It’s Great Books Monday here at the Western Tradition, and this past week has been the first where we were in five long works simultaneously . . . probably not the best moment for a newcomer to jump in. However, we’ve said goodbye to St. Augustine for now and will have at least a couple of one-off selections on the list for the next few weeks, so any casual readers will find things a bit more manageable.
Here are the readings for the upcoming week:
- Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, Chapters VIII-X* (GGB Vol. 2, pp. 39-61)
- The Histories of Herodotus, Book II (GBWW Vol. 5, pp. 49-88)
- “The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe (GGB Vol. 2, pp. 278-283)
- Federalist #29 (GBWW Vol. 40, pp. 98-101; Antifederalist responses are here)
- The Elements of Euclid, Book X, Part II (GGBW Vol. 10, pp. 229-264)
- “Letter to Menoeceus” by Epicurus (GGB Vol. 10, pp. 230-233)
*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 VIII-X on the linked site: VIII. All; IX. All; X. Omit.
Here are some observations on last week’s readings:
- Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, Chapters V-VII: It’s too bad Adler’s excerpts leave out all the soul-searching Crusoe does; I won’t speculate as to why he chose the passages he did. But to me, that sort of introspection is one of the things that make this a Great Book.
- The Histories of Herodotus, Book I: Croesus is a fascinating character, and it’s a real shame that knowledge of him seems to have completely dropped out of popular culture. I have yet to meet an undergraduate familiar with the phrase “as rich as Croesus,” although it was fairly common in earlier generations. On another note, what’s with the Babylonians making their women “consort with a stranger” at least once? Yuck. And I hope you noticed the obvious parallels between the stories of Cyrus’ and Romulus’ infancies.
- “Dream Children, a Reverie” by Charles Lamb: This essay left me feeling very sad, but grateful. I was imagining my own children reacting in the ways Lamb describes, and then imagining what a sense of loss I’d experience if I woke up from my life “in a bachelor’s chair.” Does the bachelor outside the monastery have the feeling of emptiness I caught a glimpse of?
- Federalist #26-28: “Is it presumable that every man, the instant he took his seat in the national Senate or House of Representatives, would commence a traitor to his constituents and to his country?” Unfortunately, in 2011 this question can’t be taken as merely rhetorical the way it could have been in 1787. F.A. Hayek wasn’t around to explain to Hamilton “why the worst get on top.”
- The Elements of Euclid, Book X, Part I: Oh dear, this is getting ugly. The great thing about reading the Great Books is that you’re not necessarily supposed to understand them fully on first reading. A good thing, too, because I got completely lost in this section, particularly after Euclid starting introducing a new definition in nearly every one of the later propositions. Thus far I’ve been able to navigate this work without a “Euclid for Dummies” website to help me, but this may be the week I break my streak.
- The Confessions of St. Augustine, Books XIII: Clearly I need to do some more serious reading from the Early Church Fathers, because I’m having a hard time getting from the text of Genesis 1 to the allegorical interpretations Augustine places on it. The land as believers and the waters as the reprobate, being fruitful and multiplying as ideas, seed-bearing fruit as works of mercy? There’s a nice paean to “that more sublime harvest, the joy of contemplation,” in Chapter 18.
Spring is over here . . . temperatures in the 90s this week, and humid. The cooler weather was nice while it lasted; I’ll be reading inside this week.