Nashville Great Books Discussion Group

A reader's group devoted to the discussion of meaningful books.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

LIFE LESSONS: Julius Caesar, Moliere, Edward Gibbon, Job and J.S. Mill

JULIUS CAESAR: Beware the Ides of March. Maybe I should have listened. Maybe not. No matter. You can’t listen to every crank. He wanted to warn me there was danger ahead. There’s always danger ahead. You can’t let that stop you. Every man has a destiny. I fulfilled mine. I was Caesar. There haven’t been many like me; there won’t be many more. That’s because most men dream small. Not Caesar. Risk everything you’ve got; that’s the only life worth living. Imagine what I could have accomplished if I’d only had time. Maybe I’d have watched Cassius a little more carefully, not get so close to Brutus. Otherwise, I’d do it all again. That’s the way to live; that’s the way to die. Then people will always say: this was a man! This was Caesar!

MOLIERE: Bravo! Of all the roles I’ve seen played, your glorious Roman patriot was one of the best. Life’s a stage you know, and we all have our parts. You played yours; I play mine; some unfortunate Englishman plays his on that dreary island they call home. There are so many roles: friend, lover, flirt, busybody. Could you have played someone else I wonder, an entirely different role? Could you have played Courtier, for example? It would have been interesting to watch. Now starring: Julius the Courtier! You’re an actor. I prefer to watch. Life is tragic only if you take it too seriously; it’s more of a comedy to me. Now tell me, what was Cleopatra really like? Did she like dramatists?

GIBBON: The man of action and the man of fiction. Both are worthy pursuits for men of ability and character. But life is neither tragedy nor comedy. Life is what it is. The job of historian is to rationally describe the actions of men. Men of action generally don’t do a lot of thinking. They’re too busy and leave it to other men to write books. Men of fiction, on the other hand, write lots of books. But they can’t be trusted. They embellish whatever they touch. Probably because they think reality is too harsh. That’s not true. Take the Romans, for example. Here were men worthy of study. Whatever Caesar’s failings, at least he failed like a man. What French courtiers are worthy of study? Only people interested in the latest fashion of breeches care what goes on in those decadent circles. Gossip is their weapon of choice because they can’t handle hard fists and cold steel the way Romans once did.

JOB: Words, empty words. Unless you’ve suffered you should keep your eyes open and your mouth shut. Once I had it all. Then I lost everything: health, wealth, everything. Until you’ve reached that point you don’t know what life’s all about. Most people don’t know who they are, why they’re here, or where they’re going. They’re just born, knock around the world a few years, then return to the dust from whence they came. God spoke to me once. You can believe that or not, doesn’t matter to me. Just stop talking so much.

J.S. MILL: It seems to me that we should think this thing through a little more thoroughly. By discussing each point of view we may come to a consensus about what we all want out of life. Personally, I think you’re all looking for the same thing. You all want to be happy, just in different ways. Perhaps it would be best if we each pursued our own version of happiness and let other people do the same. Moliere had it right: accept people as they are, or let them be. Who are you, Caesar, to tell me how I should live? And who are you, Gibbon, to talk about the Romans? Or you, Job, to speak for God?


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