Welcome to December! It’s hard to believe we are nearing the end of our third full year of readings in the Great Books Project. As usual, I’ll do a summary of the year’s accomplishments in early January, but I think it’s safe we’ll have read close to 17,000 pages total by then. In the meantime, it’s time we revisited Descartes and Sophocles.
Here are the readings for the coming week:
- Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, Book X (GBWW Vol. 37, pp. 204-222)*
- “God’s Love” by St. Thomas Aquinas (GBWW Vol. 18, pp. 119-124; Part One, Chapter 20 of Summa Theologica)
- Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles (GBWW Vol. 4, pp. 133-158)
- “Coriolanus” by Plutarch (GBWW Vol. 13, pp. 174-193)
- The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin, Chapter 13 (GBWW Vol. 49, pp. 451-476)
- Meditations on First Philosophy by Rene Descartes (GBWW Vol. 28, pp. 293-329)
*The volume and page references from Tom Jones are from the 1952 GBWW edition. This novel was not included in the 1990 edition and is thus “extra” reading for this project, but I’ve never read it before and want to.
I just noticed the symmetry of the chronological distribution of our readings this week. We certainly never get stuck in one era in this project.
Here are some observations from last week’s readings:
- Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, Book IX: One of the fun things about reading a novel through for the first time is ignorance of the plot; one gets to speculate wildly. In this case, I’m willing to lay odds that the lady who has just alighted at the inn is Sophia, and she will, in short order, find Jones in flagrante delicto with Mrs. Waters. This book contains more mock-epic descriptions, this time of a tavern brawl and an attempted seduction.
- “The Will of God” by St. Thomas Aquinas: This is a rich section that deals with several thorny questions in theology, such as “does God change his mind?” (The answer given is no.) I’m having to puzzle a little over Article 3, where St. Thomas asserts that God does wills nothing by necessity, not even things that flow from his own nature. Moreover, God’s will imposes no necessity on (some of) the things willed, yet God’s will is never unfulfilled.
- “A Lost Lady” by Willa Cather: About 10% of the way into this story/novella, I feared it was going to be a celebration of or apology for adultery, but I’m glad to say it turned out quite differently. Mrs. Forrester has nothing for which she can reproach her husband (except perhaps his participation in the fractional-reserve banking system, something I imagine wasn’t on Cather’s mind), and her attempts to escape what she considers the dullness of rural living demonstrate that she is indeed “lost.” There are many interesting avenues down which one could go in discussion of this work: the idea of natural aristocracy, the envy and uppity-ness of new money, the change in manners over time, etc.
- “Alcibiades” by Plutarch: Plutarch dwells at some length on the beauty of Alcibiades, the thing that most likely accounted for his social prominence. However, he also believes that Socrates must have seen some nobility of character in him, or he would not have been so close to him. Regardless, I think one has to give Alcibiades a “thumbs down” for baiting the Athenians into the Sicilian Expedition. I liked the comparison to Themistocles in the passage about Alcibiades’s going to Persia. (Obviously, having read Thucydides already helps one out when reading this biography.)
- The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin, Chapter 12: After lingering over insects for two chapters, Darwin hurriedly treats amphibians and reptiles in this chapter. Again a primary focus is the competition between males for the females in various species. Coloring and even musical ability (in the case of frogs) merit quite a bit of discussion as well. Darwin seems to interpret almost every difference between males and females as having some significance for reproduction.
- On Interpretation by Aristotle: Having taught logic for three years now, I was pretty comfortable with this piece, which worked through a number of the concepts I cover in my classes. Of course, Aristotle’s accomplishment is more impressive in that he had to work out these concepts himself without an introductory logic textbook sitting in front of him. This work covers the nature of statements, affirmations, denials, the difference between the contradiction and the contrary, etc.
I’m having to concede defeat in my quest to recapture the week I’ve steadily lost over the last month or so. The extra reading for Tom Jones hasn’t helped, but four days of travel last week put the final nail in that coffin; I had hoped to make this post last Wednesday! So I am going to make this the post for Week 151 rather than Week 150 and write off Week 150. We’ll catch up on the page deficit, Lord willing, over the next several weeks by scheduling longer readings.