This week in the Great Books Project we finish a great novel while pretending we haven’t fallen further behind on the posting schedule. Let’s get right to it.
Here are the readings for the coming week:
- The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Epilogue (GBWW Vol. 52, pp. 420-431)
- The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapter XXVII (GBWW Vol. 37, pp. 435-457)
- The Suppliant Maidens by Aeschylus (GBWW Vol. 4, p. 1-12)
- On Memory and Reminiscence by Aristotle (GBWW Vol. 7, pp. 690-695)
- Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapter XII (GBWW Vol. 53, pp. 299-314)
- Summa Theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas, Part I, Q. 40-43 (GBWW Vol. 17, pp. 213-237)
Not only do we finish Dostoevsky this week, but we also complete St. Thomas’s treatise on the Trinity.
Here are some observations from last week’s readings:
- The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Part IV, Book XII, Chapters 10-14: After being treated to the defense attorney’s eloquence, I half expected Mitya to be acquitted. The portion of the speech dealing with Smerdyakov was the most interesting to me, both the character sketch and the reconstruction of the events of the night of the murder. But now we await the sentencing.
- The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapter XXVI: Gibbon goes into some detail about the oppression of the Goths by the invading Huns. It makes it difficult to fault the Goths for trying to move into Roman territory. The climactic moment, of course, is Valens’s death at Adrianople. Gibbon seems to view that battle as perhaps the key moment in the decline and fall.
- “On the New Forcers of Conscience under the Long Parliament,” “On the Lord Gen. Fairfax at the Siege of Colchester,” and “To the Lord Generall Cromwell, May 1652” by John Milton: These sonnets all date from the Interregnum period and are quite political. The juiciest is the first, which lambasts the Presbyterian majority in Parliament that decided to keep an established church that operated on Reformed principles rather than opt for pure religious toleration. Milton ends the sonnet with the famous line, “New Presbyter is but Old Priest write Large.”
- “Against a Person Who Had Once Been Detected in Adultery” and “How Magnanimity Is Consistent with Care” by Epictetus: According to whoever recorded this conversation, Epictetus was prompted by the presence of a adulterer to launch into this attack. I can only imagine that the adulterer must have felt about two inches tall by the end of it. Epictetus makes an interesting analogy to refute those who allege that society’s women should be held in common: the pig at a feast is eaten in common by all who attend, but it’s very bad form to take the food off someone else’s plate once it has been apportioned.
- Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapters XI: This chapter is about attention and its limits, a topic I’ve on which actually seen some recent research. James is close to the information I’d read about how many things we can focus on. The bombshell for me in this chapter was James’s statement at the outset that the Lockes et al who predicate everything on experience seem to have forgotten that “experience” can only consist of what we are paying attention to, and so the mind controls experience to a great degree.
- “Of the Name of the Holy Ghost as Gift” and “The Persons in Relation to the Essence” by St. Thomas Aquinas: St. Thomas argues here that “Gift” is an appropriate name for the holy Spirit in the same way “Love” is. He also revisits the Arian controversy indirectly by arguing for the consubstantiality of the persons of the Trinity. I honestly didn’t have name time to read this one closely and ended up having to skim it.
I’m just barely keeping my head above water with these readings this month, and with another trip coming up soon (to Wheaton for research) I’m thinking I need to stock up on the audio books for the car.