The Dinner Party

by wjw on January 26, 2007

So who would you have over for dinner?

Assuming, of course, that you could have anyone from history and that there was no language barrier.

You can only have ten guests, though. That’s a rule.

Here’s my list:

Servilia (see “Chickpea,” below, for her biography)
Benjamin Franklin
Frederick the Great
Catherine the Great
Oscar Wilde
Benvenuto Cellini

It’s weighted toward the Enlightenment project, but then that’s my bias anyway.

I went round and round about Samuel Johnson, but decided against inviting him because he wouldn’t have let anyone else talk.

People like Cellini, Servilia, and Alkibiades are invited not only because they would make good company, but because they’d be able to tell us about a lot of other famous people. Cellini knew everyone in the Rennaissance. Akibiades knew Socrates, Plato, and practically everyone else in those stirring and tragic times. Servilia was Caesar’s lover, Brutus’ mother, Cato’s half-sister, and knew everyone else in the late Roman Republic personally, from Cicero on down.

As for the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, I’ll have to represent those myself.

Near-misses included Mary Shelley, Tu Fu, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Li Po, Elizabeth I, Henry VIII, and Niccolo Macchiavelli.

If it were your party, who would you invite?

InsightStraight January 27, 2007 at 1:54 am

Which ten would I choose?

Nine people of excellent taste, and a renowned barbecue chef.

No, wait — that’s for the Donner Party.

The Dinner Party will take a bit more consideration…

Tarl Neustaedter January 27, 2007 at 11:33 pm

I’d certainly include Adam Smith and Karl Marx, just to hear what Smith thought of what Marx did with his theories. Maybe include Lenin to see who is more horrified by whom.

I’d also like to hear from Isaac Newton, although he probably would be a lousy dinner partner. Charles Darwin, on the other hand, would probably be fun to listen to.

Perhaps Joseph Smith and Mary Baker Eddy might produce some interesting discussions. Bring Yeshua of Nazareth and Muhammad Al’Amin of Mecca for gravitas. Add Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) for contemporary sauce.

I’d definitely like to see “Fuzzy” (G.J.Caesar) and Alexander.

I might wear my kevlar underwear, but it would be far from a boring dinner.

SpeakerToManagers January 29, 2007 at 9:24 pm

My list would be biased towards artists and writers who could talk about their work and dish about the societies they lived in. Hence:

Lady Murasaki (author of Genji
Abrecht Durer
Ludwig von Beethoven
Pablo Picasso
Liang Kai (“Madman Liang” a painter of the Song dynasty)

I had to toss a coin to decide between Michaelangelo and Da Vinci. And I debated Haydn versus Beethoven, both of them being somewhat political and well-traveled, and finally came down to Beethoven because his political passion would liven up the party. Liang Kai is on the list, not because I know much about him, as that I wanted someone from the Song dynasty to represent China, and he seemed the most interesting.

Picasso was iffy; he certainly was a great artist, and very much tied into the cultural and political scene of his time, but he was also an opinionated egomaniac, who might take over the conversation. I figured that, worst case, Aeschylus and Virgil, both of whom had seen combat, could handle him, and best case, he’d just monopolize the brandy and go to sleep.

dubjay January 29, 2007 at 10:13 pm

Tarl, I can see from your list that you relish arguments. The kevlar underwear might well prove necessary.

Speaker, I think I would have picked Leonardo over Michaelangelo. Leonardo was always charming company, whereas the same could not always be said of Angel Mike.

I like Aeschylus and Shakespeare at the same table. They could have consoled each other over the difficulties of using boy actors to play women.

Foxessa January 29, 2007 at 11:56 pm

George Washington. He’s good for the dancing, before or after dinner, and will flirt beautifully and tell silly jokes in between dryly making very intelligent and perceptive observations re anything being discussed.

George Sand. And she can play the piano so we can dance, if we need her to.

Sir Walter Scott — for the same reasons as George Washington.

Edith Wharton, for her taste in wine and flowers and clothes, and her sharp wit and general all around savoir faire.

Samuel Ward, King of the Lobby, because he’d make sure the food and drink were of the best, because he is charming, and like Sally, he knows where the bodies are buried.

Sally Hemmings because it would SO annoy Thomas Jefferson, and thereby might actually tickle George Washington.

Pablo Neruda, for any reason we can think of.

Harriet Wilson, for her good nature and pretty face and her abilities to charm.

Duke Ellington so we can hear what he really thinks of Stravinsky.

Louisa May Alcott because she’d be so happy to be in the company, as long as wasn’t having the toothache at the time.

Foxessa January 30, 2007 at 1:27 am

Hmmm. It seems only my table is classically gender balanced.

The Pallisers would hardly approve!

Love, C.

Kelly January 30, 2007 at 8:30 pm

My table is chosen to maximize juicy gossip passed back and forth with the wine:

Sei Shonagon
Emily Bronte
Oscar Wilde
Lorenz Hart
John Keats
Hildegard of Bingen
Madame Maintenon
W.H. Auden

Foxessa February 1, 2007 at 10:33 pm

Ah, but Emily doesn’t talk to anybody, hardly even her sisters!

Love, C.

dubjay February 1, 2007 at 11:19 pm

I was aware that my list wasn’t gender-balanced, but then I thought, “Well, either you want to listen to Voltaire and Shakespeare or you don’t.”

