Et tu, Brute?

[Apologies for not reposting in a timely manner from The Western Tradition. I’m ten days late!]

The best laid plans go awry when your modem breaks in the Information Age. The technician just left my house, and all seems well now. Apologies to anyone whose Monday was incomplete without a Great Books post.

Here are the readings for this week:

  1. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, Chapters I-IV* (GGB Vol. 2, pp. 5-37)
  2. The Hippocratic Oath (GBWW Vol. 9, p. xiii)
  3. Thoreau” by Ralph Waldo Emerson (GGB Vol. 6, pp. 150-165)
  4. Federalist #24-25 (GBWW Vol. 40, pp. 87-91)
  5. The Elements of Euclid, Book IX (GGBW Vol. 10, pp. 171-190)
  6. The Confessions of St. Augustine, Books XI-XII (GBWW Vol. 16, pp. 112-140)

*The GGB set contains only 117 pages of excerpts from Robinson Crusoe. I plan to read the whole novel, but if you want to stick with Adler, read the following sections from Chapters I-IV on the linked site: I. All but the last three paragraphs; II. Omit; III. Paragraph beginning, “But I, that was born to be my own destroyer . . .” to the end; IV. All.

Here are some observations on last week’s readings:

  1. Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare: What is Brutus’s tragic flaw? Is it his failure to be ruthless, or is it his naivete? Neither seems to satisfy: insufficient ruthlessness hardly seems a failure, and naivete doesn’t seem to be morally culpable. There are so many familiar lines and speeches in this play: “There is a tide . . .”; “Cry ‘Havoc’”; “Friends, Romans, countrymen . . .”
  2. “The Way to Write History” by Lucian: The opening of this essay is pretty clever, I must say. I love the anecdote about Alexander’s treatment of the guy who made up account of his fictional heroic deeds. I wonder how today’s popular (and scholarly!) historians would fare under Lucian’s withering pen. I’m glad this fellow never got his hands on my doctoral dissertation.
  3. “Of Adversity” by Francis Bacon: “The virtue of prosperity is temperance; the virtue of adversity is fortitude; which in morals is the more heroical virtue.” This is good stuff. Not good enough to make me long for adversity, though. I love the quip about Seneca’s speech being “much too high for a heathen.”
  4. Federalist #21-23: Here’s an interesting thought experiment: read through these again, mentally replacing each occurrence of “the States” with “the United States” and each occurrence of “the United States” with “the United Nations.” I’m still not buying the centralizing argument.
  5. The Elements of Euclid, Book VIII: Problems of definition continue to hamper me. All the references to “plane numbers” and the like get in the way of my understanding the proofs, which are really not all that complicated. Almost every time, when I can mentally translate the unfamiliar terminology into the Arabic numerals and fractional concepts I know, the stuff gets much easier.
  6. The Confessions of St. Augustine, Book X: Don’t get me wrong . . . I love Augustine, but the Neo-Platonism in this section is a bit over the top for my taste. I just don’t see the argument for all sensual gratification being sinful. But there’s still plenty of brilliance in this section; the reference to God as “the Life of my life” is very moving.

I’m ready to plow ahead with my various summer projects, including these readings. May your week be as productive as I’m hoping mine will be.

[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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