On St. Thomas Aquinas read by Charlton Heston (1990)

Book coverCharlton Heston reads this one, as he did Aristotle, so it’s the voice of Moses, Ben-Hur, and the Omega Man lending some heft to the reading. But his part is not really a dramatic reading–he’s reading the content pretty straight. And, fortunately, the dramatic readers who step in to act/read the quotes from Aquinas and his contemporaries and critics play it pretty straight, although other friars from Italy speaking with Italian accents but Aquinas speaks in American English which is inconsistent.

The two hours focuses as much on his biography as his thought, but it does show how he re-introduced Aristotle to the Western canon and interpreted him for the Christians. Which reminds me of how much I want to own a copy of Summa Theologica. It’s only a couple hundred dollars. Not like the complete works of Hemingway, which runs to the thousands for a nice matched set.

Of course, would I read it? I would aspire to read it, gentle reader. Although to be honest, I’m getting a little less aspirational these days. Why, I did not even go into the Better Books section at the recent Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library book sale.

Well, I’ve gone afield here from talking about Aquinas, though, ainna? Dominican friar, a great teacher, one of the first Dominicans to teach at the University (and not without some scandal), participated in public lectures where he answered questions extemporaneously at length. So this is a good portal to the life and works of Aquinas. Better than studying four years at a formerly Thomist Catholic university anyway, although I dropped my theology minor impetuously one semester, and the university was far along the secularization path even then.

But I am enjoying the set of cassettes I got in the spring, and I’m pleased to see that Heston is reading more of them than Redgrave.

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On Aristotle read by Charlton Heston (1990)

Book coverI actually started listening to this pair of audiocassettes pretty soon after listening to Socrates at the end of June, but I got a little bogged down because unlike Socrates which was heavy on the biography and only broadly spoke of his philosophical leanings as filtered through Plato.

I had to listen to this book a little more closely, though, as it went into greater detail into Aristotle’s work, which was probably lecture notes transcribed and arranged by his students after the fact. Still, it required more attention than I could give it on family drives in the summer, and I really didn’t go anywhere much without the family in the summer. At some point in post-trip car-cleaning, the cassettes disappeared from the console, and they only made their way back to my office but recently.

So what can I say briefly about Aristotle? The man started, well, not from the very beginning–there were philosophers before him–but his systematic approach to natural science and then onto thought, ontology, metaphysics, and ethics really marked a starting point of sorts. Well, I suppose you could say he offered a counterpoint to Plato, but, c’mon, man, we’re not idealists here, are we? So the audiobook hits the highlights, but it still quotes Aristotle at length, and that’s where you really need to pay attention.

Charlton Heston reads the book, but other vocal talent performs quoted texts, so whenever Aristotle speaks, we get someone doing Aristotle. However, the interpretation of Aristotle is a bit to learnéd, a bit to pompous, to do anything but distract. I mean, you have Charlton Heston reading the book. Why not let him read the quotes, too?

At any rate, it’s a good intro or a good refresher. In my case, it’s a good reminder that I have read too little Aristotle.

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On Happy, Happy, Happy by Phil Robertson with Mark Schlabach (2013)

Book coverTaking a break from the audio courses, I picked up this set of CDs to listen to in the few times I’m in the car alone for any length of time these days. As it’s summer, I’m not spending half of my car time going to pick up or coming back from dropping off a boy–I generally have one or more with me. So it took me a while to get through this set of 5 CDs even though it only runs about five hours. In the other seasons, I can easily listen to five hours of lectures/audio books a week.

No, I’ve never actually seen an episode of Duck Dynasty. I mean, last year I read Si-Cology 101 by/about one of Robertson’s brothers in the company; the book mentions this book on a promotional page at the end, but I didn’t guess I’d get it a year later. I have also drinken the wine. And I used to buy Duck Dynasty-themed stuff for my aunt at Christmas. But not the television series.

This book, read by his son Al Robertson, tells Phil Robertson’s biography from his childhood through college football (he was the starting quarterback at Louisiana Tech ahead of Terry Bradshaw) through some booze-soaked years hunting, teaching, and running a rowdy bar until he becomes a Christian and straightens his life out. He becomes a commercial fisherman and then designs and builds a better duck call that he builds in his workshop and starts getting into stores in the south, eventually including Walmart (starting with individual stores, which was unheard of). Robertson also draws lessons from his stories to try to help the reader/listener learn from his experience.

So he’s got lots of hunting stories and drinking stories. He is a little older than my father would have been, so when he talks about boozing and hunting and being crazy, that kind of fits with what my father was through his discharge from the Marines and through the 1970s, except instead of coming to Jesus, my parents divorced.

So I enjoyed it a bit from that perspective just like I like to read the local columnists in the small town papers I take–they tell the kinds of stories that my father would tell.

So worth the five hours. I might even end up with some of the Duck Commander or Duck Dynasty videos if I stumble across them.

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On Socrates read by Lynn Redgrave (1995)

Book coverThis is not a Teaching Company/The Great Courses production (or even Modern Scholar). It’s a mid-1990s Knowledge Products two cassette set that I bought this spring, so it weighs in at about two hours. Amazingly, instead of college professors holding their own lectures, though, they feature Hollywood talent. Lynn Redgrave, for example, handles the heavy duties on this particular–what, item? Set? At any rate, the two cassettes. When it comes time to quote either Socrates or other people talking about Socrates, other vocal talent comes in–often with appropriate accents and whatnot. My beautiful wife found it distracting, but I did not.

Well, as you know, gentle reader, Socrates left no writings of his own–the dialogues of Plato feature Socrates as a character in them, perhaps derived from his actual works, but probably not exactly. This, um, bit explains that the earlier Plato dialogues are probably more from Socrates real concerns and later things are Plato’s work with Socrates as a character. The book/series/audiocassettes focus as much on Socrates’ life as his work, and some contemporaries or relatively contemporaneous sources talk a bit about Socrates’ life (in appropriate Serious Classics Voices, although not so much in Greek accents).