I considered Madame de Stael over Talleyrand, but then I’ve got this fascination with Talleyrand, which is probably a sign of my own degenerate nature. And then there’s always the danger that Germaine de Stael would insist the whole dinner be about =her.= Whereas I think that if it’s going to be about anybody, it’s going to be about =me.=

I considered Aspasia as well, but then decided that while she could probably dish on the politicians pretty well, she might not be so good on the philosophers and literary types.

When I composed my original list I forgot about Isabella del’ Este, so I’d probably substitute her for Cellini. She knew all the same people, pretty much.

SpeakerToManagers February 1, 2007 at 11:40 pm

Damn it, Walter, this game is addictive. I should be working on a Linux keyboard driver for this church organ looming behind my chair, but no … I’m busy working out seating charts for a fictional dinner.

Well, selah. Foxessa was correct about gender balance, and so this next list will be balanced. In thinking about why I chose Ovid and Aeschylus, the theme for this second party came to me: a dinner for writers of high adventure, and the adventurers who lived it.

These constraints, as well as the usual need for inviting a balanced group that won’t get into fights or gang up on me and steal the silver, made creating this list a lot of fun. The more extensive annotations should show some of that.

Richard Francis Burton – adventurer, writer, translator, first Christian into Mecca in centuries. Besides, I want to ask him what was in those papers his wife burned.

Alice Sheldon – writer (as “James Tiptree”), intelligence officer. At least one absolutely immortal adventure story: “The Man Who Walked Home”. I think she died as well as she lived, though many others disagree, and I’d like to tell her.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery – pioneering pilot, poet, writer. If you don’t think “The Little Prince” is an adventure, how about “Night Flight”?

Amelia Earhart – world class (literally) pilot, the first woman to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross. Her death is not as interesting as her life, despite the mystery of where she died.

Alexandre Dumas, pere – adventure writer extraordinaire: “The Count of Monte Cristo”, “The Man in the Iron Mask”, “The Black Tulip”. I don’t have room for them all. In my opinion, the greatest adventure writer of all time, certainly of Second Millenium Europe.

Zheng Yi Sao – possibly the greatest sea pirate of all time, male or female. At her peak, she commanded almost 2,000 craft and more than 70,000 pirates.

Rafael Sabbatini – writer. “Captain Blood” and “Scaramouche” are both immortal, and I’d love to hear what he and Zheng have to say to each other.

Andre Alice Norton – writer. She was a science-fiction and high fantasy writer for more than 70 years; I grew up on her books, as did a lot of authors in the last fifty years or so. I’m very curious how she would get on with Dumas; I’m sure she read his work.

Robert Louis Stevenson – writer, tourist. Considering “Treasure Island”, he might have an interesting conversation with Zheng too.

Sacagawea – native guide and translator for the Lewis & Clark expedition.

There are enough others who didn’t make the cut for this party that I think it would have to be an annual event. Here are a few:

B. Traven – writer. Wrote “The Treasure of Sierra Madre”. A very private person, whose first name is not known after all this time. Although the assumption is that he was male, I was reluctant to make the same mistake Robert Silverberg did when he swore that “James Tiptree” just didn’t write like a woman.

Joseph Conrad – writer. It was him or Stevenson, and I let the coin decide.

Anthony Hope – writer of “The Prisoner of Zenda” which created an entire genre of adventure fiction. Pity he only wrote those two Zenda books.

Robyn Davidson – traveler. She crossed the Australian desert on a camel to see if it could be done.

Helen Thayer – traveler. She skied to the North Pole at the age of 50 because she was told it couldn’t be done.

Eve Arnold – photographer, world traveler. Has photographed people and places in more than 30 countries over a fifty year career, including Maoist China, the Caucausus Mountains, and all the continents except Antartica. Was the first woman accepted as a partner by the Magnum Photographic Agency, and still one of only 3. I’m sort of cheating; Eve’s a relative, my father’s oldest sister, but she’s always impressed the hell out of me, and I’m very proud that she was the one who got me interested in photography.

Now I suspect the menu will be even more interesting than the guest list. And I’d better chose the wines carefully so as not annoy Dumas.

Foxessa February 7, 2007 at 6:07 pm

I’d love to talk with Tallyrand, particularly about his stay post the San Domingan debacle in Philadelphia, marching around the streets with his mulatta mistress on his arm.

Isabella d’Este — oooooh, yes!

And Sir Richard Burton!

Alice Sheldon, not so much. Love her work, but she was neurotic to inth degree.

Love, Fox

kevin February 12, 2007 at 5:02 pm

Which ten? Jeez, Walter, that’s torture. As for gender balance…. fugeddaboutit.

I’d bring in interesting pairs to get discussions going…. like the arts. I’d want Picasso and Rembrandt, two painters I think would have something to say. Literary….. hmmm…. how about Shakespeare and Steven Spielberg. That synergy makes my eyes water. Military….. Julius Caesar and Marshal Davout, nuff said. Politics…. man, who wouldn’t I want to talk to, I am a political junkie. Hilary and Rush? Nah, too current. Lady Astor and Winston? Too dated. Catherine the Great and Machiavelli? Now that’s got some potential. But I would probably choose Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth I. Last pair…. beauty and the beast, or in this case genius. Let’s have Helen of Troy and Archimedes.

The first course is conversation…

Kevin in Albuquerque

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