Back to Cloud Cuckoo Land

Another month has been lost as a result of my extensive travels, but I continue pressing forward with the Great Books Project. The next round of readings includes a Shakespeare favorite, so there is no excuse to stop now!

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. Much Ado about Nothing by William Shakespeare (GBWW Vol. 24, pp. 503-531)
  2. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapter XXX (GBWW Vol. 37, pp. 477-495)
  3. The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Part I, Questions 47-49 (GBWW Vol. 17, p. 256-269)
  4. Translations of Psalms 1-8 by John Milton (GBWW Vol. 29, pp. 71-77)
  5. Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapter XV (GBWW Vol. 53, pp. 396-420)
  6. The Laws of Plato, Book II (GBWW Vol. 6, pp. 653-663)

I believe Milton’s translations of the Psalms are the last of his works we’ll read, so we are very close to finishing another GBWW volume.

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. aristophanes-birdsThe Birds by Aristophanes: In case you haven’t noticed by this point, disrespecting the gods is always a bad idea in Greek literature, so I’m surprised Aristophanes lets the birds get away with their “usurpation” of the realm between the gods and men. I had a hard time visualizing a staging of the play; I suspect that’s why I didn’t find it as funny some of the other comedies we’ve read. 
  2. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapter XXIX: After my hiatus, I couldn’t help but be struck with the elegance of Gibbon’s prose all over again. “The genius of Rome expired with Theodosius, the last of the successors of Augustus and Constantine who appeared in the field at the head of their armies, and whose authority was universally acknowledged throughout the whole extent of the empire.” Rufinus, by contrast, is “an odious favorite” for whom we shed no tears when he receives his just deserts. This chapter includes the final division of the empire into eastern and western halves. I couldn’t help but cringe a little at the description of Honorius near the end; his subjects discovered that he was “without passions, and consequently without talents.”
  3. The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Part I, Questions 44-46: Now that St. Thomas has completed his treatment of the Trinity, he moves into a treatise on the Creation. The positions he advances are not too surprising: God is the Creator of all things; God is the telos of all things; all the persons of the Trinity participate in the act of creation. My head started to spin the same way it did with St. Augustine when St. Thomas started talking about the beginning of time.
  4. “A Custom of the Island of Cea” by Montaigne: The title of this essay is a bit misleading because Montaigne doesn’t get around to Cea until the last couple of paragraphs. The whole thing, though, is about peoples who have some sort of custom of suicide when they determine their time has come. Montaigne relates anecdotes of people who drink poison at a ripe old age and of towns that commit mass suicide when surrounded by a superior military force. It’s all very gruesome. 
  5. Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapter XIV: This chapter was a bit dense, but it’s clear that James views the mental function of association as extremely important. He writes that is the result of “neural habit,” and argues that “when two elementary brain-processes have been active together or in immediate succession, one of them, on reoccurring, tends to propagate its excitement into the other.” Pavlov’s dogs immediately come to mind. Apparently not everyone in James’s day accepted that the mind works in such a way, and he devotes several pages to rebutting their arguments. 
  6. The Laws of Plato, Book I: An Athenian, a Spartan, and a Cretan walk into a bar . . . you can tell even this early in the work that Plato sounds less utopian here than in the Republic. I thought the discussion hardship vs. luxury was a bit surprising, and the part about drunkenness was really interesting.

I have another few weeks of traveling coming up, so I’m not entirely confident the posts will be regular through the end of 2014. I will do my best, however. The spring semester looks very calm compared to what I have been through the last few months, so I anticipate a lot of catching up then.

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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