Roman Pygmies and Herd Morality

I neglected to mention it last week, but we have now passed the 18,000-page mark in this Great Books Project. Onward!

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. The History of Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, Part II, Chapters 22-32 (GBWW Vol. 27, pp. 321-364)
  2. Of the Custom of Wearing Clothes” by Michel de Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 153-155)
  3. The History of Animals by Aristotle, Book V (GBWW Vol. 8, pp. 65-85)
  4. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapters 3-5 (GBWW Vol. 37, pp. 24-51)
  5. Elements of Chemistry by Antoine Lavoisier, Part II, Sections 14-44 (GBWW Vol. 42, pp. 68-86)
  6. Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche, Part VI (GBWW Vol. 43, pp. 503-511)

I hope you’re enjoying these authors, because it looks like we’ll be staying with all six of them for at least another week or two.

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. donquixote-knightofmirrorsThe History of Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, Part II, Chapters 11-21: Sampson Carrasco gets his comeuppance quite satisfactorily in these chapters after all his condescension and deceptions. Then we move on into another curious section where two young lovers are kept apart by circumstance but ultimately reunited through a clever stratagem. Basilio’s fake suicide no doubt would be considered out of order and emotional blackmail today, but in the 17th century, it’s all good. 
  2. “Of a Lack in Our Administrations” by Michel de Montaigne: Here Montaigne longs for the internet, although he doesn’t quite realize it. He just wishes for an efficient way to for strangers to find each other with relevant information or goods to satisfy the double coincidence of wants. 
  3. The History of Animals by Aristotle, Book IV: Aristotle devotes the book to “non-blooded” animals, including crustaceans and other sea creatures as well as insects. I couldn’t help but be surprised at the detail with which he describes their anatomy, particularly their sense organs. Aristotle really was a scientist. What could he have done with modern tools of measurement? 
  4. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapters 1-2: These chapters are devoted to explaining how wonderful the Roman Empire of the second century was. Much of it was admittedly tedious recitations of borders, prominent cities, etc. I couldn’t help but be impressed at Gibbon’s description of the Roman soldier’s training regimen. The metaphor of Romans-as-pygmies at the end of Chapter Two was a bit jarring. 
  5. Elements of Chemistry by Antoine Lavoisier, Part II, Sections 1-13: These sections contain lots of tables that Lavoisier admits he cribbed largely from other reference works. They list what compounds result from the combination of oxygen, sulfur, hydrogen, and “azote” (nitrogen?) with various substances. Lavoisier provides a little commentary on these tables, but nothing eye-popping. 
  6. Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche, Parts IV-V: Part IV consists of several pages of pithy maxims, e.g. “A people is a detour of nature to get to six or seven great men.—Yes: and then to get around them.” Some of them are the sort of thing I’d expect to see from the pen of the late Christopher Hitchens, although Nietzsche’s are better. Part V, “On the Natural History of Morals,” attacks Socrates and the Hebraic tradition, the two major roots of Western morality. Nietzsche sums up his assessment with this: “Morality is in Europe today herd-animal morality.”

I’ve run into more delays this week, and once again am running behind schedule. The good news is I have a few weeks here at home to regroup before our next trip, and I hope to make up lost ground over the next couple of weeks.

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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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