What happened to May?

Almost the end of the month and the classics reading has ground to a halt, run aground on the hidden reef of Aristotle’s Metaphysics which I cannot seem to pick up for any length of time before something more interesting like washing the dishes intrudes. I’m not ready to throw the tea towel in quite yet, but ….

I will also have to start reading new  popular releases as … <drum roll, please>  ………… I now have a second part-time job, but this one is in a BOOKSHOP!!!    The species may be on the endangered list but not quite extinct in the wild yet. Starting Monday.  I wonder how much staff discount I can get? 🙂

Annual charity book fair

This morning I yielded to temptation (again!) and visited our town’s annual charity book fair. Running for a week and held at the local racecourse, there were tens of thousands of second hand books to wander through with most paperbacks at $2 each and hardcovers at $3.
I took one carry bag with me to try and restrict myself somewhat, and came away with about 20 titles, all in excellent physical condition, to add to my TBR mountain. For $2 each, how many of these would you have taken home?

Penguin classics (strictly in the interests of this blog of course)

For the mystery shelves, two very different titles

Related to these is my quest to collect copies of Agatha Christie’s mysteries of a particular edition with covers I personally quite like, which came out 10 years (?) ago but I failed to acquire at the time. For such a best selling author, I think the covers of earlier publishings were either ugly or bland, but these are very nice.

A random brick from the travel tables

And some later volumes of some fantasy series I have to catch up on

 

 

 

 

118. The Old Testament. The Book of Isaiah.

118. The Old Testament. The Book of Isaiah.

First of the Major Prophets, The Book of Isaiah deals with the upcoming judgment and punishment of nations, and the eventual restoration of Judah and Jerusalem. It also foreshadows the coming of Jesus.

Again I am surprised by the numerous times the Israelites turned away from the Lord and worshipped idols in the Old Testament, and God’s wrath in placing them under the yoke of other nations, only to forgive and raise them up, and smite their enemies. And finally now we have the possibility of inclusion of other nations and peoples under God’s hand, after they have been suitably ‘humbled’ as had the Israelites before them.

Favourite lines/passages: Some very well known verses here, and despite the predominant themes of punishment, the ones which resonate are to do with peace

“… and he shall judge amongst the nations, and shall rebuke many people, and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks, nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore”      Isaiah 2:4

“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid ; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them”  Isaiah 11:6

which leads me to the foretelling of the coming of Christ

“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign ; Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel”                             Isaiah 7:14

Diversions and digressions: This read was a diversion in itself from the dry works of Aristotle, but it’s not very satisfactory and I am still hanging out for a work of dramatic  literature. I will have to wait until Menander’s comic play Dyskolos (aka Old Cantankerous) which is still about 8 books away.

Personal rating: By no means a work of clarity on first reading – it might improve with study and more personal knowledge of the historical background. 2

Next : Back to Aristotle and his work on Metaphysics. Yikes!

117. The Art of Rhetoric by Aristotle (c.350 BC)

117. The Art of Rhetoric by Aristotle (c.350 BC)

Plot:  The science of persuasion, or more precisely, the identification of persuasive aspects (‘ammunition’), to prepare the orator for the ever-increasingly important role of speech making in Athenian public life.

My copy is the Penguin Black Classic The Art of Rhetoric, translated by Hugh Lawson-Tancred (ISBN 0140445102)

My thoughts:  Just as with Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, I found parts of Rhetoric completely over my head, while other parts (with the assistance of the editor’s introduction and notes), reasonably straightforward.

Aristotle presents a structured approach which at least gives the inexperienced modern reader a handle on his explanations. There are three ways to speak persuasively, (i) by logical argument, (ii) by appealing to the character of the audience (their age or fortunes), and (iii) by appealing to the emotional state of the listener. These three rely on an understanding of logic and psychology.

The first part outlines these approaches, then looks in more detail at the reasons and key points   for persuading by logical argument : (a) to establish justice (or injustice) of a subject, a forensic or judicial approach to either prosecute or defend, and deals with past events, (b) to present the admirability, virtue or nobility of the subject (or the opposite : to denigrate a subject), usually in the present, or (c) to promote the advisability or inadvisability of a subject, which is the deliberative or political approach, to exhort or deter future action. For each of these, various examples are listed where a speaker might adopt one or more to use in their rhetoric to persuade more strongly e.g. acts which might be considered more noble (because they are more memorable or more beneficial to others) or crimes more serious (more brutal, or repeated, or fill the jury with fear)

The advice to litigants is basically to take whatever tack is best suited to their argument, from the nature of the law itself ….

