This week we will pass the 19,000-page mark in the Great Books Project. We are a mere one month shy of our halfway point since our beginning in January 2011.
Here are the readings for the coming week:
- The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Part II , Book III (GBWW Vol. 52, pp. 48-87)
- “The Procession of the Divine Persons” and “The Divine Relations” by St. Thomas Aquinas (GBWW Vol. 17, pp. 153-161)
- “L’Allegro” by John Milton (GBWW Vol. 29, p. 17-21)
- The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapter 16 (GBWW Vol. 37, pp. 206-234)
- “On Narcissism” by Sigmund Freud (GBWW Vol. 54, pp. 399-411)
- Provincial Letters by Blaise Pascal, Numbers IV-VI (GBWW Vol. 30, pp. 19-44)
Looking at this list, I just realized there are no classical authors in it. That certainly hasn’t happened very often in this program.
Here are some observations from last week’s readings:
- The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Part I, Books I-II: The big takeaway from the early chapters is that the Karamazov family is extremely dysfunctional. The father is a tremendous jerk who comes into Alyosha’s monastery and behaves in a ridiculous and scandalous way. I liked how Dostoevsky has the monks (for the most part) giving soft answers to the slander and buffoonery. The discussion about the relationship between Church and State is a tough one. I’ve had graduate students read on several occasions, and they always seem to come away confused. The narrator makes a striking comment in Book I, Chapter 5: “Socialism is not merely the labour question, it is before all things the atheistic question, the question of the form taken by atheism to-day, the question of the tower of Babel built without God, not to mount to heaven from earth but to set up heaven on earth.”
- The Lysis of Plato: This dialogue explores the concept of friendship. Apparently it is one of Plato’s early dialogues and is not as satisfying as the discourse on friendship in Aristotle’s Ethics. Socrates, after going through “likes attract,” “opposites attract,” and “the good attracts,” ends up by saying there’s a contradiction no matter which approach we take, and therefore we don’t yet know what a friend is. Of course the whole dialogue is framed by Hippothales’s attempted seduction of Lysis, so there’s a distasteful atmosphere of sorts.
- “On the University Carrier” and “Another on the Same” by John Milton: The impact of these poems almost completely disappears without some background info. Here’s some of the annotation from the Dartmouth site: “[These] are Milton’s contributions to the Hobson jest poems popular on campus at Cambridge University after the death of Thomas Hobson on January 1, 1631. Hobson was eighty-six when he died and he had served the university for over sixty years by driving a regular coach between The Bull, a London inn, and the University, carrying students, guests, letters, and sometimes parents. He also hired out horses. The expression “Hobson’s choice” originated as a sarcastic reference to Hobson’s insistence that anyone hiring a horse must “choose” the one closest to the stable door.”
- The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapter 15: This is the first of two lengthy chapters on the history of the Christian church before the conversion of Constantine. Gibbon bends over backwards to avoid writing anything blatantly hostile, but in a hundred subtle ways he gives the impression that Christian doctrine is moonshine and that the church was not to be admired. I believe his estimate that Christians made up less than 5% of the Roman population in 313 is much lower than most modern scholars’.
- Instruments of Reduction by Hippocrates: I was well into this work before figuring out what the title meant. Hippocrates is describing dislocations and fractures in various parts of the body and giving recommendations on how to reduce swelling and inflammation by, among other things, getting everything back where it’s supposed to be. As usual, there’s plenty of graphic depiction.
- Provincial Letters by Blaise Pascal, Numbers I-III and “Reply of the Provincial”: For a 17th-century specialist like me, the delving into minutiae of the age’s theological disputes was quite interesting, although I imagine many readers would simply find it bewildering. To some extent, that’s what Pascal wants. Not only do the different factions in the Sorbonne split hairs over very subtle points of doctrine, they end up obscuring those very points in the interest of partisanship, so that two of the antagonistic groups agree with each other in substance while fighting over the words used to express the doctrine, whereas two allied groups agree with each other on terminology while differing on the substance of the question.
It has gotten hot here in Montgomery: several consecutive days of 90-degree-plus temperatures and rising air conditioning costs. On the plus side, the neighborhood pool has warmed up enough to justify a dip. I think I’ll head there now before starting on this week’s readings.