Sing, Goddess, the Rage of Peleus’ Son Achilleus

What better way to start the week than with a discussion of some of the greatest literary works of all time? That’s what we do here every week at the Western Tradition, and I hope that you’ll put in your two cents in the comment section.

Here are the readings for the upcoming week:

  1. The Iliad of Homer, Books IV-VI  (GBWW Vol. 3, pp. 38-77)
  2. Of Youth and Age” by Francis Bacon (GGB Vol. 7, pp. 3-4)
  3. Plato’s Republic, Book IX (GBWW Vol. 6, pp. 416-427)
  4. Federalist #52-53 (GBWW Vol. 40, pp. 165-169; Antifederalist responses are here)
  5. Mathematical Creation“by Henri Poincaré (GGB Vol. 9, pp. 294-304; Chapter 3 of Science and Method)
  6. How We Think by John Dewey, Chapter XVI-XVII (GGB Vol. 10, pp. 185-205)

I had never realized it before, but the books of the Iliad are definitely longer than those of the Odyssey. Whereas it took us six weeks to read the latter earlier this year, it will take us eight weeks to read the former.

Here are some observations on last week’s readings:

  1. Athena prevents Achilles from slaying Agamemnon (Book I)

    The Iliad of Homer, Books I-III: Book II is the dues you have to pay to read this epic. The roll call of Achaians has never been able to hold my attention. One of my professors in grad school, a fine scholar, insisted that in this narrative the gods are just metaphors. For example, when Aphrodite cloaks Paris and sweeps him away from the battlefield in Book III, it’s just a poetic way of saying that Paris ran away. I’ve never been able to accept that interpretation. How about you?

  2. “Of Bashfulness” by Plutarch: If you pay close attention, you may conclude Plutarch is challenging most of us, because “bashfulness” here is not just a synonym for “shy.” How often do we slight the demands of virtue because we are reluctant to assert them in the face of the desires of either friends or enemies?
  3. Plato’s Republic, Book VIII: For Plato democracy is the lowest form of government but one, just one step removed from tyranny. Ditto for the “democratic man.” It’s no wonder that no freshman in my survey classes who went through the modern American educational system has ever read anything by him.
  4. Federalist #51: If Madison thinks that checks and balances within the government’s structure are a sufficient protection against tyranny, history has clearly proven him wrong. No doubt he recognized this at least implicitly in later years with his support of the Virginia resolutions.
  5. “The Universe Is Running Down” by Sir Arthur Eddington: The pride of place which Eddington gives to the second law of thermodynamics is noteworthy. I wonder if 21st-century physicists hold the same view. It’s also interesting that Eddington accepts as a “working hypothesis” the act of special creation of the universe, not being able to account for the greater orderliness on the past in any other way.
  6. How We Think by John Dewey, Chapter XIV-XV: I appreciate Dewey’s defense of abstract thought for its own sake. I don’t know if he concedes too much in terms of his educational project by then saying that most people won’t be able to do it well. The notion that some schools 100 years ago were trying to get children to play with objects that didn’t resemble the real things being imagined is strange.

Another busy stretch kept me from posting for most of last week. I’ve been up at 5:00 a.m. and at the office by 6:00 nearly every day to work on various projects. At least I’ve been able to keep these readings on track. I hope you’re making time to read as well!

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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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4 Responses to Sing, Goddess, the Rage of Peleus’ Son Achilleus

  1. Beth says:

    I wish more readers were posting their ideas along with you. I am going through the readings chronologically so will be posting my thoughts that way. Hope that’s okay.

    Re the Iliad: I prefer a literal reading of the role of the gods. As they play with the lives of men to satisfy their own petty lusts and feuds, I see the kings of men doing the same. Are not the Achaeans and Trojans in this battle because Paris and Agamemnon want the same woman? And how many thousands of men on both sides are brought to fight, and to die, for the sake of a private feud between selfish kings? The gods in the Iliad seem to be made in the image of men, rather than the other way around.

    • Dr. J says:

      I don’t recall offhand how much of the back story is actually in the text, but the Achaeans are there because of oaths sworn during the courting of Helen that they would come to the aid of whoever became her lawful husband if anyone else attempted to interfere with the marriage.

  2. Dan says:

    Dewey’s book only goes up to Chapter 16. Am I reading the correct book?

    • Dr. J says:

      It’s the right book. Adler for some reason says that the chapter “Some General Conclusions” is Chapter 19. I wonder if there are different editions of the work. I’ve never looked into it.

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