Heartbreaker and Homewrecker

This week in the Great Books Project we launch into the work in Isaac Newton in a big way. In the process we will also pass the 3,000-page mark in the Science and Mathematics category. Buckle up!

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. On Simple and Sentimental Poetry” by Friedrich Schiller (GGB Vol. 5, pp. 155-211)
  2. The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Book V (GBWW Vol. 11, p. 254-259)
  3. That Our Happiness Must Not Be Judged Until After Our Death” by Michel de Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 82-84)
  4. Numa Pompilius” and “Lycurgus and Numa Compared” by Plutarch (GBWW Vol. 13, pp. 49-64)
  5. Optics by Isaac Newton, Book One, Part I (GBWW Vol. 32, pp. 373-423)
  6. The Immutability of God” by St. Thomas Aquinas (GBWW Vol. 17, pp. 38-40; Part One, Question 9 of Summa Theologica)

I recognize that this week’s readings are a bit heavier than usual, but we’ve had some nice long stories and plays the past couple of weeks and need to toughen up a little bit. I figured a 55-page essay by a German Romantic on poetry would be just the thing.

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. turgenev-firstlove“First Love” by Ivan Turgenev: Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Girl has affair with boy’s dad. Blech. I’m sure that Freud makes much of this story somewhere in his corpus. Turgenev effectively communicates Vladimir’s feelings of being in love for the first time: the giddiness, the despair, and all the rest. There are also some very poignant remarks about the strength and folly of youth at the end.  
  2. The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Book IV: This section has numerous references to death and mortality. Perhaps my favorite was this: “Do not act as if thou wert going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over thee. While thou livest, while it is in thy power, be good.” I guess it resonates with others, too: I got a couple dozen “likes” on Facebook when I posted it there . . . 
  3. “Of Fear” by Michel de Montaigne: Montaigne provides an interesting contrast of the different reactions fear (usually fear in battle) can produce: from wild recklessness to paralysis. At the end he discusses group panic. He also says that he fears nothing more than fear itself. Did FDR plagiarize him? 
  4. “Lycurgus” by Plutarch: When reading these lives, I often experience radically conflicting reactions to them. Some of the time I think that these are tremendously wise and admirable men at whose feet I’d be happy to sit. Other times (while reading the same life) I think, “That must be the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of someone doing.” Plutarch’s Lycurgus was above reproach in his handling of the royal succession in Sparta and passed up multiple opportunities to seize power. However, so much of his law code simply seems inhuman to me: rampant infanticide, wife swapping, enforced poverty on everyone, etc.
  5. Introduction to Arithmetic by Nicomachus of Gerasa: I was expecting a Euclid-style framework of theorems when I began reading this work, but Nicomachus’s prose reminds me more of Aristotle than it does anything else. The first book treats the nature of the odd and the even at length and also covers prime and composite numbers. The second book gets a little hairier; there’s a little geometry and a lot on ratios and proportions. I’m glad I read Plato’s Timaeus last week because Nicomachus cites it at least three or four times.
  6. “Preface to the Treatise on the Vacuum” by Blaise Pascal: Pascal sounds a lot like Francis Bacon: respect authority of the ancients in many areas, but press forward in the investigation of nature. I like his thought that in the natural sciences we can say the opposite of what the ancients said without actually contradicting them.

I would have had this posted yesterday, but I am waiting on a new router to replace the defunct one at my house. I have high hopes to be back to Great Books Monday next week and thereafter.

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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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