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The Great Books Of The Western World



  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,541 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Dragged into a fair bit of modern Irish history reading.

    Still slowly, slowly progressing through Thucydides. I think the speeches - reconstructed by him, although he was undoubtedly present for many of the ones which occurred in Athens - are the real gold.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,541 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Whew, I think I felt every year of that war...

    Finally finished Thucydides.

    Observations: I can see why he is considered so relevant by the likes of Donald Kagan in their analysis of his work. There's no doubt that there are many lessons about geopolitics, war and realpolitik in there.

    In terms of being a work of literature, Thucydides' writing style is notoriously eccentric (though not difficult, really). Although there are occasionally brilliant bits of prose probably the most engaging pieces of writing are the speeches. If you only read the speeches you'd get most of the social and political observations that are perennial gold.

    Couldn't help but consider contemporary parallels with the U.S today in how Thucydides described 'party politics' and the strife between supporters of democracy and oligarchy in Athens and, in some cases, other cities. Absolutely brutal cultural conflict that eventually spilled over into assassination and civil warfare.

    To be explicit, it's plain to me that 'red' and 'blue' states in the United States are not just divided by a cultural gulf, for the most part, but also by differing economic outlooks, and that these two factors can only continue to drive them towards conflict. I'm not saying civil war, but certainly years more low intensity civil unrest and cultural warfare that will poison the well of goodwill in American public life and likely yield continued chipping away at long standing institutions, which become nothing more than political footballs.


    Now, on to Plato.

    Haven't read him since 1999, when the first dialogue I seem to remember reading was the Symposium. That's not up this time. I am starting with Euthyphro.

    What is piety? What is holiness?

    And so on.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,541 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Completed EUTHYPHRO, which is one of the simpler dialogues both in terms of its construction (number of participants) and its arguments.

    On the APOLOGY now, which contains a kind of opening argument from Socrates to his court where he basically says his mission is to contradict a statement by a particular Oracle that only Socrates has wisdom (paraphrasing badly here). So he says his questioning of everyone is to find someone with greater wisdom with he, because he cannot accept what the Oracle has said. Bit of humble brag, IMO, but at any rate that's the reason for his approach according to him. He dismisses the suggestion that he could be considered a teacher corrupting the youth for the same reason... He says he is not a teacher, but rather just following the course of action as outlined.

    Thinking about EUTHYPHRO in that light, you see that basically what happens is Socrates comes along and shoots down whatever Euthyphro says. The reason we have essays and books about 'what Socrates thought' in respect of some of the topics he discusses are because he doesn't clearly state his position, except to present requirements and criteria which arguably are indicative of what it must be. But mainly he just blows holes in Euthyphro's arguments and watches him sink. I'm less impressed now than I was by all of this when I was a university undergraduate.

    Socrates was probably tried by about 500 of his peers. The level of 'direct democracy' in Athens back during this period was simply remarkable.

    I can only conclude that, despite his admirable traits and his colossal contribution to Philosophy, Socrates must have been a bit of an arsehole. Lots of his compatriots did far worse things and merely went into exile or lived under a cloud, sometimes even coming back to the city later to be garlanded once again. I think when I was younger I saw a lot of tragedy and pathos in the APOLOGY and now I do still get a bit of that ... But a lot of it is also a bit pompous, frankly.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,541 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Finished the APOLOGY and now onto the CRITO.

    Although I am probably less forgiving of Socrates' position in my last post than is entirely fair, I have to give him credit in this one for making profoundly comforting remarks about death and mortality at the end of the APOLOGY.

    He presents death as an unknown which is either annihilation of the consciousness or a migration of the soul to immortality. For Socrates, it is win win because he likens the former - the extinguishing of personhood and consciousness forever - to a dreamless sleep. And who doesn't like a deep, dreamless sleep?

