In a mere two weeks we’ll have made it to the halfway point in our seven-year journey to read through the Great Books of the Western World. If we’re lucky, we might be halfway through the Brothers K by then as well.
Here are the readings for the coming week:
- The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Part II , Book VI (GBWW Vol. 52, pp. 153-179)
- The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapter XVII (GBWW Vol. 37, pp. 234-255)
- “Lycidas” by John Milton (GBWW Vol. 29, p. 27-33)
- “Of the Battle of Dreux” and “Of Names” by Michel de Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 174-177)
- Measurement of a Circle by Archimedes (GBWW Vol. 10, pp. 447-451)
- Provincial Letters by Blaise Pascal, Numbers XIII-XV (GBWW Vol. 30, pp. 99-127)
No doubt you’ve noticed the double shots of Montaigne for the last two weeks. I don’t want still to be reading his essays in 2017.
Here are some observations from last week’s readings:
- The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Part II, Book V: I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Papa Karamazov is about to be murdered by Dmitri, but that Smerdyakov is the real mastermind of the crime. There really is some creepy dialogue in this novel. Of course the high point of the section is Ivan’s Grand Inquisitor, who faults Christ for making things too hard on ordinary people. His declaration that he was willing to be damned to bamboozle the credulous multitude reminded me of Whitaker Chambers’s description of Communists: those who are willing to take upon themselves the crimes of history to bring about their vision of the just society.
- “The Plurality of Persons in God” by St. Thomas Aquinas: Not surprisingly, St. Thomas argues that there is a plurality of persons in God, and that the number of persons is exactly three. His major proof text for that number is 1 John 5:7, which many scholars reject as a later addition to the epistle, but I’m sure Thomas would have found another way to get there if that verse hadn’t been present.
- “Arcades” by John Milton: This poem was part of some entertainment for a noble family who amused themselves by acting out some pastoral scene in shepherds’ garb. Again the classical references are fast and furious. We lose something in the mere reading of the poem as opposed to watching the whole scene enacted.
- “Of Sumptuary Laws” and “Of Sleep” by Michel de Montaigne: Montaigne dislikes sumptuary laws, but not for the reasons moderns condemn them. He explicitly states that the social classes must be clearly differentiated; he just thinks there must be a more effective way to do it. He recognizes the harmful incentives the laws produce. The essay on sleep recounts several famous anecdotes of military commanders, etc., who were able to sleep in what must have been extremely stressful circumstances, e.g. right before a major battle.
- The Nature of Life by C.H. Waddington, Chapters 3-5: In these lectures Waddington first discusses the factors that affect an organism’s development toward its innate potentiality and also traces some of the major questions surrounding the theory of biological evolution (which he concedes has come to be framed most often as a tautology).He says that modern evolutionary theory is a marriage of Darwin and Mendel, and that the infighting over questions like free will and determinism are not resolved. In the last chapter he hints at themes that later came to preoccupy the environmentalist movement, such as fossil fuels and population control.
- Provincial Letters by Blaise Pascal, Numbers X-XII: Letter X is the last in the series where Pascal exposes the Jesuits’ questionable moral theology in the form of a dialogue between himself and a Jesuit monk. The other two letters are addressed to the Jesuit authorities, who had been attacking him for his earlier letters. He has some choice words for them.
No excuses this week. Read something good!