So, you know what, it’s not a bad bit of drive time. Of course, all of you are not driving a top-of-the-line ca. Obama Elected truck that also has an audio cassette player in it, but brothers and sisters, I assure you that when I have another vehicle and upgrade the sound system, I am going to ask for a cassette deck in it just so I can continue to listen to these sub-dollar bits of lectures in them.

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On Great Masters: Beethoven by Professor Robert Greenberg (2001)

Book coverAs you might recall, gentle reader, I have listened to a couple of other lecture sets in the musical Great Masters series, most notably Brahms and Liszt earlier this year.

So, this is Beethoven, one of the three big Bs (Bach and Brahms the other, who precede and aftercede Beethoven respectively). He comes of age when piano technology is improving so that it can be thundering and not just tinkling, and Beethoven uses it to great effect. He’s a bit of an ass, though, which leads to some problems in his personal life and professional dealings. Also, he goes deaf over the course of his career.

Basically, if you saw Gary Oldman in Immortal Beloved, you get the gist of it, although Greenberg proffers a different identity for the addressee of the letter than the film did. Aw, c’mon, man, you know that Beethoven wrote but did not send a love letter addressed to his immortal beloved, and scholars have speculated to whom he had written it, ainna?

At any rate, this set of lectures does not move in chronological order; instead, it starts toward the end of his career with some reversals of fortune and then goes back to talk about his youth and early career.

The lectures include:

  1. The Immortal Beloved
  2. What Comes Down Must Go Up, 1813-1815
  3. What Goes Up Must Come Down, 1815
  4. Beethoven and His Nephew, 1815-1819
  5. Beethoven the Pianist
  6. Beethoven the Composer, 1792-1802
  7. The Heroic Ideal
  8. Two Concerts, 1808 and 1824

Beethoven’s life kind of follows the pattern of the other artists/composers: An unhappy childhood, being pushed into music, being tutored by a known musician (Haydn in Beethoven’s case), and so on. Perhaps Greenberg told the story in this disordered fashion to keep it fresh.

Which is why I am spacing these lecture series out: They kind of follow similar arcs, and as I’m not that trained in actual musicology yet, the music sounds kind of similar. Greenberg’s a great lecturer and fun to listen to, but my enthusiasm for the subject matter has its limits, especially the more I listen to these Great Masters courses.

Which means it will take me quite some time to get through the series I have in this line.

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On Emperors of Rome by Professor Garrett G. Fagan (2007)

Book coverAfter Lost Christianities, I thought I would pick up something that I could listen to with the boys in the car. I didn’t end up doing so, though, as many of the lectures were bloody and brutal, especially when it came to succession. So it took me a while to get through the series since my time was limited in the car.

The lectures include:

  1. The Shape of Roman Imperial History
  2. The Roman Republic
  3. Caesar and the Suicide of the Republic
  4. The First Emperor–Augustus
  5. The Powers of Augustus
  6. Succession Woes
  7. Livia Drusilla, Empress of Rome
  8. The Early Years of Tiberius
  9. The Would-Be Emperor, Sejanus
  10. The Mad Emperor? Caligula
  11. Killing Caligula, Finding Claudius
  12. The Odd Couple–Claudius and Messalina
  13. Power and Poison–Agrippina and Claudius
  14. Artist and Assassin–Nero
  15. The Trouble with Christians
  16. Dynasty’s End–The Fall of Nero
  17. The Long Year, A.D. 69
  18. The First Flavian–Vespasian
  19. The Last Flavians–Titus and Domitian
  20. Pax Augusta–Nerva and Trajan
  21. Trajan in Rome and the East
  22. The Eccentric Emperor–Hadrian
  23. Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius, Lucius Verus
  24. Marcus in the North and Commodus
  25. Civil War and Septimus Severus
  26. Caracalla and the Severian Dynasty
  27. Emperor and City
  28. Emperor and Empire
  29. Emperor and Elite
  30. Emperor and People
  31. Emperor and Soldier
  32. Chaos
  33. Aurelian, Diocletian, and the Tetrarchy
  34. Constantine–Rise to Power
  35. The Christian Emperor–Constantine
  36. Reflections on The Emperors of Rome

So, briefly, I can name the Roman emperors in order from Augustus to, what, Severius? But once we get to the next round of civil wars, we get a bunch of claimants and soldier-emperors, and I lose track a bit.

So, what does one learn from this audio course? Well, some interesting trivia about Rome, some better sense of how it was governed, some of the war situations on the frontier, and some of the architectural contributions. How it went in cycles from strongman to brief dynasty to civil war to strongman. A couple of the emperors were considered crazy and a couple were considered ‘good’ or beneficial to the empire or history as a whole, but that the reigns had ups and downs and most of the impact was felt by Rome and the court. Which is somewhat consoling in this the modern world, but our panopticon internet and our incessant need to say “Look at me!” makes it easier for the would-be emperors and their hangers-on in these days. Listen to me talking about it–I am at eighteen years and running on this blog, ainna?

At any rate, an interesting listen: The lecturer describes the emperors’ reigns narratively but for a few survey lectures that explore the emperors’ changing relationships with the city, the elite, the people, the empire, and the soldiers.

So what would I tell my uncle I remember from the course? Probably passing familiarity with emperors by name and relative length of their tenures. A little about Trajan and Hadrian that I hadn’t known reinforcement of some received judgments about others like Caligula and Nero. A bit more reinforcement of early Christian history where it intersects with the Roman empire.

So it was about eighteen hours of listening over a couple of months, and it’ll probably be a while before I get through another as the school year has ended and with it my daily commute taking the youngest to school daily.

