Gulliver's Travels By Jonathan Swift Summary and Analysis Part III: Chapter 8

Summary

Gulliver, continuing his interaction with those brought back from the dead, visits with Homer, Aristotle, Descartes (a French philosopher and mathematician), and Gassendi, (a French philosopher and scientist). He also spends several days visiting with Roman emperors and with several rulers whom he terms as "modern dead." He then focuses on modern history and is disappointed to find that these rulers have not been as virtuous as people have been led to believe. Finally, Gulliver asks to visit with some English yeomen; he is astonished to see that they are so sturdy. The race, he fears, has degenerated because of a rich diet and syphilis, and the current generation is as corrupt and degenerate as if they were nobles.

Analysis

Swift has attacked rationalistic and abstract thinking in Laputa and pragmatic and amoral scientific thinking in Balnibarbi. Now he lambastes the so-called humane studies of the Moderns, particularly the historians and philosophers. On the whole, Swift argues, poetry and ancient philosophy are more admirable than other ways of gaining knowledge because they teach morality and decency. Swift pits the ancient authors, like Homer and Aristotle, against their commentators. Most literary commentators and most historians, Swift asserts, distort those they write about. Swift points to Didymus and Eustanthius, ancient scholars who misread and misrepresented Homer. Then he singles out Scotus and Ramus, who, he says, misrepresented Aristotle. Such modern philosophers as Gassendi and Descartes were once popular; now they are unfashionable. Newton, Swift says, will also become unfashionable in his turn. His conclusion is that modern authors have no substance. He reduces them to matters of fashion, not truth.

After satirizing the humanities and philosophy, Swift turns to the historians. History, Swift infers, is the tool of politics; it is misread and miswritten for selfish reasons. In the service of politicians, history lies — about virtue, wisdom, and courage.

Glossary

the vortices of Descartes, were equally exploded in Descartes' philosophy, a vortex is a whirling movement about an axis, that accounts for differences in kinds of material bodies, etc.; the meaning here is that Descartes's philosophical positions were refuted.

helot a member of the lowest class of serfs in ancient Sparta.

royal diadems crowns.

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Gulliver’s visit to Lilliput allows Swift to satirize what sort of rulers?




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