We get a shot in the arm this week in the Great Books Project with some “new blood” now that we have completed Nietzsche and Lavoisier (both for good because each only had a single work in the collection). I’m particularly looking forward to the Whitehead book.
Here are the readings for the coming week:
- The History of Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, Part II, Chapters 54-61 (GBWW Vol. 27, pp. 434-463)
- “Of Solitude” by Michel de Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 158-163)
- The History of Animals by Aristotle, Book VIII (GBWW Vol. 8, pp. 114-133)
- The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapters 10-11 (GBWW Vol. 37, pp. 96-128)
- An Introduction to Mathematics by Alfred North Whitehead, Part III, Chapters 1-5 (GBWW Vol. 56, pp. 119-141)
- “At a Solemn Musick” by John Milton (GBWW Vol. 29, p. 13)
We should finish Aristotle’s treatise next week if all goes as planned, and Cervantes won’t be far behind.
Here are some observations from last week’s readings:
- The History of Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, Part II, Chapters 46-53: Poor Sancho. His governorship of the island must be the most elaborate prank in all literature. You can’t help but feel sorry for him after he gets beaten during the “attack” on the village. Meanwhile, Don Quixote has found a real wrong to redress, assuming it’s not part of another prank, but I’m half expecting Sampson Carrasco to show up for a rematch.
- “How We Cry and Laugh for the Same Thing” by Michel de Montaigne: A better title for this essay would have been “How We Sometimes Regret the Perceived Need to Do Things.” Julius Caesar looking at Pompey’s head and weeping, etc. I liked that Montaigne referenced the episode where Timoleon had his brother killed, a scene from Plutarch that really struck me when I read it a few months ago.
- The History of Animals by Aristotle, Book VII: If memory serves, this is the first book of the work that deals exclusively with human beings. It’s all about childbearing, from a discussion of puberty (“Girls of this age have much need of surveillance”) and menstruation through conception, pregnancy, and birth. Then we get this: “Until the child is forty days old it neither laughs nor weeps during waking hours.” Clearly Aristotle was never around my children.
- The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapters 8-9: These two chapters are an interlude in the history of Rome. Chapter 8 discusses the history of Persia from the 5th century B.C. up to the 3rd century A.D. Chapter 9 covers the history of the Germans from the Romans’ first encounter with them through the same era. Turns of phrase like this one are one reason I am enjoying this work: “‘In the days of chivalry, or more properly of romance, all the men were brave, and all the women were chaste;’ and no withstanding the latter of these virtues is acquired and preserved with much more difficulty than the former, it is ascribed, almost without exception, to the wives of the ancient Germans.”
- Elements of Chemistry by Antoine Lavoisier, Part III, Chapters 6-end: These chapters are more of the same of what was covered last week. Lots of detailed descriptions of instruments, etc. I suppose the major difference is that in these chapters the actual processes of some experiments are described to allow others to replicate things like the separation of oxygen from other substances.
- Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche, Parts VIII-end: “What a torture are books written in German to a reader who has a THIRD ear!” I enjoyed all the aesthetic observations in this section, some of which were perceptive and others of which were outrageous. The opening of Part IX is striking: “EVERY elevation of the type ‘man,’ has hitherto been the work of an aristocratic society and so it will always be—a society believing in a long scale of gradations of rank and differences of worth among human beings, and requiring slavery in some form or other.” Even in a work that emphasizes the idea of excellence, the part about “requiring slavery” took me aback.
I’m on the road once more and reading e-books this week. With the semester wrapping up in about seven days, I’m hoping to make up some lost ground on the posting schedule very soon. I know we’ve all heard that before, but this time I really mean it.