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On Lost Christianities: Christian Scriptures and the Battles over Authentication by Professor Bart D. Ehrman (2002)

Book coverI listened to Professor Ehrman’s The History of the Bible: The Making of the New Testament Canon in 2019.

This series of lectures takes a bit of a different focus: It looks at some of the variant Christian churches in the early centuries of the church, the first and second centuries AD, right after the gospels and Pauline letters were written. Many of these churches had different collections of books that they used as scripture, including some elements that made it into the New Testament canon and others relegated to apocrypha. The winnowing didn’t involve necessarily purging, inquisitions, and punishing heretics, although some of that was involved. But mostly this lecture focuses on the books themselves.

The lecture is structured a bit into introduction, identifying some large groups of churches aside from the proto-orthodox (which would eventually dominate and determine the canon), and then examining some of the apocryphoral books based on types (gospels, acts, epistles, apocalypses) and ending with a bit of how the proto-orthodox became The Church and set the canon–which might lead into the other lecture series.

The lectures include:

  1. The Diversity of Early Christianity
  2. Christians Who Would Be Jews
  3. Christians Who Refuse To Be Jews
  4. Early Gnostic Christianity–Our Sources
  5. Early Christian Gnosticism–An Overview
  6. The Gnostic Gospel of Truth
  7. Gnostics Explain Themselves
  8. The Coptic Gospel of Thomas
  9. Thomas’ Gnostic Teachings
  10. Infancy Gospels
  11. The Gospel of Peter
  12. The Secret Gospel of Mark
  13. The Acts of John
  14. The Acts of Thomas
  15. The Acts of Paul and Thecla
  16. Forgeries in the Name of Paul
  17. The Epistle of Barnabas
  18. The Apocalypse of Peter
  19. The Rise of Early Christian Orthodoxy
  20. Beginnings of the Canon
  21. Formation of the New Testament Canon
  22. Interpretation of Scripture
  23. Orthodox Corruption of Scripture
  24. Early Christian Creeds

When I listened to Buddhism, I marvelled at how disparate the strains of Buddhism were, especially in contrast to Christianity. One sees in this lecture series how disparate Christianity could have become without the centralizing influence of Rome on it. One wonders if Buddhism had arisen in one of the strong Chinese dynasties instead of India whether it would be more standard, or how Christianity might have evolved outside of the Mediterranean world of the Roman empire.

At any rate, I think I sharpened up some of my understanding of the gnostics, learned who the Ebionites were, and understand some of the source material for Medeival and Renaissance religious art lies outside of the Bible and in these, what, Further Adventures Of… Christian storybooks. However, if I were going to take a test on it, I would definitely have to study. I am learning the real limitations of listening to the audio courses–one that my uncle in Kansas City pointed out–that I don’t remember a whole lot from the lectures–just bits and pieces and cool stories therein. This set of lectures is fairly narrative and focused, so I hope I remember a bunch from it. But after I hit Publish on this report, unless I make an effort to bring it up elsewhere and in conversation, I probably will only retain about ten minutes of it including the Bradenberg Concerto fanfare that starts each lecture (this set is from before The Great Courses/Teaching Company changed the intro to a single chord).

Still, better than listening to the same Jack playlist on the radio all the time.

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On Buddhism by Professor Malcolm David Eckel (2001)

Book coverAs I mentioned, I got bogged down listening to this audio course, one of the longer, 24-lecture series (although, yes, I know some courses go even longer yet). I mean, I think I skipped the last lecture in the first part (it comes in two binders, as two sets, as library editions do) because I was so excited to finish the first part that I stopped and ejected the CDs from my automobile when I finished the first lecture on that CD (these are 2 thirty minute lectures per CD). Then, I loaded the next set in the car, listened to the first lecture on the second set (“Buddhist Philosophy”) before pausing for something more exciting (History’s Greatest Blunders and the Lessons They Teach). Then, when I finished that course, I reloaded this set and inadvertently listened to the penultimate lecture (“Zen”) because the audio system played the sixth CD, the last one loaded, first, and I realize that I’d skipped a whole 10 lectures until he said the next lecture was the last one, at which point I listened to the 13th (“Buddhist Philosophy”) again and hoped I hadn’t listened to two or three lectures I would have to repeat to get back to where I paused.

All this is made possible by the scope of the lecture series and by Buddhism itself. This course provides a very, very high level overview not only of the history of the Buddhist traditions but also some insight into their thoughts and philosophies as well–and over the course of 2000 years or so and introduction into several different Asian cultures produced a great variety of different religions all called “Buddhism.” I mean, you go from emptying yourself to escape the cycle of rebirth in what is essentially an off-shoot of Hinduism to Celestial Buddhas and Bodhisattvas that are akin to angels to a full on there is one omniscient and omnipresent Buddha that you can pray to, and Siddhartha was his earthly avatar. You know, these are not the same, but they’re all in “Buddhism.” It’s as though you would take all the Abrahamic religions along with all their various denominations and heresies (unpunished) and call them a single thing.

The lectures include:

  1. What is Buddhism?
  2. India at the Time of the Buddha
  3. The Doctrine of Reincarnation
  4. The Story of the Buddha
  5. All is Suffering
  6. The Path to Nirvana
  7. The Buddhist Monastic Community
  8. Buddhist Art and Architecture
  9. Theravada Buddhism in Southeast Asia
  10. Mahayana Buddhism and the Bodhisattva Ideal
  11. Celestial Buddhas and Bodhisattvas
  12. Emptiness
  13. Buddhist Philosophy
  14. Buddhist Tantra
  15. The Theory and Practice of the Mandala
  16. The “First Diffusion of the Dharma” in Tibet
  17. The Schools of Tibetan Buddhism
  18. The Dalai Lama
  19. The Origins of Chinese Buddhism
  20. The Classical Period of Chinese Buddhism
  21. The Origins of Japanese Buddhism
  22. Honen, Shinran, and Nichiren
  23. Zen
  24. Buddhism in America

To be honest, the firehouse of information, delivered in a low-key manner, and the foreignness of the names involved (I could not visualize the name Avalokoteshvara, for example, which makes it harder to individualize the thinkers or Buddhas) means most of what I heard won’t stick with me–but it is a survey course. I have the two course books set aside for light review later, but I suppose if I wanted to really study Buddhism, I would have to pick a flavor and dive more deeply into it. But, honestly, as I mentioned, the ontology (ontologies) don’t really speak to me (although does any ontology make sense without belief?). Most people who get into it, I suspect, are looking for the calming and practical aspects of meditation and mindfulness. Zen, one of the less ontologically focused strains of Buddhism, is good for this.

