Monday, March 12, 2007

Update on "The Great Courses"

The Good Witch and I have now viewed 13 30-minute lectures on "The History of Western Civilization", offered by The Learning Company and taught by Professor Thomas F.X. Noble, a department chair at Notre Dame University.

We started at about 10,000 B.C. in Mesopotamia - the Neolithic Period, and we've very rapidly time-traveled to the Greek Classical Period of approximately 400 B.C. Along the way we've learned about the great cultures of Sumer, the Israelites, the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Cretans, and the ancient Greeks. Most recently we've been exposed to the Persian Wars, Homer, the birth of history, Greek architecture, art, and drama, and Socrates/Plato.

Professor Noble talks fast and covers a lot of ground. It's hard to lose interest in what he's saying, because everything he discusses is important. He sticks to the main theme, which is "let's discuss the who, what, and where of the fundamental characteristics of Western civilization. Fascinating. He knows a whole lot about a whole lot, and you quickly realize that you are merely getting a taste. But it's a taste of the right stuff, and sometimes you rush to your laptop immediately after he finishes, anxious to Google something that was particularly interesting.

I Googled Socrates tonight, and I learned he was a war hero whose sense of honor precluded him from fleeing Athens after his conviction for dissing the Gods and being anti-democratic. He didn't like democracy, but he accepted the hemlock rather than be perceived as a coward in his home town. His belief in an afterlife probably gave him courage. His idea of always questioning our perceptions, and his focus on living a moral life enlightened by knowledge of "what is good", have become embedded in our culture. I probably knew all that a long time ago, but now I know it again.

It would be hard for me to travel to South Bend and wangle myself into Professor Noble's classroom. It's a pleasure to have him spend a half hour with us each night after dinner.


Ron Davison said...

The late great IF Stone wrote a wonderful book you'd likely enjoy: The Trial of Socrates.

It ought to be a warning that such great minds are so often violently rejected by society.

Farmer John said...

Accepted the hemlock rather than be perceived as a coward in his home town????

That has got to be the farthest reason from the truth I've ever heard.

His belief in an afterlife probably gave him courage...

Where do you get this stuff?

Farmer John said...

Best re-read the ending of Plato's Crito.

Farmer John said...

And Xenophon's "Apology"

Do you not know that up to this moment I will not concede to any man to have lived a better life than I have; since what can exceed the pleasure, which has been mine, of knowing that my whole life has been spent holily and justly? And indeed this verdict of self-approval I found re-echoed in the opinion which my friends and intimates have formed concerning me. And now if my age is still to be prolonged, I know that I cannot escape paying the penalty of old age, in increasing dimness of sight and dulness of hearing. I shall find myself slower to learn new lessons, and apter to forget the lessons I have learnt. And if to these be added the consciousness of failing powers, the sting of self- reproach, what prospect have I of any further joy in living? It may be, you know," he added, "that God out of his great kindness is intervening in my behalf to suffer me to close my life in the ripeness of age, and by the gentlest of deaths. For if at this time sentence of death be passed upon me, it is plain I shall be allowed to meet an end which, in the opinion of those who have studied the matter, is not only the easiest in itself, but one which will cause the least trouble to one's friends, while engendering the deepest longing for the departed. For of necessity he will only be thought of with regret and longing who leaves nothing behind unseemly or discomfortable to haunt the imagination of those beside him, but, sound of body, and his soul still capable of friendly repose, fades tranquilly away."