    I have thought for a long time that when we fear death there are a few things actually in play, none of which have to do with whether or not there is survival after the grave. It's usually that we fear:-

    1. The manner of our death - will there be pain, lingering discomfort, agony, embarrassment... Or worst of all, will it be pointless chance, a fluke, choking on a piece of steak in a café?

    2. Leaving loved ones behind. Who among us with young children does not dread the idea of leaving them unready for our deaths.

    But I agree with Socrates that I find it hard to fear the objective idea of my complete end. As he says, it will happen anyway, if we fear an event that is our death then really we are fearing a specific date for an event that is certainly going to happen sometime. If you are told the day of your death (for the sake of argument, a bad medical diagnosis) then I think his point is that we should frame that bad news with the awareness that we might reach the end of our natural lifespan in a further fifteen years in any case... It's not like we're going to live forever.

    As I said, however, there are real concerns around the fate of our families and friends that cannot be dismissed by philosophical argument so easily. I think this is where maybe my appreciation of Socrates flags slightly again. He mentions, in the APOLOGY, that he will not beg the jury for mercy because it is demeaning. He talks about having three sons, all of whom are still children (by our standards AND his). I think there I find it difficult to really praise the unyielding, rigid nature of Socrates' insistence that he will not compromise even slightly in his position. It's painfully obvious, considering he was convicted only by a margin of 30-40 votes, that if he could have just tugged his forelock even slightly to the jury that he would have been acquitted. Instead, he is glib and the margin of voters confirming his death sentence actually increases on the second vote when he has offered only paltry alternative punishments in lieu of the death sentence.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,541 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Onto PHAEDO now.

    Some interesting arguments presented, and I guess from the POV of the distinction between Plato as a philosopher and Socrates as a historical figure and philosopher, and where the line between the two exists, PHAEDO is where you get the sense that now you are listening to Plato first and foremost, and less so Socrates.

    Plato advances a couple of arguments here about the eternal nature of the soul, and they're quite ingenious. Almost like the ontological argument for the existence of god in a way, they're cheeky.

    He says that every opposite comes from its opposite. So what is dry was first wet, and what was hot was first cold, and vice versa and so on. So far so good, at least on a surface skimming.

    So then he says that life is the opposite of death, so it follows not just that death comes from life... But that the living come from the dead. Bingo bongo - the soul is eternal. When you're born, all that's happening is your eternal soul, which has been disembodied since your death, and which retains all your wisdom, is re-embodied and wiped of wisdom at the moment of birth. Ambitious.

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  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,541 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    About halfway through the REPUBLIC.

    Quite interesting comments on the permissibility of different kinds of speech (even in terms of the arts... In music and poetry), considering our contemporary battles in the cultural sphere.

    For a man with such a low opinion of his fellow men - in terms of their wisdom - Plato / Socrates is very statist. He wants to give tremendous powers to the State. I suppose depending on your perspective that means either putting tremendous power in the hands of stupid men or creating a bulwark of laws that impedes the impact of their stupidity. I suspect the former would have been the more likely outcome.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,541 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Completed THE REPUBLIC.

    Of interest was some of the final materials dealing with how Plato believed tyranny emerges from a tension between democracy and oligarchy. When oligarchies become flabby, and perhaps when the common man sees the inadequacy of the oligarchs when he compares himself against them in tough times (the battlefield, for example), democracy emerges. And the oligarchs bite back. So the tyrant first emerges as a protector of the common folk, the democrats. As time goes on, he is empowered by them, and eventually, when he has enough power he begins removing anyone competent from the field, until at last he is left alone. #

    Onto Aristotle's THE NICHOMANCHEAN ETHICS now. So far, very impressed. Not as hard to read as I had anticipated - I'd heard bad things about Artistotle, that it read more like his notes rather than being cohesive texts... Doesn't seem to be the case here, at least.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,541 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Interesting comments from Aristotle on the nature of happiness. For him happiness is goodness, and he says that as a single swallow does not make a summer, in order to say that a man is good (and thus happy) his whole life must be considered. The example of a man who suffered in this regard is given as Priam, who had everything and saw his city, his sons and his life taken from him at the end.

