We are down in the weeds in the midst of six lengthy works this week in the Great Books Project and will be for some time. Fortunately, my enthusiasm for recently resuming the project should keep me from getting bogged down.
Here are the readings for the coming week:
- War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Book I, Chapters 15-23 (GBWW Vol. 51, pp. 26-41)
- The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapter XXXIV (GBWW Vol. 37, pp. 545-558)
- The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Part I, Questions 65-67 (GBWW Vol. 17, p. 339-354)
- Sonnets XI-XV by William Shakespeare (GBWW Vol. 25, p. 587-588)
- Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapter XIX (GBWW Vol. 53, pp. 502-539)
- The Laws of Plato, Book VI (GBWW Vol. 6, pp. 697-713)
I decided that since we are already more than halfway through this project, but are still not halfway through GBWW’s Summa selections, we need to stick with St. Thomas for now. Thus we move on into the treatise on the work of the six days.
Here are some observations from last week’s readings:
- War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Book I, Chapters 1-14: Tolstoy certainly doesn’t seem to want the reader to have a favorable view of the Russian aristocracy; almost everyone is shallow and hypocritical. You can tell there will be a million characters. I was already losing track of them in these first 25 pages. I suppose the most fun part was the argument over whether Napoleon was a great man. Can anyone comment on the quality of the 1956 film version with Audrey Hepburn and Henry Fonda? I haven’t seen it, but am wondering whether to give it a try.
- The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapter XXXIII: This was a short chapter focusing mostly on the conquest of Africa by the Vandals. Gibbon records the controversy over Donatism and the siege of Hippo, during which St. Augustine died. My favorite passage was the recounting of the tale of the seven sleepers, which I had never heard of before.
- The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Part I, Questions 59-64: Angels have free will without fleshly appetites, according to Question #59. By nature they love God more than they love themselves. They are not eternal; citing Genesis 1:1, St. Thomas asserts that they did not preexist the corporeal world (take that, Milton!). They were not created in happiness, else none of them would have fallen; in fact, they needed grace to turn to God as the object of their happiness. However, they do merit their happiness. Angels can sin, but only the sins of pride and envy. The devil “sinned at once after the first instant of his creation” and fell immediately. This section was a lot to take in, and I’ll have to revisit it at some point to think about these conclusions further.
- Sonnets VI-X by William Shakespeare: This block of sonnets contains more admonitions to marriage and childbearing like we saw in the first set of five. Sonnet #9 contains this theme, and it seems to be addressed to a man: “Is it for fear to wet a widow’s eye/That thou consumest thyself in single life?” Sonnet #8 has an interesting metaphor of the strings of an instrument as members of a family (or vice versa).
- Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapter XVIII: I had to gloss over this chapter for lack of time. It looks like James continues with the theme of mental processes, in this case imagination, being underlay by neural processes. He concludes that the difference in the neural processes between sense and imagination is one of intensity, not of locality in the brain.
- The Laws of Plato, Book V: “Truth is the beginning of every good thing, both to Gods and men; and he who would be blessed and happy, should be from the first a partaker of the truth, that he may live a true man as long as possible, for then he can be trusted; but he is not to be trusted who loves voluntary falsehood, and he who loves involuntary falsehood is a fool.” This book is full of statements like this one, so I was able to make it through even though the whole thing is one long speech by the Athenian and contains a call for a prohibition on private ownership of gold and silver.
It’s melting weather here in Alabama and most likely will be for at least the next 90 days. I’ll be staying inside watching my electric bill creep up and up. I hope you will be able to find an air-conditioned place to read something good this week.