Scoffers Can Become Saints

For this Great Books Monday, I glanced over my spreadsheet to get a quick idea of how much ground we’ve covered so far in the reading program. Of the 1,600+ pages in the can, we’ve completed eight short stories, two plays, an epic poem, about fifty essays, letters, and speeches of varying lengths in different fields, five political documents, and excerpts of several long historical and scientific works. It really is pretty impressive if you look at it all at once, and we’re not even halfway through the first year of this seven-year plan. So pat yourself on the back if you’ve been following along!

Here are the readings for the upcoming week:

  1. What Men Live By” by Leo Tolstoy (GGB Vol. 3, pp. 707-727)
  2. Romulus” by Plutarch (GBWW Vol. 13, pp. 15-30)
  3. Romulus and Theseus Compared” by Plutarch (GBWW Vol. 13, pp. 30-31)
  4. Federalist #15-20 (GBWW Vol. 43, pp. 62-78)
  5. The Elements of Euclid, Book VII (GBWW Vol. 10, pp. 127-149)
  6. The Confessions of St. Augustine, Books VII-IX (GBWW, Vol. 16, pp. 54-90)

Plutarch wrote most of his biographies in pairs, intentionally selecting two lives he thought would bear fruitful comparison with one another. We’ll see our first effort of this kind this week.

Here are some observations on last week’s readings:

  1. “The Legend of St. Julian the Hospitaller” by Gustave Flaubert: This is great storytelling, albeit in the terse modern style I don’t always appreciate fully. I’m sure many picked up on the echoes of Oedipus and Orestes here, although Julian blames no one but himself for his actions, and he struggles to do penance for them in an extreme way. I will say that the last scene is pretty gross (until the last sentence or two, of course).
  2. “Theseus” by Plutarch: I appreciate how scrupulous Plutarch is about giving us so many different versions of the stories concerning Theseus. I came away from thinking that Theseus may have been a real person. We certainly get a human portrait of him, warts and all. Poor Minos–the warning about not offending a literary people is well taken.
  3. “Of Anger” by Francis Bacon: There’s some good advice here about how to control one’s anger. I thought the lead about how Christian teaching in this area is superior to that of the Stoics was spot on.
  4. Federalist #11-14: For someone with a amateur’s enthusiasm for economics, reading Hamilton’s argument that the Constitution should be ratified so that the central government could jack up tariffs was painful, although I will say that tariffs are preferable to property or income taxes as revenue generators. And did anyone else catch Madison’s statement that the average distance between the Atlantic coast and Mississippi was 150 miles? No geographer, he.
  5. The Elements of Euclid, Book VI: My head was swimming by the end of this one. It would be so much simpler if Euclid used the same vocabulary as we did, but I’m constantly having to double check to make sure what he’s talking about. I was surprised a few times by what he was able to do with the proofs that had been built up to this point.
  6. The Confessions of Augustine, Books IV-VI: Augustine certainly isn’t the first person to reject Christianity on the basis of a misunderstanding of its doctrines. Reading this makes me wonder how the Manichees could ever have been so influential, but then I remember that the same sort of dualism repeatedly comes back throughout the history of the West and is prominent today (as evidenced in dozens of horror movies and LOST). This section reminded me that I need to read some Ambrose.

I hope you had a wonderful Easter Sunday yesterday and had a chance to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior of the world. Now get out there and read some classics!

[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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