Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Problem With Reading History

The problem with reading a book about the history of western philosophy is that one encounters authors/philosophers that one has heard about but never read. I am now faced with the decision to either make it a point to read them or consign them to the bin of "books I'd like to read if I were immortal." The difficulty with tossing them into the bin, of course, is that I know I will lose out. I know that these books are fundamental, and from time to time are major players in both classic and contemporary fiction. I have begun a list on the back leaves of The Passion of the Western Mind, whose author is good enough to have included an historical timeline in an appendix so that I may list these things in order. So far the list is relatively short, but I have only just now gotten up to Socrates and I can sense a list waiting to go wild a mile away. So far the list reads thusly:

  • The Iliad and The Odyssey. Yes, yes, I know. You are asking how I have managed to get so far in life without reading these? I have read snippets. Not the same, I know. These will not go into the bin though. These I will move to the top of the pile, especially since The Iliad was a reading goal of mine this year, the only one I have not kept.
  • Hesiod. The Works and Days, Theogony, and The Shield of Heracles.
  • Herodotus , The Histories
  • Thucydides. History of the Peloponnesian War
  • Of course the great Greek playwrights too. Do I read Aeschylus's Prometheus Bound and the Orestia trilogy? And what about Seven Against Thebes? Do I read that too? And Sophocles, I've read Oedipus Rex a gazillion times and Antigone once. Do I re-read Antigone? And do I give Oedipus at Colonus a go? What about Electra? Then there is also Euripides. The Frogs seems in order. Medea too. And he also has an Electra. There is no mention of Aristophanes, at least not yet, but if I undertake to read the others, he cannot rightly be left off. There is The Clouds which makes fun of Socrates and Lysistrata.
  • As a secondary resource, there is Occidental Mythology by Joseph Campbell
Are you beginning to see how all this is going to get out of hand? I was going to just briefly mention this list and spend the post dazzling you all with what I have learned about Greek thought from Homer to Plato so far. But you don't have all day and nor do I, so I will save that for another time. Tomorrow, maybe unless something fictional calls out for attention.