a lot out of reading through it, especially if you find the length of works in the longer series intimidating.. Of course, if you want to forego the expense, you can get access to most of the pieces it contains through my links in the weekly posts.

      As far as following my plan goes, I have arranged the readings so that in the early months you’re reading mostly “easier” works. That may help you avoid hitting a wall when you are first starting out. Don’t be afraid to go more slowly in a particular genre if you find it especially difficult.

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