It's a fun game of mine to jot done the clearly immoral and the not so obviously moral things every religious book says. The bhagavad-Gita did surpris...moreIt's a fun game of mine to jot done the clearly immoral and the not so obviously moral things every religious book says. The bhagavad-Gita did surprisingly well, on the same level as the Tao te Ching in that it said nearly as many good things as wicked things. However, it is still a long way behind the Gathas in this subjective evaluation.
When it isn't justifying war, murder, a fear of sex, a brutal caste system, large donations to temples and (worst of all) faith; some of the passages were incredibly moving and displayed a complex and compassionate moral compass one never finds in religious texts. I think that of all the religious texts I've read, this one had the most content worth remembering, albeit within a sizable scrapheap.(less)
It's rare to find a book that presents the arguments it opposes in the best possible terms (Rapaport's rules) before annihilating them. Cicero's attem...moreIt's rare to find a book that presents the arguments it opposes in the best possible terms (Rapaport's rules) before annihilating them. Cicero's attempt at neutrality is a marvel today as much as it was in his own time.
The arguments for the god/s have not changed since Cicero even though the arguments against have become better and better, so it is amusing to watch a pseudo-science and mysticism attack each other with hammers made of feathers. Some of the arguments in this boo I haven't heard anywhere else and others seem to beg the philosophies of Aquinas and Spinoza to be born, which is quite an accomplishment for a book born in an age where reason was mostly obscured by sophistry. Most importantly, Cicero, in line with not claiming to know anything on this issue for certain, leaves the issue unresolved. Well done, old boy, way to make us think. (less)
This book reads like the result of a Buddhist and a pantheist deciding to write a tale for the Thousand and One Nights under an Islamic pseudonym. Thi...moreThis book reads like the result of a Buddhist and a pantheist deciding to write a tale for the Thousand and One Nights under an Islamic pseudonym. This style makes for a book that isn't overly-presumptuous, even if it is highly religious in content. (less)
I just finished reading The Oresteia, so perhaps it's premature to claim it as my favourite work in Greek and Roman literature; however, it is. The st...moreI just finished reading The Oresteia, so perhaps it's premature to claim it as my favourite work in Greek and Roman literature; however, it is. The style is as elegant as The Parthenon, and the moral drama is a gripping as a Fury that is sucking the blood out of your body. I wouldn't go as a far as sacrificing my child or killing my mother to go back in time and watch the debut of this play, but I would pay a lot of money.
Particularly interesting to me is the affect this had on Greek society. It reminds me of the biblical tale of the Jewish king Josiah (who happened to find a long-lost book of law that conveniently updated an already infallible, but out-of-date legal system for him). If someone decided to write a book to instantly propagate new ideas of governing and yet mesh the new system with the prevailing myths and prejudices of the times, that book would be The Oresteia. The formula is simple (framing the law as above man, and the changes as from the god/s, so no one can attack them as man-made or fallible), but the execution takes skill since it strikes most people as unnecessary for infallible things to change. The Oresteia is more compelling than the story of Josiah (or the Spartan king Lycurgus) because it gives voice to the old arguments subduing them in the process, and because the characters and plot have dimensions. You actually feel that Clytemnestra is making a good point every so often, and it isn't as if she and Aegistus are acting without meditation.
I could ramble on about how much insight on Greek religion gets unpacked, how many memorable lines jump off the page, the complex themes of family and honor, the treatment of women as secondary, the politicing of Athena to ensure her judgment is honored, etc. Simply put, there were a lot of ideas The Oresteia clarified for me, and a lot of ideas it sparked in me. I'll read it again sooner than later. (less)
This book has made me far too confident that the idea of man as a completely rational actor is on it's way out (albeit slowly), and that it will be re...moreThis book has made me far too confident that the idea of man as a completely rational actor is on it's way out (albeit slowly), and that it will be replaced with a more compassionate, more evidence-based philosophy. For some reason, I see a major struggle taking place in the meantime...(less)
I've no idea how much of this history is true, and how much of it is polemic, but it is quite a guilty pleasure seeing some of the most revered histor...moreI've no idea how much of this history is true, and how much of it is polemic, but it is quite a guilty pleasure seeing some of the most revered historical figures, Justinian and Theodora, brought down to size and dragged through the mud. Some of the charges are so perfectly scandalous to a 6th century mindset, particularly those relating to Theodora's early life, that I'm certain a great amount of the narrative is nothing more than inflammatory bluster. It's hard to tell how much. Certainly the empire would have fallen had it all been true... but then again the Persians and Saracens (Arabs, if you prefer modern language) overwhelmed Rome within a century. Perhaps Justinian helped get that ball rolling. Who knows? (Besides historians)
One thing I find apparent though. One, if not both, versions of Justinian's reign are propaganda. It's scary - in the eye-opening way - how easily a person's public image can be entirely a well-crafted illusion.(less)