At any rate, I have another two-part course on Buddhism that I picked up last September, so I can do some A/B testing comparing the two courses except I probably won’t get to the other course any time soon since I still have most of that stack of courses awaiting me, and the next book sale is coming up in less than a month, and I hope to score some more courses in diverse subjects then.

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On History’s Great Military Blunders and the Lessons They Teach by Professor Gregory S. Aldrete (2015)

Book coverI borrowed this set of lectures from the library because I was getting bogged down in the Buddhism lecture series I popped in to break up the Great Masters of music biographies I’d been listening to (and which I’ll be listening too again, and more, as I received others in the line for Valentine’s Day and for my birthday last month).

Purportedly, the point of the lectures is to study these stories and analyze what causes great military failures, and they boil down to a couple of obvious things: Failure in planning, failure in execution, overconfidence, unclear orders, unclear chains of command, lack of cooperation between rival commanders or branches of service, failure to adapt to conditions, failure to recognize failure and to cut the losses.

But, really, come on. It’s really an excuse to talk about battles in history. The aural equivalent of coffeebook tables about war. Something to browse with one’s ears whilst driving the kids to and from school. And, to be honest, I kind of get to my boy’s school early for car line/to pick the other up from activities so I can listen to lectures like these. Lectures on Buddhism–eh, not as much.

The lectures include:

  1. Petersburg: Union Digs Its Own Grave
  2. Syracuse: Athens’s Second Front–413 B.C.
  3. Carrhae: The Parthian Shot–53 B.C.
  4. Red Cliffs: Cao Cao’s Bad Day–208 A.D.
  5. Barbarian Gate: Adrianople–378, Pliska–811
  6. The Fourth Crusade: Byzantium Betrayed–1204
  7. Kalka River: Genghis Khan’s General–1223
  8. Courtai: Knights versus Shopkeepers–1302
  9. Nagashino: Taking Swords to a Gunfight–1575
  10. Cartagena: High Walls, Short Ladders
  11. Culloden: The Bonnie Prince Blunders–1746
  12. Russia: Napoleon Retreats in the Snow–1812
  13. Afghanistan: Khyber Pass Death Trap–1842
  14. Crimea: Charge of the Light Brigade–1854
  15. Greasy Grass: Custer’s Last Stand–1876
  16. Isandlwana: 25,000 Zulus Undetected–1896
  17. Adwa: Italy’s Fiasco in Ethiopia–1899
  18. Colenso: The Second Boer War–1899
  19. Tannenberg: Ineptitude in the East–1914
  20. Gallipoli: Churchill Dooms Allied Assault–1915
  21. World War II: Royal Navy Goes Down–1941-42
  22. Dieppe Raid: Catastraphe on the Beach–1942
  23. Operation Market Garden: A Bridge Too Far–1944
  24. The Great Blunders: Four Paths to Failure

It’s a broad sampling throughout history which kind of gives one some reminders and/or insight into different epochs. I mean, I was familiar with Custer’s Last Stand and the Charge of the Light Brigade, for example, and I have a contemporaneous book about Napoleon’s incursion into Russia that I might want to dig out and read. As I mentioned, the battle of Carrhae was mentioned in The Judgment of Caesar, so I felt smart knowing it from these lectures before I read that book.

Each lecture gives a bit of the history leading up to the battle followed by the battle itself, so each is a self-contained narrative that holds together individually. One thing that struck me, though, is that each of the stories is about groups of people in conflict, but in the lectures on Americans vs. Native Americans and Europeans vs. Africans (Isandlwana and Edwa), the lecturer took time to offer judgment against the Americans or Europeans for their policies that led to the battle. I don’t know if the judgment was lighter in other lectures or if I have just turned into one of those bean counters in the 21st century. But here we are.

At any rate, a fun, informative listen that really didn’t make me a better student of military tactics or strategy. All I know is that some of those poor bastards were doomed at the outset of their maladventures due to very poor planning on the parts of their leadership. Which makes some of these stories tragic more than heroic.

But enough of the fun stuff: it’s back to the Buddhism for me.

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On Great Masters: Liszt–His Life and Music by Professor Robert Greenberg (2002)

Book coverAfter listening to the course on Brahms earlier in the month, I started on this one immediately as Brahms hated him. So I wanted to see if Liszt hated Brahms. Although it is mentioned, more time is focused on how Liszt helped Wagner’s career along and then came to hate him even as one of his (Liszt’s) daughters married the opera composer.

So, Liszt life does follow the pattern of many of the other composers and important musical figures of his time: A gifted child, nay, a prodigy whose family sacrifices to get him musical lessons and then take him on tour before he’s ready, like Luke leaving Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back. They make some money, but something happens (Liszt’s father dies while leading Liszt on the tour) which ends that segment of his life. He then takes a few years off, goes on an extended concert tour, supports from afar a Hungarian rebellion (Liszt being a Hungarian born of German stock, he identifies as Hungarian). He settles in Weimar, builds it into a cultural center, and has a turbulent family life with two women whom he cannot marry.