    For the same reason as the above, Artistotle might say that children cannot be considered happy.

    He certainly says they cannot be called happy because they cannot engage in the highest form of goodness... Which he sees as action for the good of not just oneself but for one's city or for all men... That is, political activity(!).

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,541 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Aristotle's position on what virtue might be is fascinating.

    The cliff notes version: We might think of someone being very virtuous (for the same of argument, something being courageous i.e the virtue of courage, because of course there are different virtues) as being a matter of their having a lot of the given virtue... We might think of them as being near the end of a spectrum.

    Aristotle points out it's more the case that to be virtuous is to have the mid point between two extremes of the virtue. An excess at one extreme point, and a deficiency at the other extreme point. And the mid point, in Aristotle's reckoning, is where the ideal or virtue must lie... Because in his view something that is perfectly balanced is usually characterised as something that you can neither take away from nor add to without worsening it.

    So if cowardice is at one end, and rashness is at the other far end, then the virtue of courage is a mid point between them.

    I've been reading for years about how the Greeks valued moderation so heavily, as a virtue. Here is some of the intellectual underpinning, I guess, or a really good defence of that cultural tendency towards praising moderation.

  • Registered Users Posts: 1,252 ✭✭✭ echo beach

    Thanks for such useful summaries of very complex works.
    I would like to read these books myself but doubt if I would have the patience to keep at it.

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  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,541 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    echo beach wrote: »
    Thanks for such useful summaries of very complex works.
    I would like to read these books myself but doubt if I would have the patience to keep at it.

    Thanks for the comment.

    I also had an apprehension about whether I would actually stick this project out.

    It's one thing to 'know' that a book is important and significant, but it's another to be able to actually motivate yourself to stick with a reading list of that sort if your diet up to that point has been a mixed bag.

    I have been following this reading list for just about a year now, and it has been - on the whole - easier than I expected.

    There are definitely points where I zone out and find myself skimming (The latter parts of the Old Testament in particular stands out). But by and large what has helped has been that many of the works are relatively short, and if I keep plowing on then usually the next thing on the list is something different.

    Truthfully, though, a lot of the books have just been more accessible and engaging than I expected.

    I have gone ahead a little and made some changes to Mortimer J Adler's reading list, removing some of the very dated science stuff, but it is still going to take me another 10 years to complete if I continue as I am now.

    What I have just recently begun doing is to allow myself to bring in other books to read parallel to the reading list books. The main reason for doing this is because otherwise 10 years seems like a long time to read literally nothing that is contemporary in any way. However, it's still very much the case that if I want to read that holiday paperback I tell myself that I "must" have read a half chapter of Artistotle first.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,541 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep


    Interesting final chapters on the nature of friendship. Aristotle posits that friendships can be based on utility or pleasure, but that only in cases where friendship is based on mutual goodness and genuinely wishing for the betterment of your friend will the friendship survived.

    Friendships based on utility are predicated on gain and transactions in an obvious way, and disparities are possible when friends are of different stations or are presented with different needs. Friendships based on pleasure are problematic for fairly obvious reasons.

    Aristotle does make the interesting point that the Greeks have a folk saying that silence will cut even the best friendship, and he believes this is true even of perfect friendships. He observes as true the fact that long absences or periods of non interaction cause people to forget a friendship. I think we all know that is the case.

    The big takeaway for me was that Aristotle, like Plato, believes that judgment (having good judgement, or what he calls prudence, the ability to know the good) is a vital path to virtue. But Aristotle cautions that it is just a faculty, that although it is essential to knowing the good, it won't help you actually make the decision needed to be good. Again, something a lot of us can probably identify with.

    However, I do think that that master faculty of prudence is amazing. Imagine the ability to know what the correct thing to do is in every conceivable situation. Everything. If that's not a super power worth having, I don't know what it is. But Aristotle is probably correct that without having the cleverness or capability to actually then achieve the good end then it is not in itself going to solve all your problems.

