Dung Beetles and a Townful of Liars

If you aren’t following along with the readings I’m posting each Monday, let me tell you that you are missing out on some great stuff. Here are the selections for the upcoming week:

  1. The Killers” by Ernest Hemingway (Vol. 2, pp. 169-177)
  2. Letter to Horace Greeley” by Abraham Lincoln (Vol. 6, pp. 756-757)
  3. The Making of Americans” by Jean de Crèvecouer (Vol. 6, pp. 546-559; excerpted from Letters From an American Farmer; stop reading at the paragraph which ends, “Thus Europeans become Americans.”)
  4. Of Persons One Would Wish to Have Seen” by William Hazlitt (Vol. 5, pp. 284-295)
  5. Michael Faraday” by John Tyndall (Vol. 8, pp. 8-28; Chapters 1-3 of Faraday as a Discoverer)
  6. The Enchiridion by Epictetus (Vol. 10, pp. 236-254)

Now for some remarks on last week’s readings:

  1. “Of Truth” by Francis Bacon: This is the first of many Bacon essays we’ll be reading this year. Bacon can pack a lot of food for thought into a few words. Here his musing on the progression of the creation week (light of sense→light of reason→illumination of Spirit) is striking. Quoting Montaigne, he says that liars are strange people; they’re unwilling to present the truth to men, but are willing to flout God’s command.
  2. “The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg” by Mark Twain: I promise that the irony of juxtaposing Bacon’s essay with Twain’s story did not occur to me when I made the reading selections for the week. If, as Bacon says, “clear and round dealing is the honour of man’s nature,” then the town of Hadleyburg befell the worst fate possible to a community. Leave it to Twain to make a story about the fall into temptation unsettling yet humorous at the same time. The section where Richards racks his brains to remember what service he might have performed to Goodson is pure gold.
  3. The English Bill of Rights (1689): Reading this serves as a useful reminder that the Declaration of Independence and Constitution did not fall from the sky.
  4. “My First Play” by Charles Lamb: I confess I had never read anything by Lamb before last week, but I am very glad to make his acquaintance; he is an outstanding essayist. I found the final section where he discusses his jadedness upon returning to the theater as a teenager poignant.
  5. “The March to the Sea” by Xenophon: If you have ever been unclear on why Western civilization has always looked to the Greeks as one of the primary sources of its traditions, please read this selection. It is an amazing account of how an army stranded in enemy territory, its officers having been murdered during treaty negotiations, maintained discipline and marched hundreds of miles towards allied lands, enduring constant attacks and extreme weather along the way. If you’re not tempted to shout “The sea! The sea!” along with the Greeks when they catch sight of it, there may be something wrong with you! Yet even in the midst of this harrowing account, we find humor; witness the exchange between Xenophon and Chirisophus on the comparative (de)merits of the Spartans and Athenians.
  6. “The Sacred Beetle” by Jean-Henri Fabre: I never thought that fifteen pages about dung beetles could hold my attention, but Fabre’s enthusiasm for his subjects is a bit infectious, and his anthropomorphizing the animals is highly entertaining.

I haven’t exactly been inundated with comments on these posts, although I know some of you are reading along with me. Please chime in and share your thoughts on whichever ones of these selections you’re making the effort to read!

[This post was originally published on this site’s parent blog, The Western Tradition.]


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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13 Responses to Dung Beetles and a Townful of Liars

  1. Vicki says:

    1. I found Bacon unreadable; perhaps I was just in an impatient mood.
    2. Classic Twain; he brings up a point which I often discuss in [my] homeschooling circles, viz. that protecting children from all temptation is misguided.
    3. Serendipitously played into a discussion we had on the Divine Right of Kings at the dinner table. James II was, I think, overly maligned by the likes of Macauley (his calling someone a bigot is like the pot calling the kettle black).
    4. I had only read Lamb’s Shakespeare series. I may, in another life (when all my children are grown), go back to his essays.
    5. Loved Xenophon; the Greeks are such wonderful narrators.

    I’m really on posting these thoughts ’cause I want to encourage others to comment. Please don’t be discouraged, Dr.J. (although you strike me as the kind of fellow who is not easily discouraged!) I think you’ve done a great job on your summaries: just enough info to whet the appetite without giving away the game. And your post titles are charming: I can’t wait to throw Emerson into a volcano!

    • Dr. J says:

      Thanks for your comments and encouragement! I am getting some more feedback on the parent site than on this one and am also having “real-life” conversations every week with people who are reading along with me. It would be nice to have all the discussion in one place so everyone could benefit from it equally.

      • Vicki says:

        Thanks for the “heads up”. I’ll stick to the parent site to make things easier. I see, however, that there is already another Vicki following the program and commenting, so I will be Victoria from now on, to avoid further confusion.

  2. Andy says:

    1. Of Truth
    Bacon admits to degrees of truth, specifically when he discusses metal alloys and how mixtures of lies debases the truth. If I tell a lie to embellish a story and make it more enjoyable to myself and the listener, I don’t think this makes me a coward to my fellow man and brazen toward God. Now if I were married and lied to my wife about my faithfulness, this is a more severe act. Is Bacon comparing the two when he discusses the lying of merchants and poets to the lying of philosophy and theology? When reading Bacon, he speaks generally of the truth of his faith versus some absolute truth of never intentionally uttering anything that is false, correct?