The lectures include:

  1. Le Concert, C’est Moi–The Concert Is Me
  2. A Born Pianist
  3. Revelation
  4. Transcendence
  5. Weimar
  6. The Music at Weimar
  7. Rome
  8. A Life Well Lived

The lectures have a wonderful digression into the evolution of the harpsichord into the piano and then improvements in piano technology that really allowed the music of Beethoven and eventually Liszt.

So my impression of it is that Liszt was a phenomenal pianist and composer of piano pieces–whose works were often called impossible to play until someone saw Liszt himself do it–but he is not as well known for his symphonies. And later, he wrote symphonic poems, musical responses to known stories, that were not well received in his day but are heavily influential even to this day. Which probably means that they played some part in the twentieth century degradation of all arts, but I am not steeped enough in the study of music–despite listening to a couple of these lecture series–to really make a good case for it. I just hold as my default that all art veered from good to laying the ground work for bad in about 1880 or thereabouts.

Still, I like Robert Greenberg as a lecturer and look forward to the other couple of sets I have on the stack in this lecture series series. Although I have changed focus and am listening to something different now–I fear if I listened to them all at once, I would not distinguish them as well as their biographies have a lot of similarities.

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On Great Masters: Brahms–His Life and Music by Professor Robert Greenberg (2005)

Book coverAs you might remember, gentle reader, the stack of Teaching Company Great Courses I bought last September includes a number of shorter biography lecture series on classical musicians and composers. I have previously listened to (but not reported on) the series on Mozart. They’re all done by Professor Robert Greenberg, who also did the series How to Listen To and Understand Great Music which I started listening to a couple years ago with my beautiful wife. He’s probably my favorite of all the lecturers, and it’s probably indicative that when the Teaching Company used to send out sample discs, How to Listen to and Understand Great Music was one of the sample lectures.

The lectures in this line, the Great Masters / His Life and Music, are more biographies than musical analyses, but they do include snippets of various works or opuses (opi? opia?) to illustrate. They do put the composers in the context of musical trends and their relationships with other composers. For example, Brahms apparently hated Liszt and often Wagner.

The lectures include:

  1. J.B., We Hardly Knew You!
  2. The Brothels of Hamburg
  3. The Schumanns
  4. The Vagabond Years
  5. Maturity
  6. Mastery
  7. The Tramp of Giants
  8. Farewells

Based on my two examples (Mozart and Brahms), I think I’ll start seeing some patterns. Both were the children of musical parents. However, instead of taking him on a European concert tour as a curiosity, Brahms’ parents made him work in brothels, where he was an object of curiosity and probably abuse which marred his relationship with women throughout his life. Later, he would become a celebrity for his music and would become a bit prickly or full of himself, and a bit of a rascal. Brahms certainly fit this mold.

I am not sure I completely grok the music as it is, though–I never did complete How to Listen to and Understand Great Music, remember–and I don’t hear the content of musical notes and structure as clearly as some in this family do. I mean, I am a words guy–I tend to think of the lyrics as the important part of a song and the music as supportive of those lyrics. However, if I steep myself in these courses, I am sure my appreciation will go up.

I have already started the course on Liszt because learning about Brahms’s enemy right after Brahms.

When I was in Kansas City last autumn, my uncle asked me what I learned from these courses (as opposed to watching documentary series on cable, which he and my aunt do). It’s generally more a sense I get than actual learning things. From this course, I will likely remember Brahms played in brothels, had unrequited relationships, sometimes on purpose, with many women, including Clara Schumann, and that he was compared early to Bach and Beethoven and that made him self-conscious, but that he eventually earned his place there. I will not likely remember the bits that Professor Greenberg flags as trivia–such as the third movement of the third symphony is the only Brahms piece using the triangle. Which is just as well. Twenty- and thirty-something people writing the questions for trivia nights don’t know that either. And quite likely might only know Brahms for his lullaby, actually called “The Cradle Song”.

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On The English Novel by Timothy Spurgin (2006)

VHS coverI have often said that I don’t really care for the Teaching Company courses that are in my disciplines–English and Philosophy–but this one was an exception. It covers, well, the development of the novel in England and talks about its themes and whatnot from the 1700s to roughly World War II with the death of the Modernists.

The lectures include:

  1. Definitions and Distinctions
  2. The “Englishness” of the English Novel
  3. Historical Context of Early English Fiction
  4. The Rise of the Novel–Richardson and Fielding
  5. After 1750–Sterne, Burney, and Radcliffe
  6. Scott and the Historical Novel
  7. Austen and the Comedic Tradition
  8. Austen and the History of Consciousness
  9. Dickens–Early Works
  10. Novelists of the 1840s–Thackeray
  11. Novelists of the 1840s–The Bront√ęs
  12. Dickens–Later Works
  13. After 1870–Review and Preview
  14. Eliot and the Multiplot Novel
  15. Eliot and the Unfolding of Character
  16. Hardy and the Natural World
  17. James and the Art of Fiction
  18. Conrad and the “Scramble for Africa”
  19. Ford and Forster–Transition to Modernism
  20. Lawrence and the “Bright Book of Life”
  21. Joyce–Dublin and Dubliners
  22. Joyce–Realism and Anti-Realism
  23. Woolf and the Poetic Novel
  24. The Impact of the Novel

I had read just enough of the books and authors mentioned (Jane Eyre, Barnaby Rudge, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Walter Scott, Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, and so on) to feel clever.

And I looked back over my list of books that I’ve read this year, and I was ashamed–I thought I had not read any classic bits of literature this year (but I was mistaken–I read Barnaby Rudge in 2020). So I immediately went to ABC Books to buy a new piece of classical literature to read. Well, not exactly, but on one of my trips up there this holiday season, I did pick up a copy of Wuthering Heights which I have already started to read. Sure, I might have a copy of it somewhere else on my to-read shelves, but they organize their books so much better up there.