    - - -

    Was due to read Xenophon's A HISTORY OF MY TIMES next, which is kind of a follow on from Thucydides, but to be honest it looks pretty turgid and was an 'extra' I was considering injecting into my reading list. Instead I have opted for the prescribed (and much more interesting) THE PERSIAN EXPEDITION, which am a few chapters into and enjoying. A military history classic and I believe quite readable.

    Cyrus is trying to topple his brother from the head of the Persian Empire and brings an army containing Ten Thousand Greek Hoplites (including Xenophon) inland to do it. Cyrus is killed in battle and the Greeks must elect their own military leaders and then fight their way home.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,541 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Just finished the pivotal battle early in THE PERSIAN EXPEDITION where Cyrus is killed in the battle with his older brother, the Emperor.

    There's an obvious degree of numerical inflation going on when it comes to the numbers on either side of the battle. Ten thousand Greeks and a larger cohort of 100,000 odd Persians versus the 1,000,000 strong army of the Emperor.

    The Greeks advance and break the Persians on one front, and it's interesting that Xenophon emphasises that the Greeks press on but shout at one another to keep ranks. In drill terms this means keeping the 'dressing', your alignment and distance to the man next to you. If fighting as part of a phalanx or any kind of line then it's this attention to detail that keeps the cohesion and effectiveness of the formation going.

    Tempting to rush and lose formation when there's a chance to hunt down a fleeing enemy, and indeed we know from THE ILIAD and historical analysis of the fighting of the period that it seems like an awful lot of the killing was done when presented with an opponent's back, frankly.

    When Cyrus, at a certain point in the battle, has routed soldiers near his brother, it is just this trap he and his men fall into. In their eagerness to pursue a routed foe Cyrus is left with just a few 'table companions' who then make an attempt on the Emperor. But who lives by the sword dies by the sword, and Cyrus finds himself the one who is killed - struck with a javelin just under the eye (Interestingly Xenophon earlier emphasised that Cyrus was bareheaded in battle).

    So the scene is set now for the Greeks to be caught in a nasty situation.

    What strikes me about this book is how much Xenophon, an Athenian, apparently admired Cyrus. Unusual, I would think, considering the normal Greek attitude to barbarians. He must have been quite a charismatic man.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,541 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Still chipping away at Xenophon and enjoying it.

    Opened a new front on this Great Books project...

    For some time now I've been trying to use audio books to supplement, as a way of getting through texts more speedily. The problem is that a lot of narrators are just dreadful when it comes to some of these works... Reading them with no care as to the meaning of the words, so that you are listening to (basically) gibberish in terms of tone and emphasis.

    I've been trying to find options on Audible that are better than that, however, and have got a few queued up that I am going to start going at during my commutes.

    A fair way into Virgil's THE AENID, which is quite wonderful. In some ways it's nice to go back to Troy and Virgil really has a deft touch for action and high drama.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,541 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Almost finished THE AENEID. It's really good, an excellent follow-on to THE ILIAD, frankly. If this were a summer blockbuster movie series then no one would be disappointed ... It ties up all of the loose ends you'd want. Also has plenty of the violence of THE ILIAD. I think the description of someone's lungs warming the cold iron of the spearpoint that penetrated them ... Well, that'll stay with me.

    Have fallen off with Xenophon a bit but more than halfway through.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,541 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep


    THE ANEID is genuinely an interesting work, I can see why it is considered one of the core latin texts. Shame I have no Greek or Latin, I could never be a real classicist as a consequence.

    THE PERSIAN EXPEDITION is highly readable and interesting from a leadership point of view. I gather there is a questionmark over the extent to which it is a kind of apologia where Xenophon is talking himself up and trying to shore up his legacy, following contemporary attacks upon it, but either way the story of the Ten Thousand is quite remarkable. They begin with their backs to the wall, looking certain to be killed or enslaved, and by the end they are effectively a Greek polity on the move, a powerful, experienced and professional mercenary army being courted by all and sundry.

