Revisiting the Harvard Classics: Day 4

A flounder fish story from Grimm’s Fairy Tales, volume 17 of the Harvard Classics.
The description of this story leads one to believe that the Flounder was fed up with the overly demanding wife but I have a feeling that is not the lesson of this story. A fisherman catches a talking flounder and lets him go. When the fisherman tells his wife what happened, she demands that the husband goes back to the ocean and make wish after wish of the flounder. In the end the wife demands to have the power of God and the flounder sends her back to the hovel shed they originally lived in. I took this to mean that God does not need much to enjoy life. According to the Harvard Classics readers guide the flounder was fed up with the overly demanding wife and sent her back to where she started. There are many aspects of this story that I didn’t care for. The husband never stood up to his wife or refused to do what she was demanding, that was irritating. The wife appeared to be an example of how women were used as a source of chaos in the lives of men, more of a problem then they are worth. This is also irritating much like Adam and Eve. In the end I have to guess that the moral of the story is that everything you need to be happy is what you already have.

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Revisiting the Harvard Classics: Day 3

Cicero on Friendship, from volume 9 of the Harvard Classics, is a longer read clocking in at 30 minutes as opposed to the 15 minutes it was supposed to take. Although I have to admit that I am a slow reader.
Cicero’s piece about friendship struck a cord with me, something that isn’t discussed but it a major part of most people’s lives that is in decline. Several years ago, people were asked how many people they could count on in the event of an emergency and the answer was 3-5. Today the same answer will have an answer of maybe 1. Cicero talked about how friends compliment one another, take care of each other, and lift others up when they are not as fortunate. I have friends like this, sharing the wealth, calling at the house when things are bad, and other all work as a balance with ourselves. Friends are the people we count on to tell us we are not being everything we should be.
The piece started out well, as a guide post to when to look for in our own friendships, but later died into politics and the rules for who to make friends with and whom not. This section might need to be ignored because in this day and age to not fit in with the rules of certain political parties would lead one into a world of exile. Currently, I feel that everyone it there these days with the way things are. A person must fit into one of two molds, there is no middle ground, and according to Cicero if someone is not loyal to the party or the state than you should not make friend with them for their punishment should fit the crime and not be laxed due to friendship. It’s a sad note to leave off on but that is the sign of the times. People do not have friends these days and its mostly due to politics that the majority of the public do not agree with. Nobody fits into every little category that is determined by these two groups and yet we pretend that they must. Politics aside, Cicero had some good ideas and when looking for a friend consider what he has to say.

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Revisiting the Harvard Classics: day 2

School day poems of John Milton. Written at the age of 16 years old, Milton showed promise of being a future poet. This section was found in volume 4.
On the morning of Christ Nativity brought me back to the things I needed to read for religion class. 13 years of religion class is difficult to forget and hearing those words again, regardless of their context, brought back memories from long ago. These days Christianity has a new meaning for me. The stories and mythology were finally explained to me as an adult and not an idiot for once. I don’t know why the church always treated people as if they were simple minded and couldn’t handle the meaning behind what was being said, it took a clinical psychologist to explain the old testament in a way that didn’t make it appear to be a huge pile of infantile crap wrapped in a diaper. So maybe there is something more out there then we could ever understand, things that science doesn’t have answers for. Milton had a talent for poetry, a skill he clearly worked at. Some would say that he was blessed and that the talent came from somewhere else, I would like to think he had the skill and focus to improve something he enjoyed.