At any rate, what did I learn? Well, a little of the evolution of the novel from the epistolary stories in the eighteenth century to the magazine serials to the self-conscious and self-indulgent works from the late 1900s through the work of James, Joyce, Lawrence, and Woolf. As you can imagine, gentle reader, I liked the talk about the earlier books the best, and although the professor did not mean to imply that Henry James ruined the novel, he (the professor) points to James as the guy who branched the novel into Art and Genre. Of course, the professor also likes the Art and the things the Modernists did–he says everyone should try to read Ulysses, for crying out loud, and that’s just foolishness (although I did buy a copy of it recently, as in 13 years ago recently just in case I ran out of other things to read).

I mean, I understand some of the developments such as floating limited omniscient narrators and unreliable narrators–so I’m glad someone invented these things, but things you have to read a second time, after you’ve read the footnotes and a couple of critical essays to interpret the “right” way–I ain’t got time for that.

So a good course, and it’s likely triggered another one of those classical literature kicks that I go on every five or ten years, where I will read a bunch of them in order and then back to genre paperbacks.

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On Francis of Assisi by Professors William R. Cook and Ronald B. Herzman (2000)

Book coverThis is another one of the turn-of-the-century six hour lectures that I bought this autumn. I have been tearing through the six hour ones at a pretty good pace (see also The Search for Intelligent Life In Space, The Ethics of Aristotle and The Aeneid of Virgil). It’s the first lecture series that I have heard where two professors tag-team the lectures, each speaking in turn. One is a professor of history and the other is a professor of English, and they combine to keep the series rolling.

The course talks a bit about the historical context–twelfth century Italy, which is about to undergo its Renaissance, but which is still medieval in many ways but with a rising merchant class. In many ways, the lives of the people have not changed that much in the millennium since Christ, so the Biblical metaphors of a shepherd and whatnot are still real and concrete to the people of the time. Into this world, a son of a wealthy merchant undergoes a religious experience and sheds his wealthy background to become a poor itinerant preacher and practicer of charity who triggers a bit of a revival within the Church (now known as the Catholic Church since Luther was not so fortunate and a bit hot-headed).

So Francis gets the blessing of the Pope for his ministry and ends up founding an order that would have quite an impact even unto today. The professors begin and end the series by talking about how Francis remains in the popular culture, imagination, and ministry to this day.

The lectures include:

  1. Why Francis of Assisi Is Alive Today
  2. The Larger World Francis Inherited
  3. The Local World Francis Inherited
  4. From Worldly Knight to Knight of Christ
  5. Francis and the Church
  6. Humility, Poverty, Simplicity
  7. Preaching and Ministries of Compassion
  8. Knowing and Experiencing Christ
  9. Not Francis Alone–The Order(s) Francis Founded
  10. Not Men Alone–St. Clare and St. Francis
  11. The Fransiscans After Francis
  12. A Message For Our Time

So I learned a bunch about Francis (although I have forgotten alread his birth and death years, but it was very late 1100s and early 1200s) and a bit about only slightly pre-Renaissance Italy.

These lectures continue to remind me how much I can learn–that is, how much I do not know–and how quickly I can learn when I delve into something new.

Unfortunately, I have also just started a 36 lecture course on The English Novel, which is something I already know a bit about, and The Re-Current Unpleasantness is already limiting my time driving, so it might be some time before you see another post like this, gentle reader. Rest assured, in the interim, I will be reading pulp and genre fiction instead of the many learned tomes I own and might actually be getting dummer as we go.

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On The Search for Intelligent Life in Space by Seth Shostak (1999)

Book coverOkay, now this was a fun course to listen to. I was a little concerned that it might be a bit thin on topic matter, as the SETI program itself would be a rather narrow topic–merely talking about analyzing radio signals from space would make for a long six hours.

Instead, the course runs a complete gamut of cosmology, astronomy, history of astronomy, pop culture/science fiction, xenobiology, and more. Lectures include:

  1. Our Place in the Cosmos
  2. Alone in the Neighborhood–Fiction and Fact
  3. The Propsects for Life in the Solar System–Mars, Europa, Titan
  4. Other Worlds? The Search for Habitable Planets
  5. Interstellar Travel and Colonization
  6. The Fermi Paradox, or Why Aren’t The Aliens Everywhere?
  7. Why UFOs Are Bunk
  8. What Is E.T. Made Of?
  9. Alien Appearance and Motivation–Can Science Tell Us Anything?
  10. Searching for E.T.–Modern Techniques
  11. Estimating the Number of Civilizations (The Drake Equation)
  12. If We Find E.T., What Then?

It’s all fascinating material–some of it scientific scientific, but much of it speculative scientific. The lecturer theorizes that conditions in the cosmos, or at least our galaxy, are such that they would resemble us a whole bunch. Some of the existing science, at least our understanding, would lead to this conclusion, but a lot of times, I’ve found that speculation (and politically charged science) tends to assume we have reached some sort of peak and that all things we learn from now on will confirm what we know now. Which is not very scientific at all. Also, I found a clear line in this course between science and speculation, but I find that a lot when I think about or read about (or hear about) science. The result you predict is speculation; the method to prove or disprove your speculation should be science.

I am nitpicking a bit here–it’s a fun run through these topics, and the lecturer has a pleasant voice and a great sense of humor. The course is over twenty years old (and on audiocassettes, which meant it cost me fifty cents total in September–definitely worth it). Some of the things he thinks we’ll know in the next decade–including maybe finding a signal from a distant world–have not come to pass, but we did just scoop some asteroid material for a return to Earth.

Which is a good reminder of how slow space-sorts of science moves. This lecture series, at twenty years old, is mostly fresh and contemporary, and our asteroid-scooping spacecraft was launched four years ago and won’t return to Earth for three years. When I was young and into astronomy a bunch, those sorts of timelines seemed really long. Now that I am older and with a different perspective on the passage of time, I think three years is no time at all.

