When Athenians Attack!

I’m logging in a day late with this weekly Great Books post; I hope you’ll forgive my tardiness. We’re halfway through the Aeneid and are nearing the completion of a couple of other longer works. I’m enjoying all these works and hope that you are as well if you’re following along. 

Here are the readings for the upcoming week:

  1. The Aeneid of Virgil, Book VII (GBWW Vol. 12, pp. 196-216)
  2. History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides, Book VIII (GBWW Vol. 5, pp. 564-593)
  3. Experience and Education by John Dewey, Ch. 7 (GBWW Vol. 55, pp. 118-124)
  4. Of Parents and Children” by Francis Bacon (GGB Vol. 7, pp. 5-6)
  5. On the Artificial Production of Urea” by Friedrich Wohler (GGB Vol. 8, pp. 312-314; pp. 309-312 of the linked Google Book)
  6. The City of God by St. Augustine, Book VIII (GBWW Vol. 16, pp. 311-334; in the linked text, it’s the material under the heading “Some account of the Socratic and Platonic philosophy . . .” and its subheads)

We’ll be wrapping up Thucydides this week and putting another GBWW volume in the “complete” column. Progress! 

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. The Aeneid of Virgil, Book VI: In graduate school I had a professor who insisted that Virgil was a subversive wanting to undermine Augustus’s reign. His two main pieces of evidence were the final lines of the poem and the end of Book VI. I was never persuaded by the view that walking through the ivory gate means the previous 300 lines were all baloney.
  2. History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides, Book VII:  Hubris! The Athenians thought they could get away with fighting two wars at the same time, and got badly defeated in Sicily as a result. I feel bad for Nicias; he had opposed the expedition in the first place, then asked to be relieved of command, and was finally captured and executed by the Dorians for something he had tried to prevent. That seems a bit unjust.
  3. Experience and Education by John Dewey, Ch. 6: It was interesting to read Dewey’s discussion of purpose on the heels of reading about principles of human action in Shawn Ritenour’s Foundations of Economics. Dewey does not appear to be using the same framework. I also question his equation of freedom with power. This gets us into dangerous territory when we start talking about political ethics.
  4. “Sweetness and Light” by Matthew Arnold: I have to say I really liked this essay despite disagreeing with it here and there. If I recall correctly, C.S. Lewis wrote that he was led to Homer via Arnold, and I can see why Lewis liked him so much. Arnold calls the upper class Barbarians and the middle class Philistines, so who are the standard bearers of culture? Are the poets outside the class structure somehow?
  5. “Chance” by Henri Poincaré: For some reason I kept thinking of Boethius here: chance is simply a confluence of causes we don’t understand. Of course, Boethius wasn’t placing such an importance on entropy the way this author does.
  6. The City of God by St. Augustine, Book VII: Augustine’s argument here is that the gods of civil theology do not grant eternal life, but he makes lots of digressions along the way. I particularly liked the discussion of Numa Pompilius’s manuscripts near the end; he wouldn’t teach show anyone the rites therein, nor would he destroy them for fear of the demons, so he buried them, but later Romans decided they had to be burned.

We’re having great weather here in Montgomery, and I hope it lasts. It doesn’t get any better than sunshine and temperatures in the low 60s. I may just do some outside reading.

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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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