Radioactive Shrews and BFF’s

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! I expect most of you gentlemen are wooing more like Lucentio than Petruchio; I hope you ladies are receiving your gentleman’s attentions more like Bianca than Katharina!

Here are the readings for the upcoming week:

  1. Mowgli’s Brothers” by Rudyard Kipling (GGB Vol. 2, pp. 126-141)
  2. Learning the River” by Mark Twain (GGB Vol. 6, pp. 50-98; Chapters 1, 4, and 6-14 of Life on the Mississippi)
  3. On Being the Right Size” by J.B.S. Haldane (GGB Vol. 8, pp. 149-154)
  4. Contentment” by Plutarch (GGB Vol. 10, pp. 264-281)
  5. Fingerprints” by Tobias Dantzig (GGB Vol. 9, pp. 165-177; Chapter 1 of Number–The Language of Science)
  6. Apology by Plato (GBWW Vol. 6, pp. 200-212)

The page count this week is a bit higher than usual, but only about a dozen are from GBWW, so maybe we won’t notice too much. The way I figure it, we’ll be caught up to our seven-year pace in another three or four weeks and can come back down to around 110 pages weekly.

Now for some comments on last week’s readings:

  1. The Taming of the Shrew by Shakespeare: I have seen some efforts by feminists to “rehabilitate” this play, but there’s no getting around its endorsement of a husband’s authority over his wife. Ladies, just accept it for what it is (a brilliant work with a message diametrically opposed to contemporary gender egalitarianism) and enjoy it if you can. Did you notice that this play’s narrative frame involving Sly corresponds exactly to Emerson’s reference last week to a “popular fable” in which a sot is treated like nobility and fooled into thinking he had been insane? Everything is connected, folks.
  2. Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen: All this benign-sounding talk about the rights of the people . . . who would have thought that it would turn into a Reign of Terror? Actually, some people predicted it.
  3. “Sketch of Abraham Lincoln” by Nathaniel Hawthorne: Funny that this description of Lincoln was originally deleted from Hawthorne’s manuscript by his publisher because it was considered too disrespectful; it looks pretty tame compared to the way people talk about presidents today. It seems clear to me that Hawthorne had a favorable impression of Lincoln overall.
  4. “The Discovery of Radium” by Eve Curie: I couldn’t get over the passage where Curie was working defiantly in an unheated lab with temperatures in the mid-40s. I remember once when the heat went out in my office and I was trying to work in similar conditions. I got to the point where I couldn’t type and had to leave because my hands were so cold. I guess I’m a weenie.
  5. The Life of Gnaeus Julius Agricola by Tacitus: I had always wondered where that speech of Scottish defiance against the Romans had come from, and now I know. I guess at many points during the Roman Empire’s history it was dangerous to display too much ability, otherwise the emperor would decide he needed your removal.
  6. On Friendship by Cicero: I assign this text to graduate students every year, but it was nice to read through it once without taking notes for class discussions. I love the statement that “friendship can exist only between good men.” I know many would disagree, but I think it’s true. Also the closing admonition: “Make up your minds to this: virtue (without which friendship is impossible) is first; but next to it, and to it alone, the greatest of all things is friendship.” Why Cicero isn’t assigned reading in every school in this country is beyond me.

It’s a sad Valentine’s Day for me; my wife is playing in a symphony concert, and I have to babysit. C’est la vie; I hope the rest of you are able to spend more time with your sweetie than I today. But don’t get so besotted with love that you forget to read this week!

[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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15 Responses to Radioactive Shrews and BFF’s

  1. Andy says:

    1. Taming of the Shrew
    I did catch Emerson’s reference to the story. It is funny how the story of Sly does not end though. I guess for a play that is a comedy, it is much like having a comedian come out and warm up the audience, get them laughing, before the main act. The bet in the end and the speech by Kate would make it difficult for a feminist to enjoy this. This shows the difference between movies and shows that are “based on” the play as to an actual rendition of the play. The more modern the movie is, the less it actually follows the plot of the play. In fact, most modern shows do not involve taming any shrew, but rather getting a cold woman to fall in love with the male character.

    • Dr. J says:

      I’ve seen renditions where the male lead says the shrew has been justified in her shrewishness because of how society treats women, and promising her that she’ll be an equal partner in the marriage. She responds favorably and thus is “tamed.” Certainly not what Shakespeare had in mind.

