Ask Angus #40: Dinner Party with History

Table for One: Okay, here’s one of those ice-breaker questions that I would like your take on: If you could invite 10 people to dinner, ANY 10 people, who would you choose?

Your ‘Umble Author, checking out the site of the Dinner Party.

Dear Table,

Hmmmmm………..HMMMMMM……..! *Head starts smoking     Errr-er-er-er-errrrrrrr…………. *head explodes

Okay. I’m back. Cleaned up the mess.

What a question! After much soul-searching (sorry for the lateness of this reply!), I’ve decided to only cheat a little bit.

First things first: I’ve got two ancient Greeks, an Englishman from the 16th Century, and a Chinese-American from Hong Kong. Solution? Babelfish for everyone!

Now. If I can have a sumptuous meal anywhere in the world, at anytime, where would I set my ass down? I’ll go with Stonehenge, at about the time of Christ, when the place was only 2,000 years old. And I’ll pick mid-summer for my meal, so the place will be sunlit for the entire party.

Round table, so everyone can see everyone else. We ARE in the land of King Arthur after all, so I’ll borrow his dining set.

What’s for dinner? I dunno. I’m not a foodie. My favorite meal is corn fritters and Strawberry Quik, for chrissakes. But I do enjoy an excellent gourmet meal, so I will entrust the menu to Masaharu Morimoto, who may indeed make something extraordinary with corn fritters – and probably make an ice sculpture of one at the same time.

The wine and other beverages I will entrust to Vincent Price, because, DUH.

The Fun Hole of History

Most importantly – who is occupying the other ten chairs around the big, round table? As you might imagine, this took a LOT of thinkerin’ and became a VERY long table of sighing frustration.

But eventually a pattern emerged:

This would not be a Trial of History. I would not be breaking bread with Hitler, Jesus, Genghis Khan, Pope Alexander the 6th, Nero, Stalin, Khufu (of the great pyramid), Vlad the Impaler, Henry VIII and Typhoid Mary just so I could ask them all: “What the fuck?”

(Nothing personal against Jesus, but I’ve never felt personally drawn to him. I’d just like his take on what his salesmen did with his life and message.)

That list would be an incredible evening, but not a whole lot of fun (Plus, Genghis would probably just kidnap Masaharu and then murder the rest of us.)

Similarly, a few heroes of mine didn’t make the final list. Sorry Jack London, Edgar Allen Poe and Beethoven. Jack would want to preach about Socialism, Edgar would just pout and drink all the wine until he disappeared under the table, and Ludwig would scowl at everyone and claim that his babelfish wasn’t working properly.

Naaah, I want a good party! So my list is full of people that I think would make for a lively evening of conversation.

As I assembled my guests though, another pattern emerged – or rather a gap. I wanted fun people for this soiree, but History has a ‘fun hole’ in it the size of the Dark Ages. So only one of my guests is from the period between 400 A.D. and 1700 A.D. What is it about Christianity that just sucked the joy out of Society for several hundred years?

Ward, Vincent, Victoria, Freddie, David, Nellie, Sappho, Bruce, Willie, Hypatia, Amelia, Masaharu

The VIPs of RSVP

Here’s my guest list, in no particular order:

