Is This a Dagger I See Before Me?

[This post was originally published at The Western Tradition on March 26, 2012. We’re now caught up!]

For the next few weeks in our Great Books reading project, we’ll reading Aristotle, Virgil, and St. Augustine all at the same time. Please try to contains yourself!

Here are the readings for the upcoming week:

  1. The Aeneid of Virgil, Book X (GBWW Vol. 12, pp. 254-276)
  2. The Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle, Book I (GBWW Vol. 8, pp. 339-348)
  3. Of Marriage and Single Life” by Francis Bacon (GGB Vol. 7, pp. 7-8)
  4. A Proposal for Promoting Useful Knowledge among the British Plantations in America” by Benjamin Franklin (GGB Vol. 6, pp. 533-535)
  5. Dialogues Concerning the Two New Sciences by Galileo Galilei, Third Day (GBWW Vol. 26, pp. 197-237)
  6. The City of God by St. Augustine, Book XI (GBWW Vol. 16, pp. 374-396; in the linked text, it’s the material under the heading “Augustin passes to the second part of the work” and its subheads)

One personal disappointment upon first perusing the tables of contents of these series was the absence of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and/or his essay “The Way to Wealth,” both of which have been so influential in America. At least we have a couple of short selections from him, the first of which we’ll read this week.

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:nisus-euryalus

  1. The Aeneid of Virgil, Book IX: I found striking the description of Nisus and Euryalus as the “happy pair” right after Virgil narrates their grisly deaths. As long as your death is sung by the poets, you’ve done well, right? The other major idea to take from this book is that Turnus is pretty formidable. 
  2. “The Art of Biography” by Virginia Woolf: I like the discussion of the tension between biography as history and biography as art. The biographer is constrained by facts even as he attempts to create something with literary merit. Some of the authors Woolf mentions have faded along with the concern that biography attempt to be literary. That’s too bad, because a lot of modern biography is as dry as dust.
  3. Macbeth by William Shakespeare: I probably said this with respect to another Shakespeare play already, but I loved the rediscovery of the source of so many common sayings in modern English: “Double, double, toil and trouble . . .,” “sound and fury, signifying nothing,” etc. It had been at least twelve or thirteen years since my last reading of this play. The fate/free-will tension is all over the script. Is the witches’ foretelling of Macbeth’s kingship to Macbeth a self-fulfilling prophecy?
  4. “Of the Inconstancy of Our Actions” by Michel de Montaigne: This man is so cynical. We are supposed to admire actions but not the men who perform them because the man who’s brave today will be a coward tomorrow? Wow. 
  5. Dialogues Concerning the Two New Sciences by Galileo Galilei, Second Day: Who would have ever thought how complicated it is to explain how much weight a horizontal beam or cylinder could withstand before breaking? I wasn’t really sure what to expect when starting this work, but I assume Galileo is going to have to get into space at some point. So far it has been very down-to-earth stuff.
  6. The City of God by St. Augustine, Book X: I have to admit, I didn’t enjoy this book nearly as much as the previous one. I suppose a discussion of Plato seems a lot more relevant to the 21st-century mind than does a critique of Porphyry. Still, there was some discussion of Plotinus here. You can tell Augustine is reluctant to criticize the Neo-platonists, but he does it anyway.

Although last week was my spring break, I had so much catching up to do on various things that I didn’t have time to blog and barely got the week’s reading done. That’s my life; I hope yours is a bit less busy. Now get out there and read!

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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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