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26-02-2019, 08:56   #46
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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.
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04-03-2019, 12:37   #47
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Finished THE AENEID and also THE PERSIAN EXPEDITION.

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.
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13-03-2019, 09:24   #48
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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.
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19-03-2019, 09:18   #49
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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.
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22-03-2019, 16:40   #50
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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.
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08-04-2019, 14:41   #51
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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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11-04-2019, 14:11   #52
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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.
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15-04-2019, 16:53   #53
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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.
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25-04-2019, 10:29   #54
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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.
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26-04-2019, 09:34   #55
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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.
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29-04-2019, 11:59   #56
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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.
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20-05-2019, 09:39   #57
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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.
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20-05-2019, 14:57   #58
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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).
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27-05-2019, 12:00   #59
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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.

Seneca = stoicism lite.

That shall have to suffice.
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07-06-2019, 13:15   #60
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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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