    Listening to Ovid's METAMORPHOSES and reading Aristotle's THE POLITICS.

    Aristotle is just explaining what slavery is and why it may be natural. Oh well.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,541 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    METAMORPHOSES is a gruelling 17 hours on audiobook. About at the halfway mark now.

    THE POLITICS is, oddly, probably more readable than the NICHOMACHEAN ETHICS ... Could just be that I have built up enough of a base that - at this point - when I see discussion of ephors, Solon, Athenian Courts etc. I actually know what Aristotle is talking about.

    THE POLITICS showcases Artistotle's practicality, in my view. He punches great big holes in some of the sillier ideas Plato put forward in THE REPUBLIC - for example, the notion that women and children would be held in common by the ruling class of Guardians. Artistotle correctly points out that when *everyone* is the father of every child, it does not result in the children having multiple caring parents, it results in * no one* acting like a parent unless they suspect a given child is in fact theirs.

    Can't help but also note his criticisms of various means of holding property in common, or making it for communal use. Honestly, he anticipated Marxism and dismisses it in a scant three or four pages.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,541 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Still making my way through THE POLITICS. I continue to be of the belief that it is more accessible than THE NICOMACHEAN ETHICS but who am I to turn traditional reading order on its head.

    Finished THE METAMORPHOSES and - despite the listening length it is very accessible (if gruesome at times).

    I really wanted to find a good abridged versions of Livy's histories, but for the moment I have settled for a pretty short read which captures only the period during which Rome had Hannibal at its gates. Remarkable, in terms of the tactical gambits and acumen related on both sides. Also I was surprised how long Hannibal was actually in Italy for after crossing the alps... Over twelve years so far... Remarkable!

    I think I will have to try to read an overview of Roman history sometime, whether it is via Livy or a contemporary author at some point. The political system - the Senate, the appointment of consuls and so on - is truly remarkable and you really get a sense of the civic strength.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,541 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Finished Livy on the war with Hannibal (2nd Punic war? Not sure I'm spelling that correctly). Fascinating listen and actually made me consider having a crack at reading at least some of the rest of Livy. Roman society is much more interesting to me, in many ways, than the Greek polities.

    With the Romans you have a sense of a civil society not a bazillion miles from our own, and you can kind of understand decision making processes and admire them (albeit of course they were brutal and murderous and whatnot also). Whereas with the Greeks sometimes it's like they have a mindset very very alien compared to our own, decision making is much more opaque.

    Livy looks difficult to 'dip' into, however, and so I've put it on the back burner for a while. If I were going to revisit any author thusfar though, he's a strong candidate.

    Now listening to Plutarch... Selections from his PARALELL LIVES. The father of biography, and again quite engaging. I'm mixing about 7-10 of his Greek Lives and the same of his Roman lives.

    So far, reading his life of Lycurgus, the (possibly mythical, I'm not sure) Spartan law-giver.

    In the process he describes how Sparta came to be what it was. Various key features are attributed to Cretan and possibly even Egyptian society, arising as a result of Lycurgus' travels and study of foreign laws and constitutions.

    What is chilling, however, and which forever makes me unable to get into the contemporary lauding of the Spartans as bad-ass action hero types, and their use in motivational gym memes and whatnot, is that it's clear it was a society where the abuse of children sexually and physically was actually structurally built in. I have to wonder how it came about, in some ways it sounds like the society was set up by a cadre of abusers, if you were to design a system which legitimised the sexual abuse of children it would be hard not to design something more straightforward than what the Spartans had. It was like regular morality was turned upside down. Male and female relations were made as difficult as possible (ostensibly to increase ardour), but the relationship of older men to younger boys was actively encouraged. Hard to fathom.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,541 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Perhaps halfway through Plutarch at this stage (The LIVES I have selected). I have finished 6-7 Greek lives and 2-3 Roman lives. On Caesar now.

