The Wrath of Heaven against the Roman State

We’ve now completed the Annals of Tacitus and are poised to finish Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class this week. I’m going to celebrate by reading another Shakespeare play, something particularly appropriate in light of Shakespeare’s role in the T.S. Eliot essay we just read.

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare (GBWW Vol. 25, pp. 489-523)
  2. On Constancy” by Epictetus (GBWW Vol. 11, pp. 127-130; Book I Chapter 29 of the Discourses)
  3. Of Constancy” by Michel de Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 67-68)
  4. The Theory of the Leisure Class by Thorstein Veblen, Chapters 13-14 (GBWW Vol. 57, pp. 140-169)
  5. The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud, Part VI, Section E (GBWW Vol. 54, pp. 281-298; pp. 114-126 of the linked PDF)
  6. The Phaedrus of Plato (GBWW Vol. 6, pp. 115-141)

I swear that I didn’t plan in advance to read essays from Epictetus and Montaigne on identical themes this week. It simply worked out that way

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. Thomas_Stearns_Eliot“Dante” by T.S. Eliot: Eliot writes that the modern world is divided between Dante and Shakespeare; “there is no third.” I think the comparison and contrast of these two authors has to be stimulating to anyone who has read them to the extent we have in this program over the past thirty months. I also feel as though I have to read La Vita Nuova now, even though it’s in neither of Adler’s compilations.
  2. “That We Ought Not to Be Angry at Men” by Epictetus: Most of this discourse is not about anger, but about appearances. There’s a lengthy (for Epictetus) discussion of the Trojan War and how the characters allowed appearances to affect their inward states, resulting in many tragic outcomes. “What is the name of those who follow every appearance? ‘They are called madmen.’ Do we then act at all differently? 
  3. The Annals of Tacitus, Book XVI: The latter part of this book is lost, along with all subsequent books of the Annals, so we don’t get any concluding passages attempting to draw lessons from all the events Tacitus relates. However, I found it interesting that in this book, as Nero descends more and more into paranoia and madness, that Tacitus begins to attribute more developments to divine providence: “A year of shame and of so many evil deeds heaven also marked by storms and pestilence. . . . Even if I had to relate foreign wars and deaths encountered in the service of the State with such a monotony of disaster, I should myself have been overcome by disgust, while I should look for weariness in my readers. . . . Such was the wrath of heaven against the Roman State that one may not pass over it with a single mention, as one might the defeat of armies and the capture of cities.” 
  4. The Theory of the Leisure Class by Thorstein Veblen, Chapter 12: Veblen tries to interpret deity and the deity’s priests as the ultimate participants in conspicuous consumption and waste. “The priest should not put his hand to mechanically productive work; but he should consume in large measure.” I’m sure that would have come as a great surprise to the great majority of Christian priests throughout history, who very often worked in the fields alongside their parishioners. 
  5. The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud, Part VI, Sections B-D: In this section Freud gets even more speculative in his interpretations, if that’s possible. Now things in the dream are substitutes or replacements for other things. How do you know when something is itself and when it’s really something else? Clearly, you must assent to several assumptions Freud has been articulating in the previous 100+ pages. 
  6. Categories by Aristotle: I probably should have read this work before the Metaphysics. Aristotle provides a very basic (for him) overview of the different categories of analysis: substance, quantity, quality, relation, place, time, position, state, action, and affection. He also talks about equivocal definitions of “movement” and “to have,” which often get in the way of clear thinking.

It’s nice to be posting about the Great Books on Monday again following all the schedule interruptions of the last month or two. I have another long trip coming up, but I’m striving to plan the next three weeks of reading so that posting can continue on schedule.

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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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