Last year I was gifted by a wonderful, generous, loving soul my very own set of The Great Books of the Western World. I read The Great Conversation (vol 1) and the introduction to the Syntopican (vol 2) and decided to follow the 10-year plan outlined in the back of volume 1 despite knowing that it wouldn’t not take me through all the works contained in my set. That is okay. The 10-year plan is built chronologically within each year’s reading as well as increasing in difficulty from year to year. Perfect for this extreme beginning to the great works.
Reading 1: Plato’s Apology
I hadn’t read Plato before and was surprised by how very easy he is to read. I do assume that not all his works are as readable but it felt like such a gentle start that it helped me get over my anxiety and increased my confidence.
I am reading Paul’s epistles in the New Testament as well and Plato and Paul sound very alike.
Passage that made me laugh:
When I began to talk with him, I could not help thinking that he was not really wise, although he was thought wise by many, and still wiser by himself; and thereupon I tried to explain to him that he thought himself wise, but was not really wise; and the consequence was that he hated me, and his enmity was shared by several who were present, and heard me.
Passage that gives me hope:
[It is] not by wisdom do poets write poetry, but by a sort of genius and inspiration; they are like diviners or soothsayers who also say many fine things, but do not understand the meaning of them.
Passages I enjoyed:
Happy indeed would be the condition of youth if they had one corrupter only, and all the rest of the world were their improvers.
A man who is good for anything ought not to calculate the chance of living or dying; he ought only to consider whether in doing anything he is doing right or wrong–acting the part of a good man or of a bad.
If you think that by killing men you can prevent some one from censuring your evil lives, you are mistaken. […] the easiest and noblest way is not to be disabling others, but to be improving yourselves.
Reading 2: Plato’s Crito
I have often heard the phrase “Socratic questions” and figured out what it meant. Between a section in Apology and all of Crito, I’m really beginning to understand what Socratic questioning entails.
I’m happy as punch that I followed the logic of Socrates. I’m equally pleased that I was not Crito because my eyes would have gone huge and I would have shrunk into a corner. I don’t do well on the spot like that.
A favorite passage:
You, Socrates, are breaking the covenants and agreements which you made with us at your leisure, not in any haste or under any compulsion or deception.
He who is a corrupter of the laws is more than likely to be a corrupter of the young and foolish portion of mankind.
Leave me then, Crito, to fulfil the will of God, and to follow whither he leads.