“Please Don’t Read This”

It’s Great Books Monday, and I want to thank everyone who has encouraged me or otherwise given me feedback on this project. We are still in the early stages of this reading plan, and I want to emphasize again that any reading of the Great Books is better than none, so if this looks like a good idea to you, but you don’t have time to read everything on the weekly lists, please just select one or two pieces to work through in the time that you do have.

Here are the selections for the coming week:

  1. The Odyssey of Homer, Books IX-XII (GBWW Vol. 3, pp. 384-427)
  2. Crito by Plato (GBWW Vol. 6, pp. 213-219)
  3. Observations on Mental Education” by Michael Faraday (GGB Vol. 7, pp. 208-232; the lecture begins on p. 39 of the linked file)
  4. The Empty Column” by Tobias Dantzig (GGB Vol. 9, pp. 178-189; Chapter 2 of Number: The Language of Science)
  5. The New Atlantis by Francis Bacon (GBWW Vol. 28, pp. 199-214)
  6. The Art of Life” by Walter Pater (GGB Vol. 10, pp. 258-261; the concluding section to The Renaissance)

If any of you are itching to sink your teeth into more long works like the Odyssey, rest assured that they will be appearing soon.

Here are some comments on last week’s selections:

  1. The Odyssey of Homer, Books V-VIII: I hope you think Odysseus was worth the wait. Here we see him escape Calypso’s island, spend three weeks on a raft, survive an attack by Poseidon, have the Phaiakian ruler practically throw his teenage daughter (who’s willing) at him, and finally put to shame the young men of the place in an athletic contest. He is apparently one impressive fellow.
  2. Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776): “It is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.” Someone forgot to tell the Virginians that Christianity had nothing to do with the founding of the United States.
  3. “A Call to Patriots–December 23, 1776” by Thomas Paine: I suppose we can forgive Mr. Paine, freezing his hindquarters off in New Jersey, his hard feelings towards those who weren’t enthusiastic about secession from the British Empire. He does make a good point about the inappropriateness of kicking the can down the road and expecting a later generation to deal with the problems of one’s own time.
  4. Cosmic View by Kees Boeke: This was an unexpected trip down memory lane. I’d never read this book before, but I immediately recognized the sequence of images from a film I was shown in a grade school science class many years ago. I have to admit my mind went out of focus at both extremes of scale, but on the whole this was a fascinating mental exercise.
  5. “To the Reader” by Michel de Montaigne: “Please don’t read this book. It’s a waste of your time.” Pretty clever. Now if you have anything to criticize, Montaigne can always say, “I told you already it was bad; what more do you want?” I guess I’ll play along, though.
  6. “Montaigne; or, the Skeptic” by Ralph Waldo Emerson: I think Emerson’s argument here is a bit weird; the skeptic balances the philosopher and the man of the senses. But then his praise of Montaigne seems to revolve around his frankness as much as or more than his judgment. I can see why Montaigne is held in such high regard today, when so many intellectuals view hypocrisy as the very worst of all vices. Better to have no standards at all than to have standards and fail to live up to them, right?

One of science’s greatest classics is on deck for next week, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise. Keep reading!

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

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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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2 Responses to “Please Don’t Read This”

  1. Andy says:

    2. Virginia Declaration of Rights
    After earlier readings of the English Bill of Rights and the French Declaration of Rights, it is easy to see the common political philosophy or movement taking over the western world. A simple 16 statements can create the framework for a society, but then a mere 237 years later it has all but disappeared. I guess that is a testament to the consistency of the law of man.

  2. drcdat says:

    The Odyssey of Homer, Books V-VIII (GBWW Vol. 3, pp. 350-383): The hard choice of Odysseus is made and he decides to go home; always touching testament to love.
    The Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776) (GGB Vol. 6, pp. 415-417): as Andy suggests this stuff was in the air in the mid 18th century.
    “A Call to Patriots–December 23, 1776” by Thomas Paine (GGB Vol. 6, pp. 461-468; Crisis Papers number 1): some of the most famous figurative language in America documents in the first paragraph.
    Cosmic View by Kees Boeke (GGB Vol. 8, pp. 600-644; the link takes you to the first page of the book’s text, and you can proceed from there): a bit dated, but great idea. For an updated version of the same concept watch the following: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMLPJqeW78Q
    “To the Reader” by Michel de Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, p. 49): don’t hate me because I’m honest. . .
    “Montaigne; or, the Skeptic” by Ralph Waldo Emerson (GGB Vol. 10, pp. 546-562): After 20 years of reading Emerson I still don’t know what to do with him. Either it’s brilliant wisdom or a lot of pithy sayings (obviously it’s probably the later, but some of it seems trite). Also his essays strike me as having a very loose structure; please any one tell me what I missed with this one.

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