A Farewell to Homer (Sort Of)

Whew! Many apologies for the delay in posting this week’s readings. I lost three days over the weekend by traveling to Arkansas for my 20-year high school reunion (which, by the way, was fantastic). I didn’t finish the Iliad until this afternoon and will have to buckle down to get through this week’s readings by next Monday.

Here are the readings for the upcoming week:

  1. White Nights” by Fyodor Dostoevsky  (GGB Vol. 3, pp. 276-319)
  2. The Character of Socrates” by Xenophon (GGB Vol. 6, pp. 223-226; Book IV, Chapters VII-VIII of Memorabilia)
  3. Second Treatise on Civil Government by John Locke, Ch. XVI-XIX (GBWW Vol. 33, pp. 65-81)
  4. Federalist #64-65 (GBWW Vol. 40, pp. 195-200; Antifederalist responses are here)
  5. On Ancient Medicine” by Hippocrates (GBWW Vol. 9, pp. 1-17)
  6. The Way Things Are (or On the Nature of Things) by Lucretius, Book IV (GBWW Vol. 11, pp. 43-58)

We get to check off Locke’s Second Treatise this week; we’re knocking out these works pretty quickly.

Here are some observations on last week’s readings:

  1. The Iliad of Homer, Books XXII-XXIV: The ancients had some intense mourning customs: Priam was still rolling around in dung twelve days after Hector’s death. The exchange between Achilles and Priam is so powerful that even my freshmen get it. I wonder how many modern readers are surprised or angered when they get to the end of the poem. Where’s the Trojan Horse? Who wins? Clearly we’re supposed to be taking something else away from this.
  2. “Address at Cooper Institute” by Abraham Lincoln: This is a very clever speech, and it makes some valid points. Of course Lincoln doesn’t bother to bring up the Northern demonization of the South in the 1850s, nor does he note that the Founders formulated their policy on slavery in the territories in an era when the Western border of the U.S. was the Mississippi River, and there was no obvious prospect of westward expansion.
  3. Second Treatise on Civil Government by John Locke, Chapters X-XV: I was really surprised by the chapter on the prerogative. Locke is working in an environment where there’s a sharp distinction between the rulers and “the people,” and I think this accounts for his uncritical acceptance of acts of prerogative that purport to be in the people’s interest.
  4. Federalist #62-63: “It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is to-day, can guess what it will be to-morrow.” Can a better indictment of our system be found?
  5. “The Chemical History of a Candle” Michael Faraday, Lectures V-VI: When I started this series of lectures, I had no idea Faraday would end up talking about respiration, charcoal, etc. He certainly got a lot of mileage out of the simple candle he started with.
  6. The Way Things Are (or On the Nature of Things) by Lucretius, Book III: This book reminded me of the story of the guy who tried to weigh people both immediately before and immediately after the moment of death to determine the weight of the soul that had just left them. And the soul generates the worms in the body? Wow. This book seemed more pessimistic than the first two, but I may just be projecting.

One volume down! We say farewell to Homer now, but be assured that we’ll come across many, many more references to his characters before our project is complete.


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 A Farewell to Homer (Sort Of)

  1. Great Books For Men GreatBooksForMen GBFM (TM) GB4M (TM) GR8BOOKS4MEN (TM) lzozozozozlzo (TM) says:

    Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey celebrate and exalt property rights.

    The Iliad centers around the “Rage” of Achilles which is inspired when King Agamemnon seizes Achilles’ prize. The Odyssey centers about Odysseus regaining his home and ridding it of the false suitors. Both Achilles and Odysseus value the property that is taken from them by Kings and Mobs.

    As a professor, how do you reconcile teaching these Great Books with the reality that you are placing students in massive debt, both via unprecedented student loans and the massive growth of government debt to fund universities through grants? Also, Moses stated “Thou shalt not steal,” agreeing with the Homeric spirit.

    Do you perceive that a fiat currency system must naturally deconstruct and debauch the Great Books curriculum, for as a fiat currency robs the common man via the inflation tax, thusly stealing, a fiat currency must naturally oppose the classical tenets regarding property rights exalted in Homer and the Bible?

    • Dr. J says:

      Homer certainly has more respect for property than most modern authors. Of course, he doesn’t conceive of property in a Lockean sense, but the reader is supposed to disapprove of Agamemnon’s and the suitors’ behavior. Odysseus says in Book 23 or 24 that he’s planning to recoup some of his losses through raiding (i.e. stealing), so we’re not talking about classical liberals here.

      I’m not sure I have a handle on your question entirely; I believe it contains one or more false premises. Are you saying that I am responsible for students’ electing to take out loans, or that I am stealing? By the way, I teach at a private institution that receives no direct funds from government.

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