When I started the solo Great Books Project, I laid out the first year and set a goal to read that first list by December 31, 2021. It’s looking less likely that I’ll hit it — I left the ancient world halfway through The Aeneid to get ahead of the books we were reading in the Interintellect discussion series. One of the reasons I’m enjoying that discussion series is that it moves comparatively quicker: seven meetings later, we’ve gone from The Iliad (roughly 1200 BCE) all the way through to Inferno (1320 CE).
- Donna Zuckerberg, Not All Dead White Men: Classics and Misogyny in the Digital Age. Zuckerberg’s book on the modern anti-feminist movement is excellent, particularly the last chapter on the potential futures of the Classics. Zuckerberg reminds me a bit of Glenn Greenwald in books like How Would a Patriot Act? or No Place to Hide, in that he has this sort of methodological rebutting of the strongest, most central points of the opposing argument. It’s also striking (and encouraging) how much the author obviously loves the Classics: this feels different from the proponents of the dismantle-Classics-and-start-over argument. “The idea of a vibrant, radical, intersectional feminist Classics,” Zuckerberg writes, “one that uses the ancient world to enrich conversations about race, gender, and social justice[,] is anathema to [anti-feminist men]. And that is why feminist Classics today is more exciting and necessary than ever.” Zuckerberg is a feminist and a bigger fan of the Classics than even the Stoic-quoting inhabitants of far-right forums, which is precisely why she’s so compelling. You should read the book, but here’s a good interview with Zuckerberg on Vox.
- Dante’s Inferno. I read the following quote on the Divine Comedy recently: “Intellectuals say that Paradiso is for pious theologians, Purgatorio is for brilliant, exacting scholars of Medieval cosmology, but Inferno, Inferno is for filthy casuals.” Yr correspondent loved everything about Inferno: the lovingly-crafted depictions of Hell, the parochialism, the strict proportionality (treachery from least bad to worst: against kin, against country, against guests, and against God), how the staunch Christian writes his own enemies, living and dead, into Hell. I say all that in the full knowledge that I probably only enjoyed 20% of the book overall, since I missed most of the references (despite Robin Kirkpatrick’s excellent footnotes). Almost by definition, the great books are ones that reward rereading, but Inferno is one that I’d love to come back to when I have more time, and use it to really get into 14th-century Italy.
- René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy. I started Meditations last night, finishing the introductory material and the first meditation, and was struck by how readable it was. Maybe I got lucky with my translation (Cottingham/Cambridge edition), or maybe I’m just enjoying the easiest part of the material, but it’s been really enjoyable to dig into one of the meatiest philosophers.