    What strikes me about Caesar is that he was prevented from attempting a dictatorship, as was his slightly more sluggish rival Pompei, by the third powerful potential threat in the State - the wealthy Crassus. When Crassus was killed in battle, the triad was destabilised and Caeser and Pompei were now in a position where either could act against the other without worrying that their opponent would make common cause with Crassus to finish them off.

    Interesting to be listening to how Caesar made such ingenious use of the common folk in his effective usurpation of the machinery of the State. He played to the crowd, and subverted existing laws and institutions to his way, and trampled on them with the consent of the masses when it was necessary.

    This is more or less in perfect alignment with what Aristotle says in THE POLITICS in relation to how democracies fail. He doesn't just say that populism overturns them, he is specific that it's the potential for a prospective tyrant to give the populace what they think they want ... And the populace will cast down any check and balance, and law, which stands in the way. Aristotle talks about the extreme worst case for a democracy, when the people's desires become sovereign over the law. This is, ultimately, what the risk of any populism is - whether left or right. Caesar is a decent example I think, although he is also a 'tyrant' that Aristotle would have approved of, as he follows many of the tips that Aristotle observes that long-lasting tyrants follow ... He seems relatively benign towards punishing people (for the most part), does not sexually abuse people in a rampant way, and he gives the illusion at times that he is still subordinate to courts and the senate. It's interesting that when he chased Pompei out of Rome and made himself dictator he only held it for about 7 days before resigning it and just appointing himself consul. It may be that he resigned dictatorship in name only, and in fact he was still de facto the ruler, but interesting nonetheless, the optics of the thing.

    Almost finished THE POLITICS. I've been slow, looking forward to something new. I think it's Cicero next, but I'm not certain. Funnily enough, a man who features in the rivalry between Caeser and Pompei (Trying to reconcile the two).

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  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,541 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Finished ROMAN LIVES.

    Man, Cleopatra was like the original Yoko Ono, totally wrecking Marc Anthony's vibe and bromance with both Caesars.

    Next is Epicurus, a relatively short selection of his writings.

    But delaying that to finish off the doorstopper Tony Robbins book that I started reading months ago... Still very suspicious of Robbins' originality and actual worth as a thinker, but we'll see.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,541 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Listened to a podcast of Mervyn Peake and guests talking about Roman Slavery.

    Then listened to a further episode about Frederick Douglas and the American slave industry.

    Interested to compare and contrast.

    Experts in Roman slavery acknowledge that they are working from fragmentary sources but there does seem to be this idea, despite the undeniable brutality used on slaves (The whip and the threat of crucifixion) there is at least some evidence indicating a paucity of slaves over the age of 35... Which bears out an idea that a large number of Roman slaves were able to buy their freedom by that age (There's a speech in the Senate that supports this idea also, where the figure of six years is mentioned, if the person is frugal and industrious).

    Roman slaveowners did breed slaves and this was the normal means of acquiring new slave stock (not conquest).

    American slavery does seem to be a 'worse' institution by far in that there was no prospect of manumission.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,541 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Epicurus' THE ART OF HAPPINESS. About halfway through. There are excerpts included from his Roman disciple, Lucretius, who I started on Audible a while ago and abandoned.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,541 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Not too much long left with Epicurus, a quick read. Slightly eccentric feel to him, I suspect that he was something of a guru in his day. His philosophy was heavily influenced by Buddhism, which sounds remarkable but appears to be true.

    I have a couple of audio downloads I have been listening to in the car. I tried Plotinus' THE ENNEADS. Plotinus is usually called a Neo Platonist although I gather he actually is slightly after. I began and get a sense of how he's an important pre-Christian philosopher (has this key concept of The One that is important), but honestly it was like watching paint dry and I have moved on to Epictetus, who is an absolute gem.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,541 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Settling into Epictetus (Audible, I'm listening to it when commuting) and reading Cicero.

