Harvard Classics Volume 3 - Essays, Censorship, and the Religion of Doctors

Well, this took a while. I blame the Romans. :-)

The third volume of the Harvard Classics is The Essays and The New Atlantis by Francis Bacon, Areopagitica and the Of Education by John Milton, and Religio Medici by Sir Thomas Browne.

I have an old Everyman's Library edition of Milton's prose, so I read the two works of Milton from that. Areopagitica is available from both Gutenberg and the University of Adelaide, but neither seem to have Of Education, so you might need to look elsewhere for it.

First up: Why do I blame the Romans? Both Bacon and Browne often quote Latin phrases without giving translations, so I got distracted by starting to learn Latin. I've at least got to the point where I can figure out the number and part of speech of most words, but I'm still very definitely just beginning to learn the language. I'll probably keep it up as I go along.

The order of these three works doesn't really matter all that much, and I'd recommend The Essays as the most interesting single work. Some of them are really only relevant to wealthy medieval Britons (Of Gardens for example), but they are all short, and they give you a bit of a picture of at least that part of the medieval culture.

Areopagitica is essentially an open letter to the English Parliament on the subject of censorship of books, on the ground that it (censorship) is insulting, and essentially useless since false heresies and cults more often spring up due to teaching in person rather than in writing.

I did notice a couple of things that amused in it that should be noted:

Firstly, Milton spends a lot of effort on praising the English Parliament in the introduction to his Tractate; If any modern citizen spent so long flattering the Parliament before getting to the point his audience would probably stop reading before he got to the point.

Secondly, when he was talking about the history of censorship he brought up Athens (the homes of many of the greatest western philosophers) as an example of a society that didn't censor their residents, except in matters of libel and atheism. The interesting matter is not so much that the Athenians censored atheists, but that it was seen as quite reasonable: deviants, heretics, and pagans sure, but atheists are just too much.

This censorship of atheism in Athens is particularly interesting in light of the fact that some Atheists try to claim Socrates as an Atheist, or at least a forefather to them, but turning the young away from the gods was the crime for which he was charged, and if you remember The Apology from the last volume, you'll know that he vehemently denied any part in it.

Anyhow next on our agenda is Milton's poetry.

Date: 2014-04-03 23:53:59, 4 years and 252 days ago

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