“if the written law is contrary to our position, we must use the general law, and the principles of greater equity and justice …. but if the written law should be favourable to our position, then we must say .. that seeking to be wiser than the laws is what is forbidden by the most reputable legal systems”                                                                                                 pages 130-131

to the strict legality of one’s own contract versus the higher call of justice against someone else’s contract, or the unreliabilty of evidence acquired by torture when it doesn’t meet your case’s needs, etc.   One can almost hear the ghost of Aristophanes mocking.

The next section describes the characteristics of human emotions which influence decisions, and thereby ways of turning an audience to or from feelings of anger or calm, fear or confidence, friendship or enmity, shame or pride, pity or indignation or jealousy, without regard to the specific subject matter. Naturally gifted orators probably do this by instinct, identifying what will sway a crowd.

The nature or composition of the audience is also discussed, albeit briefly, with youthful audiences hot-tempered and slaves to their desires, confident, optimistic, intense and naive; while old men are the opposite in all these.

The third part of Rhetoric deals with themes common to all speeches, including the style of speech (the way of speaking) and the composition or structure of a speech. Again my concentration lapsed and I took in little of the discussions.

Favourite lines/passages:

“… unbuttonedness, leisure, lack of worry, games, relaxation and sleep are among the pleasant things … ”                                                                                                                           page 115

“Winning is also pleasant .. for it produces the imagination of superiority…”    page 117

“… in misfortune men never want to be seen by their rivals – for our rivals are our admirers”   page 160

“men who will envy … are small-minded, for all things seem great to them”       page 169

Diversions/digressions: 

Some more new words :

Banausic : mundane, manual (particularly with regard to employment)

Knout : a heavy scourge-like multiple whip, usually made of a bunch of rawhide thongs attached to a long handle, sometimes with metal wire or hooks (Wikipedia definition)

Pancratiast: athlete who uses boxing, wrestling, choking and kicking moves to defeat their opponent, in a sporting event called a Pankration, sometimes held at the ancient Olympic Games

Veridical: truthful (you know, like everything in my blog! 😉  )

Personal rating: People who regularly make speeches or are required to speak persuasively would benefit from reading this work, or a careful repackaging with more familiar and modern examples; and taking from it what they find useful or interesting. I enjoyed some parts but found myself flagging in others, so for me it is a 4.

The sanity in between:  Ozma of Oz (book 3 of the original The Wizard of Oz series of books by L. Frank Baum) as part of the Read-along hosted by Lone Star on a Lark (http://lonestaronalark.com/2017/04/oz-read-along-3/ )  – surprisingly enjoyable!

Next : My interest and endurance quota for Aristotle is dwindling, yet I am loathe to give up on another author yet, especially one of such influence. So my fallback is to resume my stop-start progress with the Protestant Old Testament , starting with the Book of Isaiah.

116. Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle (c.350 BC)

116. Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle (c.350 BC)

Plot:  A discussion of the virtues and vices in the character of man.

My copy is still from the 2 volumes of the works of Aristotle which form part of the series Great Books of the Western World, published by Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1952. I would prefer a more approachable and perhaps more true translation, but needs must.

My thoughts:

First things first, the term Nicomachean is not mentioned by Aristotle in the work itself, but seems to have been a dedication to either his father or son (both were named Nicomachus).

The lecture starts with the question “What is happiness?”    Aristotle admits that most men equate happiness with pleasure, some others with honour, wealth or a life of contemplation. But happiness is bigger and more final than any of these ; it is the ultimate good for which the others are simply a means to achieve. (Admittedly happiness also requires a degree of luck or prosperity along the way!)

Not content with this definition, Aristotle pushes further to suggest that happiness must be entwined with the function of man, and results in the view that happiness requires the “virtuous activity of the soul”.  I started to disagree here, as he points out that animals and small children cannot feel happiness as they are incapable of this virtuosity. Perhaps he would distinguish joy from happiness, but you cannot tell me a small boy playing with his dog are not both capable of feeling and demonstrating obvious happiness.