    It's interesting to read Cicero after having heard about his from Plutarch - he's key to several of THE LIVES, including his own - and there's also something very fresh-feeling about the preface his writes about choosing to do philosophy in latin. It's clear that there was a snobbery at the time about anything contemporary in latin versus what they had inherited in Greek.

    I really like Epictetus also, very droll.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,541 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Epictitus is in the books.

    Technically I'm due to now move into Seneca and then Marcus Aurelius before finally (mercifully?) being done with the Greeks and Romans and moving on...

    However, I realised I've omitted Horace. I have a collection of his satires and epistles to get through before - as mentioned above - doing the last couple of stoics.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,541 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    A quick one on Horace.

    I generally try to avoid reading too much of any preface or essay to what I'm reading... I feel like it excessively colours my interpretation of the primary text (Something Mortimer J Adler warns against). From time to time, though, I'll skim them or read them after I've finished the work.

    What's remarkable is how varied they are in terms of quality. You'd think Penguin Classics would always be on the ball, but there have been a couple which feel really sophomoric in terms of the value they add. Pretty much just basic summaries that I would have thought were more suitable in a schoolbook (Maybe that is the intended audience, perhaps they don't believe many other people beyond kids who have to are going to read Sophocles or Aeschylus or whoever!).

    Anyway, Horace lived during quite a turbulent period of Roman history, and the preface essay remarks that although he's a satirist he seems to have been careful not to give offence to any major figures in public life, perhaps out of self preservation.

    But reading his second Epistle, which is about the foibles of his contemporaries, and talks frequently about adultery, what I was struck by is how filthy it is. He's talking about the risk of being an adulterer, and he's like "I knew a guy that was raped by a bunch of louts, another guy was caught and castrated, another died", it's pretty graphic. He talks about whether it's worth losing his life or his ass over. Then he's talking about these guys who will do anything to get next to c**t. I don't really care but it's funny to me that this reading list I'm doing has been in existence for heading towards a hundred years. Guess the men of the past weren't as prudish as I thought (Talking the 30s, 40s generation).

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,541 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Seneca's LETTERS FROM A STOIC. I had quite the essay written about Seneca but lost it all due to pressing the wrong button on this damnable machine.:pac:

    Seneca = stoicism lite.

    That shall have to suffice.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,541 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    About halfway through Seneca's LETTERS FROM A STOIC.

    One of them is a remarkably progressive polemic about Roman slaves. Noting their humanity and even suggesting that there is the possibility of a friendship within a household by master to slave.

    I could take it a little more seriously if Seneca didn't amass a vast, vast fortune during his lifetime. Undoubtedly he owned hundreds of slaves - are we to believe they were all treated as if they were not mainly just 'human tools' (Aristotle).

    Also reading William Gibson's NEUROMANCER. Hard to top as a SF novel. One of the best of the past 30 years?

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  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,541 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    I'm listening to THE NEW TESTAMENT on audible.

    It's very jarring to listen to it while you're also on a diet of the Stoics, and have preceded them with other Greek and Roman authors. Frankly, when you start listening to the Gospels, they sound absolutely addled. Not so much the content but rather the delivery... Took me ages to get my head around Jesus' choice of parables as a teaching tool I was like "Speak clearly man, would it kill you to construct an argument in a transparent way!".

    Anyway, got to Corinthians 1.22 and what's interesting to me is that the early Church were obviously well aware of the nature of the people they were preaching to on both sides, and the inherent challenges in terms of what disparate camps from different cultural backgrounds expected...

    "Jews demand signs, and Greeks search for wisdom"

    He goes on to basically say that the Church is kind of screwed both ways, because they preach the resurrection of Christ, and for the Jews that's a big stumbling block...And to the Greeks / gentiles it sounds like nonsense.

    "we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles…"

    At least, that was my interpretation. Though the self awareness was interesting, and also a kind of wry humour to it.