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Revisiting the Harvard Classics: Day 1

I was struggling for a way to do these posts so I started out with the reading guide written by Dr. Eliot. Fifteen Minutes a Day took me through an assortment of early century adds and a lot of repeated gibberish about the books. In the end, Eliot promised that a person could get a college level education from just reading for fifteen minutes a day. Then I found the daily reading guide.
For 365 days there are suggested readings listed with a guide of what to look for in the text. Of course, this starts out in January and it is now July but I am going for numbers and not by the date, so I read the first listing and found it is from volume 1, the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Franklin’s advise for the new year consisted of a list of 13 items that he wanted to improve upon himself. The last thing on the list was to be more like Jesus and Socrates, a bit ambitious if you ask me. Still he tried to keep with the project and in the end compared it to any other craft or hobby. You may want to have perfect handwriting and although you strive for it you will never be perfect. But because you attempted and tried to achieve that goal your legible handwriting is better than most. This is a common theme found it everything from art to martial arts. You may seek perfection but the pursuit is more important than the goal.
I had already read this book but going back again and reading the text and goals that Franklin set for himself reminded me of all the failed attempts to have new years resolutions. On the upside, if this man who is regarded as an American God could not keep up with his own goals than I don’t feel so bad not going to the gym.
Tomorrow we will see John Milton…

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The Harvard Classics Revisited: The Odyssey

I went beyond reading The Odyssey when I pulled this one off the shelf, wanting to understand it as I heard the story, I also downloaded a few of the Great Courses about the book. Whether or not Homer existed is still up for debate but one thing is clear, if he did exist, he was the first person to write down the tale of The Odyssey but he is not the first person to tell it. It was an oral history and handed down through oral story telling until pen touched paper.
The story is told in an odd way, starting out with Odysseus’ home and the situation with his wife and son. The king is gone and everyone wants to replace him. Once that scene is set, we go back to Odysseus where he is stuck on an island with a beautiful goddess and yet he wants to return home. The gods do not make it an easy trip for him and by the time he returns he has been gone for 20 years. Odysseus has to pretend to be a homeless beggar in his own home as he plots the bloodbath that will take place. This tale has been retold time and time again. Look at The Count of Monte Cristo or Oh Brother Where Art Thou for example. In these cases, the hero is gone from home and has to fight to return to his rightful place. The desire is home and it is here the reader learns what is important in life. Odysseus could remain on the island having sex for all eternity with a beautiful goddess that will never grow old but that is not the path of man. It may sound grand as a young man in your twenties but when you are older a little pillow talk is desirable.
There has been some talk about the Iliad being left out of the Harvard Classics and there is no record as to why that is. Even with Don Quixote it is published as part 1 and there is no part 2. Perhaps the Odyssey had the message that was desired and the whole story was not needed for the lesson to be learned. There have been several books written about Homer’s work and it would appear everyone took something different from the tale. There was an episode of Parts Unknown where Anthony Bourdain went to the Greek Isles and could see the places talked about in the classics. He made the statement “It was a tall tale. Something you would tell the wife when you have been gone for so long. Oh the sirens were hideous. All the women were ugly. I couldn’t wait to get back to you.” To which Tony’s host replied “you think he made it up?”
Is there any point in arguing if the Odyssey is true? I doubt the Greeks told the story because it was a history book. There is something more to be taken from the Odyssey and here is what I found. Duty comes at a cost. There is a difference between what is important in life and what life demands of you. Be careful who you are rude to. Slaughter your enemies until none are left standing. I’m sure there is much more to take from the text but this was just off the top of my head.
The odyssey is one of those stories I will likely go back to learning more about in the future. It seems to be one of those stories that always has more to tell. While I had interest in reading this book as a kid, I grew disinterested by high school and it wasn’t until recently that I thought about picking it up again. Like most books there is a time and place in one’s life to truly enjoy something and before now I don’t know if that would have happened. Like any tale I think it is filled with lies and half-truths. Was Odysseus riding around the seas with his men on constant booty calls. To the victors go the spoils and I think he was living it up, maybe too long. Of course, he is the hero of the tale and while we can speculate what was really going on, we will never know. The story is one to learn from, focus, stay the course, family first, don’t tempt the gods, and the list goes on. Should everyone read this? Yes, when they are ready. I find this is one of those books that people will not seek out but it will find you instead.

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