Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Alexander Dumas isn't really seen as a great writer in a literary sense so much as in an action sense. But I found some gems in The Count of Monte Cristo. It was the longest book I've ever read, including the Old Testament (have I read all the pages in the Old Testament? Has anyone?1)

There are some situations which men instinctively comprehend but are unable to comment on intellectually. In such cases, the greatest poet is the one who emits the most powerful and the most natural cry. The crowd takes this cry for a complete story, and it is right to be satisfied with that, and still more so to find it sublime when it is truthful. (1174)

This next one struck because I often think about this Greek maxim in conjunction with John 17:3 and the MySpace blogospherical age we live in.

...It was, in reality, deliberate arrogance, an extreme example of aristocratic contempt, in short, the application of the maxim: "Admire yourself and others will admire you," a hundred times more useful in our days than the Greek one: "Know thyself," which has now been replaced by the less demanding and more profitable art of knowing others. (548–9)

And this last one is great because it groups Montaigne in with the greatest literature of all time. What, you don't know who Montaigne is? That's okay, I don't know who half the others are. This was said by the old priest in prison, by the way.

In Rome, I had nearly five thousand volumes in my library. By reading and re-reading them, I discovered that one hundred and fifty books, carefully chosen, give you, if not a complete summary of human knowledge, at least everything that it is useful for a man to know. I devoted three years of my life to reading and re-reading these hundred and fifty volumes, so that when I was arrested I knew them more or less by heart. In prison, with a slight effort of memory, I recalled them entirely. So I can recite to you Thucydides, Xenophon, Plutarch, Livy, Tacitus, Strada, Jornadès, Dante, Montaigne, Shakespeare, Spinoza, Machiavelli, and Bossuet; I mention only the most important. (156)

I read the Penguin edition, by the way. I love Penguin editions (I don't love penguin movies, though).

1 I'm looking at you, Deuteronomy.


Janssen said...

Bart and I totally bailed during Deuteronomy. it got the best of us.

Sarah said...

I didn't understand most of that. But one thing you said reminds me of one of my favorite quotes
Socrates: "Know thyself."
Cicero: "Control thyself."
Jesus Christ: "Give thyself."

Jennifer said...

I agree with Dumas. Applies to movies, also, which is what I remind myself when tempted to the dark side - the story will be retold another time in a format acceptable to me. Perhaps not with Johnny Depp, but I am willing to sacrifice :)

amanda said...

So, this post reminds me of some of the things I read in a book Kjerstin mailed me this week called "A Student's Guide to Liberal Learning." The guy who wrote it is kind of a pretentious Jesuit nut, but there are some "gems," as you say, in it as well. You can actually read it in full (it's only like 30 pages total) here:

The author gives some advice on building a personal library and in it he includes mention of Chesterton and Belloc--kinda cool, I thought.

Anyway, something to look into, perhaps, while you enjoy the summer break.