  3. Andy says:

    2. The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg
    I agree, the part with Richards coming up with the service that he did was great. It was even funnier because he finally convinced himself of its validity. Twain also did a masterful job of keeping the story engrossing despite never revealing how Stephenson was wronged, or if Stephenson finds out that his theory was in fact correct. Of course, the always quotable Twain: “the weakest of all weak things is a virtue which has not been tested in the fire.” Excellent story.

  4. Andy says:

    3. English Bill of Rights
    It does look similar to the American versions. One striking difference is the desire to distance the crown from the Catholic Church and maintaining basic rights to Protestants, specifically bearing arms. But what ever happened to preventing outside political influence, not having armies during peacetime and not allowing the tops of government free access to funds?

    • Dr. J says:

      On the standing army question, the assumption in 1689 (and 1776) was that requiring the legislature to approve military funding for no more than two or three years at a time would prevent any sort of military despotism. The army in the U.S. up until 1860 was tiny except during declared wars: usually just garrisons in coastal forts and on the Indian frontiers. How times have changed.

  5. Andy says:

    4. My First Play
    Lamb reflects on his lost childlike view of plays. Maybe his attending school started to inhibit the suspension of disbelief or grounded his mind so deeply in teachings that his imagination was restricted. That happens to the best of us.

  6. Andy says:

    5. The March to the Sea
    Probably my favorite line: “and a rough road to feet that roam in peace may be pleasanter than a smooth surface with the bullets whistling about your ears.” The entire time the army did not wish to fight anyone, just pass peacefully through their territories. Maybe I missed it but who is the king that they were fighting against that caused them to be so far away from home? They are some tough warriors to have gone through all that hardship only to have wrestling and boxing competitions when they got back.

  7. Andy says:

    6. The Sacred Beetle
    That has to be one of the most eloquently written scientific pieces that I have ever read. Who knew that the dung beetle could be so fascinating? I also appreciate how Fabre humorously debunked the helper beetle myth and showed the rival beetle’s true motive.

    • David says:

      .Appropriately, I read the dung beetle treatise in the crapper.

      That said, it was a fascinating read. I had been dreading it all week only to find it enchanting. Who would have thunk it?

  8. Ginger says:

    I expanded my study of the Great Books (classics) to include the Bible, Art, and Music.

    1. Genesis 1-3-The Creation and the Fall never cease to praise God. The command to fill the Earth with children is good and right. Population control is a policy of the Adversary. I revisit the idea of Evolution and never cease to be amazed that anyone could believe such rubbish. “The time has come for a fresh look at the evidence Charles Darwin used to support his evolutionary theory, along with the great mass of new scientific information. Those who have the courage to penetrate through the haze of assumptions which surrounds the question of the origin of life will discover that science presents substantial evidence that creation best explains the origin of life. Four considerations lead to this conclusion. 1. Life is unique. 2. Complex animals appeared suddenly. 3. Change in the past has been limited. 4. Change in the present is limited. Anyone interested in truth must seriously consider these points. The challenge they present to the theory of evolution has led many intelligent and honest men of science now living to reevaluate their beliefs about the origin of life.” (Coffin, Creation: The Evidence from Science, p. [1].) “Scientists who study fossils have discovered another interesting piece of information. Not only did complicated animals appear suddenly in the lower Cambrian rocks, but the basic forms of animals have not changed much since then. . . . To put it more plainly, this is the problem of the missing links. It is not a case of one missing link. It is not even a case of many missing links. Evolutionists are confronted with the problem of whole sections of the chain of life missing…” [ The Evolution of Life, p. 149.]

    2. “Of Truth” by Francis Bacon-Like Dr. J. the quote liars are strange people; they’re unwilling to present the truth to men, but are willing to flout God’s command gave me lots to think about.

    3. “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg” by Mark Twain Whenever pride and self-righteousness elevates one’s idea of themselves above others, they are in trouble. Hadleyburg turned out to be anything but honest well before the incident.

    4. The English Bill of Rights-It’s amazing how much this points to the Declaration of Independence. The English sure were a bunch of reformers. That’s not a bad thing if reform means liberty.

    5. “My First Play” by Charles Lamb-Now I know why he wrote Tales From Shakespeare with his sister. He loved Shakespeare, which is easy to love. After recently finishing up the raising of a large family, I recognize the progression of childlike wonder to youthful apathy.

    6. “The March to the Sea” by Xenophon-The more I read history, the less I understand war. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone stayed home and worked their trade or land? Wouldn’t it be nice if we all minded our own business and left others to mind theirs?

    7. “The Sacred Beetle” by Jean-Henri Fabre Everything I’ve read by Fabre has been this good and this captivating. I love nature in part because of Natural Scientists like him.

    8. Studying music with The Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers and art with The Story of Art by Gombrich is grand, but I won’t report on them.

  9. Pingback: Philosopher’s Daughter « Book Wayfarer

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