He classifies virtues as either intellectual (such as philosophical wisdom and practical wisdom) or moral (liberality, temperance, courage, etc.) Moral virtues are a result of the nature of the individual reinforced by habit, with the ideal being an intermediate point between extreme vices  of excess and defect

To someone at the extreme end of one of these states, an intermediate person may seem to be at the opposite extreme, (i.e. a miser would see a liberal person as much a spendthrift as a carefree squanderer). Sometimes one extreme is more acceptable than the other, or closer to the intermediate (e.g. a rash and confident person will be more admired than a coward, and deemed not so far removed from the courageous ideal)

Thankfully Aristotle recognises that the intermediate state (virtue) is an ideal for which we must strive but cannot always reach.

“Any one can get angry – that is easy – or give or spend money; but to do this to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, with the right motive, and in the right way, that is not for every one, nor is it easy; wherefore goodness is both rare and laudable and noble”    page 354.

But virtues (and vices) are voluntary choices : it is in the individual’s power to act (or not act) in their belief of what is good to achieve the end they desire. (Acts may also be involuntary for which no blame ensues e.g. things done under compulsion or through ignorance – although drunkeness, carelessness or ignorance of the law is not considered involuntary). This is a more realistic approach to the foundation of criminal law than Plato’s (Socrates’?) statement that no person knowingly does wrong, and approaches the basis of our modern criminal law – I wonder if legal philosophy in modern law courses includes the Nicomachean Ethics?

Aristotle then goes on to discuss moral virtues and vices individually. Much of this was straightforward and reminded me of an old snakes and ladders game I had as a child where shameful characteristics such as pride, profligacy and envy sent you down a snake, while the corresponding virtues led you up ladders.

I skimmed over the chapters on justice and intellectual virtues, and settled down to read about friendship. Aristotle classifies friendships in three types (excluding friendships of association such as fellow-travellers) : (i) friendships of utility, where one person gains an advantage from the relationship, and these only last as long as the usefulness continues, (ii) friendships of pleasure, where a person is amused by the company of another and (iii) ‘true’ friendship which is based on mutual love and goodwill between the friends, and is long lasting, takes time to develop and is proofed against slander of each party from outside. This discussion wanders around to comment on political constitutions and family relationships as well, but was easy to follow.

Favourite lines/passages:

“Those who are called by such names as ‘miserly’, ‘close’, ‘stingy’, all fall short in giving  … to this class belong the cheeseparer and every one of the sort”                              page 368

“For his friend is another self”                                                                                                 page 419

Diversions/digressions:  After Aristotle left Athens, his School was taken over by one of his students Theophrastus, who also wrote on many topics. Although better known for his contributions to botany, one of his surviving works Characters is a series of brief character sketches of different moral types, and may be a sort of descendant of this work. I’ll get to it once Aristotle is done.

Personal rating: Difficult to stick at – some parts were obvious and easy to follow, while others become convoluted and required more concentration than I admittedly gave them. Settle for a 4.

The sanity in between:  Desperation by Stephen King. Had been taking up space on my shelves. Similar ground covered as his classic The Stand  (which was much better and deserves a re-read itself) but this still kept me intrigued to the end.

Next : More Aristotle. Perhaps The Art of Rhetoric.

 

115. On the Generation of Animals (De Generatione Animalium) by Aristotle (c.350 BC)

115. On the Generation of Animals (De Generatione Animalium) by Aristotle (c.350 BC)

Aristotle now goes into more detail on the reproductive anatomy, behaviour, embyrology, and development of animals.

My copy is from the 2 volumes of the works of Aristotle which form part of the series Great Books of the Western World, published by Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1952.

My thoughts:  I might mention in passing that I have given each of my Aristotle posts the Latin name of the work as well as the English. Of course Aristotle was Greek, but the works are well known since Roman times by scholars using these titles. They also have  a numerical cataloguing system called Bekker numbers which indicate page numbers across the entire surviving works, but I haven’t used them. (It seems like Aristotle may have written works on botany as well, but they have either been lost or never started)

The great misconception this work is probably remembered for is Aristotle’s belief that some lower animals are spontaneously generated from “decaying earth and excrements” rather than sexual reproduction. These are the ones that change their forms (e.g. maggots into flies) as Aristotle reasons that true parents would naturally give rise to offspring that looked like themselves whereas these creatures do not. This belief in apparent spontaneous generation is perhaps understandable from a botanic point of view – after all, fungi grow on dead trees without apparent seeds.