  2. Andy says:

    2. Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen
    So this is a beginning document to the French Revolution? This list of rights deviates dramatically from the English Bill of Rights which we read earlier. Is this because of the 100 year time span or different circumstances. English seemed more concerned about religious freedoms and saw the danger of a standing army, the French were more worried about the rule of law. The French even state that a standing army was necessary along with taxation. It is interesting that on a document that is supposed to be describing the rights of man, one of his supposed rights is to be protected by a standing army that will be paid for through taxation. Of course, they did list security as one of the basic human rights. It is easy to see from this document how the political philosophy of the French differed from the English and American versions.

    • Dr. J says:

      The French Declaration is heavily influenced by the continental Enlightenment of the 18th century, and that accounts for many of the differences. Its main emphasis is to trumpet the authority of the “nation” over the traditional authorities of monarchy and aristocracy.

  3. Andy says:

    3. Sketch of Abraham Lincoln
    I thought it was odd to bring the gift of a whip. But then Hawthorne states that Lincoln was thinking about putting it to some ‘fat horses’. Hawthorne has a favorable view of Lincoln as someone who was a naive westerner and was becoming a statesman on the job. I don’t think I could meet any politician and see nothing but an ambitious man who uses a character to claim power. Abe just happened to use the character of a humble country boy to woo the people.

  4. Andy says:

    4. The Discovery of Radium
    Unfortunately the google preview only showed 2 pages from the chapter, but the excerpt did mention the cold working conditions she was in. How many doctoral students do you think would stay in the department if they were required to work in similar setting? My bet would be not nearly as many.

  5. Andy says:

    5. The Life of Gnaeus Julius Agricola
    I found the descriptions of early Britain to be interesting; how the people and geography were described. The weather hasn’t changed in all these years it seems. Who would commission this work during this period? What is Tacitus’ motivation for writing the piece?

    • Dr. J says:

      If I’m remembering correctly, it wasn’t commissioned. Agricola was Tacitus’s father-in-law, and he wrote the life out of respect for him.

      • Andy says:

        You’re right, I just didn’t pay close enough attention to the first four chapters to catch that. They explain his motivation well.

  6. Ginger says:

    I just don’t know what my problem is. I want to accomplish this goal but continually procrastinate. In its entirety, the readings totals less than 3 hours and is an interesting way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Probably, it is the same thing that grips each of the new scholars I mentor. They see the whole plan laid out before them and freeze. They can’t conceive that it can be done and balk at beginning. I need to emblazon C.S. Lewis’ quote in my cranium. “The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it, while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come.” C.S. Lewis
    1. Genesis 10-12: “In the first eleven chapters of Genesis, almost one-third of the total history of mankind is briefly summarized. Although many details were not included, Moses wrote shared one of the most remarkable contrasts in the history of the world. From the time of the Fall the people of the world began moving in two opposite directions. One group followed the teachings of Adam and Eve and continually attempting to live with righteousness and perfection. The other group yielded to the deceitful enticings of Satan and his servants and moved deeper and deeper into depravity and wickedness. Both these divergent paths were followed to their ultimate ends.” Then we move into the fascinating journey of Abraham. I’ve been troubled in the past that Abraham lied about his relationship with Sarai, when they were questioned in Egypt. In my research, I learned: “Abraham could validly state that Sarah was his sister. In the Bible the Hebrew words brother and sister are often used for other blood relatives. (See Genesis 14:14 , in which Lot, Abraham’s nephew, is called “his brother.”) Because Abraham and Haran, Sarah’s father, were brothers, Sarah was Abraham’s niece and thus could be called sister.”
    2. The Taming of The Shrew: Personally, I like reading The Family Shakespeare, since it leaves out the smutty or questionable parts. I don’t give a feather for feminist hatred of this play, because I also don’t see it as an “endorsement of a husband’s authority over his wife.” I see Kate and Petruchio grow and develop a wonderful relationship of mutual respect and love. In this sort of relationship, husband and wife submit to each other, serve each other, love each other, and attempt to see the best in each other. Petruchio’s goal wasn’t to gain lordly submission over Kate but to help her out of her awful angry funk. After all it was titled The Taming (not The Submission) of the Shrew. Kate was justifiably angry at her father and sister. Father favored sister and sister held it up to Kate’s face. Although Kate’s behavior was ridiculous, it was understandable. Petruchio tamed Kate, but she tamed him, too. Then they moved on to developing a mutually fulfilling relationship. Certainly, she came, when he called; as I’m positive he would come, when she called. In Kate’s final speech, she talks about owing everything to our husbands. At this point, I believe Petruchio’s speech would have been identical.
    3. Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen: I thought this French Declaration would be gory and gruesome like their history. Not so…it even mentions a Supreme Being. Why then did the French Revolution end in the blood bath of the Reign of Terror? Apparently, Edmond Burke predicted this in Reflections of the Revolution in France. Read this book with me to find out.
    4. “Sketch of Abraham Lincoln” by Nathaniel Hawthorne: Interesting and delightful that Hawthorne can make a description into a piece of literature.
    5. “The Discovery of Radium” by Eve Curie: As I read this biography, my mind kept turning to Kate and Petruchio and again to Mrs. Murry of a Wrinkle in Time. The all encompassing relationship of mutual respect and love that Kate and Petruchio developed was echoed by the Curies. The picture of stew cooking on the Bunsen burner, while mother experimented and her child played in the corner in Wrinkle in Time, was filtched from Madame Curie’s actual life. I love how she made her work a family affair. A mother and wife first, she didn’t let go of her intellectual side even in the face of professional persecution. For heaven’s sake they nearly froze her to death in her storage room lab.
    6. The Life of Gnaeus Julius Agricola by Tacitus: The ‘Roman disease’ was in full swing here. Romans thought it their right to take over the world using every means at their disposal. They were feared and hated by the people they conquered.
    7. On Friendship by Cicero: Since religion is forbidden in public schools, why can do they not teach Cicero. “Friendship can exist only between good men.” What then is a good man? “We mean then by the “good” those whose actions and lives leave no question as to their honor, purity, equity, and liberality; who are free from greed, lust, and violence; and who have the courage of their convictions.” He goes on from there to expound this idea. To me Cicero on friendship is nearly identical to Paul on charity.

