It’s a new year, we’re passing the 4,500-page mark in the Great Books Project’s Science and Mathematics category, and I am already a week behind! Let’s get right to it.
Here are the readings for the coming week:
- Peace by Aristophanes (GBWW Vol. 4, pp. 748-769)
- The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapter XXXII (GBWW Vol. 37, pp. 523-545)
- The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Part I, Questions 54-58 (GBWW Vol. 17, p. 284-306)
- Sonnets I-V by William Shakespeare (GBWW Vol. 25, pp. 586-587)
- Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapter XVII (GBWW Vol. 53, pp. 452-479)
- The Laws of Plato, Book IV (GBWW Vol. 6, pp. 677-686)
After finishing Milton’s corpus last week, I couldn’t help hanging on to early modern English poetry a while longer. Indulge me.
Here are some observations from last week’s readings:
- The Trojan Women by Euripides: Remember what I said about Euripides being light reading? Forget that, at least in terms of emotional weight. The prospects facing the Trojan women at the end of the war are gut-wrenching, and the military execution of the infant Astyanax is just too much. I was glad to see some glimmers of conscience from the herald who kept bringing them the bad news. There’s lots of railing at the gods in this one. I thought the introduction with Athena and Poseidon was curious; it doesn’t seem to fit very well with the rest of the play unless it’s to plant the seed of understanding that the Achaeans are going to get theirs, too.
- The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapter XXXI: “If Alaric himself had been introduced into the council of Ravenna, he would probably have advised the same measures which were actually pursued by the ministers of Honorius.” In other words, the Roman government was exceedingly incompetent at this point, and the result was the sack of Rome. The comparison of the Roman response to Alaric with its response to Hannibal more than six centuries earlier was well done, as was the comparison with the sack of Rome by Charles V’s troops in the 1520s. I was surprised to see such a long quotation from Ammianus Marcellinus here, but I have to say it was on point.
- The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Part I, Questions 50-53: I suppose the first article of Question 50 is St. Thomas’s answer to the question that the chronological snobs keep saying was the fixation of medieval philosophy: How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? St. Thomas’s answer in effect: the question contains a false premise, that angels are at least partially corporeal. It’s interesting that one of the objections the idea that angels are incorruptible is a quote from Plato’s Timaeus. The discussion of the locations and movements of angels got pretty intricate.
- Translations of Psalms 80-88 by John Milton: My comments from last time on these psalms pretty much hold for this batch. I did particularly like Psalm 84, especially verse 10: “For one day in thy Courts to be/Is better, and more blest/Then in the joyes of Vanity,/A thousand daies at best.” We now bid Milton a fond farewell.
- Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapter XVI: I don’t have much to say about this chapter. I still feel off balance reading this work, although I find a lot of it very interesting. I like the way James frames the issue of memory and the way he explores why we remember some things while forgetting the vast majority of what we experience. This melancholy sentence jumped out at me: “But there comes a time of life for all of us when we can do no more than hold our own in the way of acquisitions, when the old paths fade as fast as the new ones form in our brain, and when we forget in a week quite as much as we can learn in the same space of time.” May this time be yet far off for all of us!
- The Laws of Plato, Book III: I sometimes assign this passage to graduate students when I teach my seminar on government. No one ever seems to know what to make of the just-so story of how governments and laws arose after the deluge (the Greek memory of which is intriguing). The Athenian’s “principles of rule” are jarring to a democratic age: 1. Parents rule their offspring; 2. The noble rule the ignoble; 3. The elder rule the younger; 4. Masters rule slaves; 5. The strong rule the weak. I suppose he’s just being descriptive, but everyone seems to endorse these principles.
After all the traveling in 2014, it’s a bit of a relief to return home with no trips planned until the last week of March, which is my spring break. I have a heavy teaching schedule this semester as usual, but I’m hoping to make up some ground on these readings after falling behind in the second half of 2014. All encouragement in the comments is welcome!