Some of the other things Aristotle got slightly wrong:

  • Birds and terrestrial reptiles lay “perfect” eggs (having a hard covering or shell) by internally heating the egg to remove the moisture from the membrane, requiring some part of the female to heat up inside,
  • Both males and females produce semen,
  • Men must hold their breath before ejecting semen, (well, maybe 🙂 )
  • Anatomically he missed the ovaries entirely

But he did get some things right despite popular beliefs of his contemporaries to the contrary. For instance, other natural philosophers (including Hippocrates) thought semen was produced in all parts of the body (pangenesis), allowing children to look like their parents by direct inheritance of traits such as facial features copied from the original in situ.  Aristotle rejected this on several grounds. He also seemed to grasp that the inherited parts provided by both parents were potential traits rather than actuals.

He also conjectures that the male semen acted on the purest part of the female’s menstrual flow (which is her imperfect semen) to create an embryo. (Unflatteringly he compared the action to rennet acting on milk causing it to curdle). He gradually comes to the conclusion that the female provides the elements required for  a “nutritive soul” (life force) which strives to feed and grow, while the semen carries a “vital heat” or spirit which provides the initial spark or movement to generate the new life, and provides the “sensitive soul” element,  meaning the potentiality for the development of the senses.

Aristotle’s guiding mantra is “Nature makes nothing in vain”, which to me is the reverse side of the same coin – as Darwin might have said –  “Nature allows nothing to continue in vain” (with the exception of the human appendix!)

Favourite lines/passages:  On the mating of hedgehogs ….

“… their union must be quick, for the hedgehog does not …. mount upon the back of the female, but they conjugate standing upright because of their spines”          page 257

(OK I checked this on YouTube and its not always true – they do mate as other mammals, and not that quickly either. Love – or at least sex – knows no limits!)

and a nice summation of the entire series of biological lectures:

“it is impossible .. to be eternal as an individual …. but it is possible for it as a species”  page 272

Personal rating:  Only a 3. I grew tired of this by halfway and admit I skimmed the second half rather brutally.  Inevitably some of Aristotle’s theories are built on conjectures, and building one conjecture on top of another creates a sense of disinterest in the whole exercise. And probably some 21st century arrogance as well. 🙂

The sanity in between: I have badly hurt my foot somehow and been spending a lot of time resting. Oddly I haven’t done much reading of the classics with all this enforced rest, but spent quite a lot of time browsing my collection of walking guides for long distance paths in Britain – some irony there somewhere I’m sure.

Next : Now that the zoology is finished, where to next?  WIth only four days of March remaining, perhaps a change of pace and have a stab at Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics?

 

114. On the Gait of Animals (De Incessu Animalium), and, On the Motion of Animals (De Motu Animalium) by Aristotle (c.350 BC)

114. On the Gait of Animals (De Incessu Animalium), and, On the Motion of Animals (De Motu Animalium) by Aristotle (c.350 BC)

Plot:   Two short lectures connected by the idea of movement in animals. On the Gait of Animals discusses the various types of movement of animals and their different arrangements of limbs, whereas On the Motion of Animals is more concerned with the physics underlying the movement.

My copy is still from the 2 volumes of the works of Aristotle which form part of the series Great Books of the Western World, published by Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1952.

My thoughts:  

On the Gait of Animals is in the same vein as the preceding On the Parts of Animals, describing and investigating the anatomy of the limbs of animals, and asks such obvious questions that are so elementary yet taken for granted – the sort of thing a young child might ask a parent – why do most animals have four legs? why don’t some animals have odd numbers of legs?, and also questions few people at all would consider : why does man have arms that flex inward when most animals have forelegs that flex outward?

Aristotle also seemed fascinated with the crab – the only animal that moves sidewards. I would have loved to see what he thought of kangaroos, although he was certainly familiar with other animals that jump.

On the Motion of Animals  is more concerned with the physics of movement, such as the need for a fixed solid substrate for the animal to push against when moving, but also the driving forces of movement : desire and intellect which motivate the animal to set itself in motion.

“the living creature is moved by intellect, imagination, purpose, wish and appetite. And all these are reducible to mind and desire.”

Personal rating:  Not as easy a read as you would suppose from the above. Aren’t you glad I break it down into simplicities even I can understand 🙂  I think I can only give these a 3.

The sanity in between:   A new spot on each post, so you can see what non-classic/s I also read since last post.  In between Aristotle’s biological treatises, I read The Dragon Reborn (volume 3 of the Wheel of Time fantasy series) by Robert Jordan, and Love among the Chickens by the great P. G. Wodehouse. Definitely an animal theme this month.

Next :  Finishing off the zoology with Aristotle’s Generation of Animals.