A new book for Advent

Just published at Amazon: An Advent-themed 24-day tour through Charlotte Mason’s book Ourselves Book II. There are also readings for the twelve days of Christmas, drawing on her essay “The Eternal Child” which ends the book Parents and Children.

The title Honest, Simple Souls is taken from the chapter “Praise,” near the end of Ourselves.

So, too, do honest, simple souls who bear affliction willingly, or who live their appointed lives with the sense that they are appointed. All of these ways of giving praise we recognise and bow before; but the duty would seem to pass us by as incompetent persons. We are not angels, we carry no harps. But the duty of praise is not for occasional or rare seasons; it waits at our doors every day. (pp. 194-195)

Let’s open the door to praise, both in this rare season and beyond.

Studying the less honourable (The Plutarch Project Volume Nine)

Why study Alcibiades?

Even scholars who have studied Alcibiades for years are still trying to decide if his accomplishments outweigh his mistakes and faults.For Plutarch, there are two “telling details” about Alcibiades: the sight of him flouncing along the street in a purple robe; and the extra-soft bed that he had fitted out on his warship. Neither of these examples, in Plutarch’s opinion, showed the right kind of dignity, resolve or courage for a virtuous leader. In the case of Alcibiades, his double-dealing and lack of personal restraint (including his involvement with the wife of a Spartan king) eventually led to a horrible death.

So why study Alcibiades, particularly in our context of character and citizenship studies? Do we read it only as a negative example of what not to do? Do we admire his intelligence, if not his ethics?

I would like to suggest at least two reasons. First, when we look at Alcibiades himself, we learn something about the qualities necessary for leadership, and see how those qualities were or weren’t apparent in his life. What mistakes did he make? How did he become powerful, and how did he abuse that power?

Second, we can consider the role that citizens play in civil affairs. How can we choose our leaders carefully? What basis do we have for following someone or turning against him? How do we react if we think our leaders have done wrong? There is much to consider here about crowd behaviour and the effects of propaganda.

A Dividing Line.—Both Shakespeare and Scott use, as it were, a dividing line, putting on the one side the wilful, wayward, the weak and the strong; and on the other, persons who will…To make even a suggestive list would be to range over all history and literature. Let me say again, however, that here is a line of study which should make our reading profitable, as making us intimate with persons, and the more able for life. (Charlotte Mason, Ourselves)

(From The Plutarch Project Volume Nine, now available on Amazon.com)

Brutus, the bookworm (The Plutarch Project Volume Eight)

“Brutus, being in Pompey’s camp, did nothing but study all day long, except while he was with Pompey; and not only the days before, but the selfsame day also before the great battle was fought in the fields of Pharsalus, where Pompey was overthrown. It was in the midst of summer, and the sun was very hot, besides that the camp was lodged near unto marshes, and they that carried his tent tarried long before they came, whereupon, being very weary with travel, scant any meat came into his mouth at dinner time. Furthermore, when others slept, or thought what would happen the morrow after, he fell to his book, and wrote all day long till night, writing a breviary of Polybius.” (Plutarch, Life of Marcus Brutus)

Volume Eight is now available!

Walking the plank with the Roman pirates

“By such an occasion, the power of pirates on the sea began in the country of Cilicia; which was not reckoned of at the first, because it was not perceived, until they grew bold and venturous in King Mithridates’ wars, being hired to do him service. And afterwards, the Romans being troubled with civil wars, one fighting with another even at Rome’s gates, the sea not being looked to all this while; and by degrees enticed and drew them on not only to seize upon and spoil the merchants and ships upon the seas, but also to lay waste the islands and seaport towns. So that now there embarked, with these pirates, men of wealth and noble birth and superior abilities, as if it had been a natural occupation to gain distinction in.

“Now they had set up arsenals or storehouses in sundry places; they had sundry havens and beacons on the land, to give warning by fire all along the sea coast; and fleets were here received that were well manned with the finest mariners, and well served with expert pilots, and composed of swift-sailing and light-built vessels adapted for their special purpose. They were so gloriously set out that men hated their excess as much as they feared their force. Their ships had gilded masts at their stems; the sails woven of purple, and the oars plated with silver as if their delight were to glory in their iniquity. All the seacoast over, there was no sight of anything but music, singing, banqueting, and rioting…

“But yet the greatest spite and mockery they used to the Romans, was this: that when they had taken any of them and that he cried he was a citizen of Rome, and named his name, then they made as though they had been amazed, and afraid of what they had done. For they clapped their hands on their thighs, and fell down on their knees before him, praying him to forgive them. The poor prisoner thought they had done it in good earnest, seeing they humbled themselves as though they seemed fearful. For some of them came unto him, and put shoes on his feet: others clapped a gown on the back of him after the Roman fashion, for fear (said they) lest he should be mistaken another time. When they had played all this pageant, and mocked him their bellies full: at the last they cast out one of their ship ladders, and put him on it, and bade him go his way, he should have no hurt: and if he would not go of himself, then they would cast him overboard by force. These rovers and sea pirates had all the Mediterranean Sea at their commandment: insomuch there durst not a merchant look out, nor once traffic that sea.

“And this was the only cause that moved the Romans (fearing scarcity of victuals) to send Pompey to recover the seignory again of the sea from these pirates.”

The Plutarch Project Volume Seven: Pompey and Themistocles is now available on Amazon.