Also, the lectures, in the one or two lectures on the actual SETI program techniques, mentions the then-contemporary SETI@home project. Basically, in the era of dial-up, you could download an application that would process SETI data while your computer was inactive–it ran as a screen saver, and then every couple of days you could dial into the server and upload the results and download data to process. I had this on my home computer at the time, which stems from the days I lived in my apartment and right after I got married. Somewhere along the line, with some computer change or another, I stopped installing it. I see it’s been shut down now for a while, but, geez, this is an old course, and I am old since I remember some of it from my youth.

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On The Ethics of Aristotle by Father Joseph Koterski, S.J. (2001)

Book coverLike The Aeneid of Virgil, this is a six hour course on something I, as someone with an English and Philosophy degree, should probably already have read. I have read bits of Aristotle, to be sure, but I am not sure I have completed a complete work of his that’s not an essay. In my defense, I was a social philosophy major, but, again, that meant a social topic-based focus on philosophers/philosophies, so it was a bunch of survey courses and not a deep dive into any particular philosopher or philosophy. So the readings were mostly excerpts and essays. Well, the readings I did anyway. I think I was supposed to read The Republic and Leviathan somewhere in there, but I opted to continue trying to keep all of my classes at the bare minimum reading required to pass since I was trying to cram in 18 hours every semester whilst working full time.

At any rate, this course goes pretty much book-by-book in Ethics and discusses the topics and maybe a little of whom was influenced by this work (being Aristotle was one of the Western early philosophers, he influenced more than he was influenced by). Aquinas’s Natural Law development arises from re-reading Aristotle, and the description of both are pretty compelling. Which makes me want to find an Aquinas course somewhere along the line (I have already priced complete copies of Summa Theologica which I could no doubt jump right on after I finish the complete works of Shakespeare and The Story of Civilization, both of which I have already started).

The dozen lectures here include:

  1. The Philosopher of Common Sense
  2. What is the Purpose of Life?
  3. What is Moral Excellence?
  4. Courage and Moderation
  5. The Social Virtues
  6. Types of Justice
  7. The Intellectual Virtues
  8. Struggling to Do Right
  9. Friendship and the Right Life
  10. What Is Friendship?
  11. Pleasure and the Right Life
  12. Attaining True Happiness

Father Koterski has an S.J. after his name, so I was not surprised that he found support for a more modern understanding of social justice, particularly redistributive justice, in Aristotle. I would have to read the Ethics to find out how much the text supports that view. The assertion is defended a little thinly here, and most things get short shrift, and you kind of have to take the lecturers word for interpretation in a one-way communication like this (and perhaps in modern college classrooms, where dissent can mean failure).

The book, though, does make me want to read the source material again. So it is informative and would also be inspirational, but I don’t have time to read the primary sources between audiocourses. Unfortunately. Some day, that would be nice, to be able to sip coffee all day, reading deep thoughts. For now, I’ll have to make do with reading blogs in two minute increments between work tasks and whatnot. Which is just the opposite of reading the great works, actually. Every day, the hot takes of the current political situation which will pass soon enough and be forgotten, whereas Aristotle, Virgil, and Shakespeare will be around until the next election, anyway.

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On The African Experience: From “Lucy” to Mandela by Professor Kenneth P. Vickery (2006)

Book coverTo be honest, I’ve struggled a bit with writing the summation of this course, or at least what I learned about it, because it’s Africa, which is where [Some] black people come from. I say “Some” because Australian aborigines are dark skinned to the point they might be considered black and not merely southwest Asian brown and because Americans who are black can come from Australia, Africa, the Caribbean, America, or anywhere else. What a freaking loaded topic this is.

So anything disparaging or dismissive I might say about this course, African history, or anything else will undoubtedly mark me as a Racist. Although, to be honest, the fact that I grew up a minority in the housing projects of Milwaukee or the fact that I announced to a comely young lady who would later discover that she was an Indigo child as we left a mandatory university diversity thing that I was 21 the first time I could claim my best friend was white (Mike) does not factor in my Racism. Only the 21st century definitions and sensibilities will do.

Now that we’re all comfortable with that, understand some things I will say about sub-Saharan African history might be taken as disparaging or dismissive; however, that is not a factor of Race. It’s more a factor of history. Well, written history. Which is what we mean by history, ainna?

So. Continue reading “On The African Experience: From “Lucy” to Mandela by Professor Kenneth P. Vickery (2006)”

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On The Aeneid of Virgil by Professor Elizabeth Vandiver (1999, ?)

Book coverThis audio course, I wish to remind you, gentle reader, cost me a mere fifty cents at the recent Friends of the Springfield-Greene County book sale because it is on audiocassette. I, dear reader, have an audio cassette player in my truck, so I can still enjoy audio courses and books on tape (literally). And when they’re fifty cents, I enjoy them ever so much more.

This book covers, in twelve lectures (roughly six hours), The Aeneid, Virgil’s epic poem about how Aeneas escapes the sack of Troy, sails the Mediterranean, settles in Italy, and eventually wins a war with the Latins to found Rome. It’s a poem chock full of Roman gods interference, much like The Illiad and The Odyssey–to which Virgil’s master work owes a great depth. In addition to reviewing the books in the poem for plot points and character, four of the lectures provide context to when it was written, its influences, and its position in the canon.

The lectures include:

  1. Introduction
  2. From Aeneas to Romulus
  3. Rome, Augustus, and Virgil
  4. The Opening of the Aeneid
  5. From Troy to Carthage
  6. Unhappy Dido
  7. Funeral Games and a Journey to the Dead
  8. Italy and the Future
  9. Virgil’s Illiad
  10. The Inevitable Doom of Turnus
  11. The Gods and Fate
  12. The End of the Aeneid and Beyond

The professor recommends you read along once the lectures get into the meat of the poem. I did not, though, as was driving and listened to a number of the lectures back to back. I am not sure that I even have a copy of Aeneid–certainly I must, with all the Classics Club editions and Harvard Classic books that I have lying around. Well, standing cheek-to-jowl on the to-read shelves of Nogglestead, anyway.