    • Dr. J says:

      Ginger, out of curiosity, what textual evidence did you find that Kate tames Petruchio?

      • Ginger says:

        When Kate and Petruchio returned for the sister’s wedding feast, Petruchio kept being silly about the sun and the moon. When Kate caught on to the whole charade, the seemed to have a meeting of the minds; both were tamed. Probably, I’m the only one who sees it this way. However, after being married for over 30 years, I know how a meeting of the minds tames both parties. My views are a mix of experience and reading between the lines.

  7. Andy says:

    6. On Friendship
    I would disagree that friends have to be completely aligned in beliefs and direction to stay friends. Maybe I am too young to really judge that assertion, because this does seem to be focused on friendships that last well into old age. I do agree that friends must each be virtuous for the friendship to survive. From what I read, he is asserting that it requires strong individuals, with the will power to resist temptations that would end the friendship. I would agree, sounds like virtue to me.

  8. drcdat says:

    I am shifting to the specific Great Books Thread–for some reason the comments are synchronized if you post in the entire web page versus just this thread.

    Also keeping the comments to one sentence.

    The Taming of the Shrew by Shakespeare: Just finished teaching Midsummer in Dec, so this one seemed a bit “tamer” in terms of innuendo, complexity, theme, etc., but it is still entertaining and the contest at the end is classic.
    Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen: did a little research and this document only pertains to property owners or 4 million out of 29 million French citizens in 1789.
    “Sketch of Abraham Lincoln” by Nathaniel Hawthorne: more anecdotal than anything else, and it seems like Hawthorn was playing with some of the stereotypes of Lincoln.
    “The Discovery of Radium” by Eve Curie: loved the bucolic scenes of the time in France that are balanced with their dedication to work.
    The Life of Gnaeus Julius Agricola by Tacitus: touching dedication to his father-in-law that reads like an extended eulogy more than a history.
    On Friendship by Cicero: the Romans always seem to be a shadow of the Greeks, and this one felt like a shadow of a Platonic dialogue

    Great Ideas Today Bonus 1961 works not covered in Revised Set of Great Books
    Moliere _School_for_Wives_: dovetails nicely with _Taming_ and plays with the stereotyped character of the cuckolded husband; however, lacks the deeper sense of irony of his two masterpieces _The_Misanthrope_ and _Tartuffe_.
    Tonybee “Three Essays”: As an undergraduate student 20 years ago I remember being amazed by the idea behind his 12 volume a Study in History and swore that one day I would read it (still haven’t). These essays are from a shorter book called “Civilization on Trail” and call for the West to wake up and realize that there is now only one world civilization. Highly recommended.

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