I did get a better, fresher sense of the structure and the incidents in the piece, though, and I hope I can retain them. That Aeneas recounts his escape from Troy whilst in Carthage, talking to Dido; their love affair, broken when the gods remind him of his duty to found a new city; his trip to Sicily, the underworld, and finally to Italy; and the war with the Latins over the hand of Livinia.

The book made me want to read it–and “re”-read The Illiad and The Odysessey–I am not sure I read them in translated poem form, but I have probably read them in adapted prose somewhere along the line. However, given how I bog down with long poems, it probably won’t be any time soon, unfortunately.

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On The Life and Writings of C.S. Lewis by Professor Louis Markos (2000)

Book coverI started this series not long after finishing The World of George Orwell, but it took me a very long time to get through the last couple of lectures what with the current unpleasantness and all which reduced my time listening to CDs in my automobile to less than an hour a week.

The 12 lectures cover his writings in mostly chronological order:

  1. The Legacy of C.S. Lewis
  2. Argument by Desire: Surprised by Joy and The Pilgrim’s Regress
  3. Ethics and the Tao: Mere Christianity and The Abolition of Man
  4. Nature and Supernature: Miracles and The Problem of Pain
  5. Heaven and Hell: The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce
  6. Lewis the Scholar: Apologist for the Past
  7. Paradise Regained: The Space Trilogy I
  8. Temptation, Struggle, and Choice: The Space Trilogy II
  9. Smuggled Theology: The Chronicles of Narnia I
  10. Journeys of Faith: The Chronicles of Narnia II
  11. The Beginning and the End: The Chronicles of Narnia III
  12. Suffering unto Wisdom: Till We Have Faces and A Grief Observed

You know, I have not read much Lewis. I read The Screwtape Letters five years ago (!) and Poems last year. I read the first two book of the Chronicles of Narnia when I was a kid. But this series made me want to read more–it excellently presented a summary of the points he made in each of the works, but they made me want to read the whole thing. And maybe listen to the course again later.

And Lewis was a contemporary of Orwell, but the series doesn’t report a lot of interaction between them. Nor would there be, really, as they moved in different circles–Lewis as an eventual Christian man of the academy, and Orwell was an occasional tramp who produced mostly left-wing stuff.

But of the two, I’d rather hang out with Lewis, and I think he has ultimately proved to be the more lasting and consequential of the two. But that’s just my opinion, and I could be easily influenced by the relative quality of the productions.

I am running low on CD courses I’m eager to listen to in the car, which is all right since I’m not in the car much for the nonce. I am, however, looking forward to the library re-opening so I can pick something else up. In case I ever get to the point where I’m in the car, off and on, for an hour or two a day.

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On The World of George Orwell by Michael Sheldon (2010)

Book coverThis audio course is entitled The World of George Orwell, and that describes the content of the course. It’s partly a biography, partly a history of the early part of the 20th century in which Orwell lived, and partly a discussion of his works. It’s a seven disc, 14 lecture set that culminates in discussion of Animal Farm and 1984.

It’s a Modern Scholar course, so it’s 2 lectures longer than a similar Teaching Company/Great Courses lecture series, and it’s slightly lower quality. The professor presenting has a more sonorous voice, a little less dynamic, and he repeats himself a lot–sometimes the same sentence, he says in a slightly different way twice in a row. Still, he’s a homer–he loves his subject and has enthusiasm for Orwell which serves to mitigate the delivery.

So, biographically, a sickly young man with an education above what his upbringing might have borne decides instead of the military to join the imperial police, and he gets stationed in Burma. After a couple years, he returns home after an illness and to the disappointment of his family. He decides to be a writer and starts to write. He serves and is grievously wounded in the Spanish Civil War. And he returns to the United Kingdom and writes a number of books that don’t really go anywhere. He struggles with his publisher, gets married and loses his wife, endures World War II, and then hits big with Animal Farm and 1984. And then he dies.

Somehow the lectures diminished Orwell, or at least my concept of him. He seems a shabby little socialist who punched above his weight with a couple of good essays and a couple of books that captured the anti-communist zeitgeist of the middle part of the twentieth century.

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On Augustine: Philosopher and Saint by Professor Phillip Cary (2005)

Book coverAfter finishing Luther: Gospel, Law, and Reformation, I was very pleased to find that I owned this audio course about Augustine by the same professor. This course, though, was in the original shrink wrap which means I paid full price for it or at the very least paid The Teaching Company directly for it when it was on sale. So I leapt right into it.

The series is only 12 lectures, half the size of the Luther series, and it follows the same pattern with biography, historical context, and then theology, albeit abbreviated by the brevity of the series. Which, I guess, is redundant since both those words share a root.

The lectures include:

  1. Church Father
  2. Church Platonist
  3. Confessions–The Search for Wisdom
  4. Confessions–Love and Tears
  5. Confessions–The Road Home
  6. Augustine’s Career as a Christian Writer
  7. Faith, Love, and Grace
  8. Evil, Free Will, Original Sin, and Predestination
  9. Signs and Sacraments
  10. The Inner Self
  11. The Trinity and the Soul
  12. The City of God

The course emphasizes the influence of Platonism on Augustine and, hence, a lot of Christian thinkers. It shares a lot of content with the Luther series, of course, where the thinkers overlap. More than the other series, though, this book reminded me how much of Augustine’s writings I have scattered amongst the Nogglestead library and made me want to read the translated primary sources that I have available.

For something to read between men’s adventure paperbacks, I would guess.

At any rate, another course that I’m glad I listened to. Which means I should change up topic matter to keep the theology from becoming repetitive and stale.

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