  • David Niven – duh. He has always been my patron saint and role model. His early life was a litany of failures and yet he always kept a positive attitude. “I see my purpose in life as making the world a happier place to be in.” (Note to Vincent: Have champagne on hand.)
  • Victoria Woodhull – The first female stockbroker and presidential candidate, but also a newspaper and magazine editor, lecturer and champion of Free Love. I would love to hear about her early career with her sister on a traveling roadshow selling “magnetio elixir”. (Note: Don’t bring up how we are STILL fighting for equal rights.)
  • William Shakespeare – Yeah, an obvious choice, but come on – freakin’ Shakespeare at your dinner table!! (Note: have writing materials on hand. I want a signature!)
  • Amelia Earhart – Spent the majority of her time organizing, empowering and creating community with groups of women. The flying ‘stunts’ (as she called them) just paid the bills. (Note: Make sure there is plenty of open space next to Stonehenge for her to land in.)
  • Bruce Lee – for his philosophy more than his martial arts prowess (Indeed, He always considered the latter to be the expression of the former). I’ll admit that I have never seen “Enter the Dragon” but I love his books of poetry and aphorisms: “Anxiety is the gap between the NOW and the THEN. So if you are in the NOW, you can’t be anxious, because excitement flows immediately into ongoing spontaneous activity.” (Note: Leave plenty of room on either side of Bruce’s chair. He’s an excitable guy, and one gesture from him could kill somebody, or destroy the table.)
  • Hypatia – A Greek living in Egypt around 400 A.D., which was part of the Roman Empire (Yeah, its complicated), she was a mathematician and inventor who ran the Neoplatonic school of Alexandria, where she also taught Philosophy and Astronomy. Her death in 415 marks the end of Classical Antiquity. So, yeah, that’s a hell of a resume, right? But she also gets an invite because contemporary accounts of her (some from unfriendly [pronounced “Christian”] sources) laud her ‘ease of manner’ ‘dignity’ and ‘self possession’, and her clear-eyed serenity in attending ‘an assembly of men’. (Note to Marimoto and Vincent Price: Lots of figs and dates in the appetizers)
  • Freddie Mercury – I wanted to have a musician at my party; not to perform, but just because they are often fascinating creatures. Lots of great candidates, right? But I went all fanboy squee about Louis Armstrong last time, so we’ll go with Mr. Farrokh Bulsara here. And its a bit of a risk – Freddie always claimed to be an introvert with few friends. But I think this group could bring him out of his shell. (Note: Have a grand piano on hand, just in case.)
  • Nellie Bly – One of my all-time heroes! A crusading writer and suffragette who pretty much invented Investigative Journalism, Elizabeth Jane Cochran lived in leper colonies and insane asylums in her pursuit of Reform. In 1889 she also traveled solo around the world in 72 days, meeting Jules Verne along the way. In her 50’s she reported from the front line of the Eastern front of World War I. She also invented and held a patent for an improved milk-can. (Note to Vincent: Serve milk.)
  • Sappho – One of the cruelest facts in all history is that only a few fragments of her poetry survive, and only those because they are excerpted quotes written down by other writers. One (only one!) complete poem survives – an anguished call to Aphrodite about a serious crush. She also created her own form of poetry, known as the Sapphic Stanza, and also a new form, Lyric Poetry – and the lyre it should be accompanied by! (Note: Conjure up a 21-string lyre – tuned to the piano. Morimoto: Serve olives with the appetizers.)
  • Ward Kimball – Aaaaand that’s where I lost you, right? Who the hell is Ward Kimball?! And why is he sitting at the same table as Hypatia and Shakespeare? Valid questions, certainly. Ward was actually one of the first names on my list (along with St. Niven), and he survived all mental onslaughts to remain on this list to its triumphant conclusion.

You don’t know his name, but you know his work: Ward was a chief animator at the Disney Studios and one of Walt’s “Nine Old Men” who were responsible for the classic Disney movies, shorts and TV shows of almost 40 years. Ward created Jiminy Cricket, the Cheshire cat and the Mad Hatter, The dwarfs, Bambi, and the wildest, most psychedelic feature of them all, the three Caballeros.

Ward was the outlier in this very Conservative corporation, making a non-Disney short protesting the Vietnam war, animating the most pagan cartoon ever, “The Goddess of Spring”, and being the chief architect of the rumor that Walt is frozen somewhere.

Ward directed three documentaries about space travel in the 50’s, had a full-size, working train system in his backyard, and also created mechanical art that hung on the wall but also had tiny motors that made parts of it move.

He was also the trombone player and leader of the Dixieland revival group, The Firehouse Five + 2, who released 13 albums in the 50’s and 60’s. So you can see why he might be fun at a dinner party…..speaking of which…….

What happens at the Party…….!

So, what happens? I don’t know! I’ll bet it would be a blast though.

  • Would there be spontaneous Karaoke with Freddie on piano, Sappho on lyre and Ward on trombone?
  • Poetry slam between Shakespeare and Sappho?
  • Would there be sparks between Victoria Woodhull and Nellie Bly as they interviewed each other? Possibly. Would there be flames between Amelia and Sappho as they compared flights of fancy to actual flight? More than likely.
  • Would Vincent Price spill champagne on Freddie just so he could wipe it up? YES.
  • Would Shakespeare be enthralled by Bruce Lee and start making notes about a play set in Hong Kong? We can only hope.
  • And just imagine the running commentary on all this from David Niven and Hypatia. (I think I want them seated on my left and right.)

Seated around King Arthur’s round table with 10 amazing people, sing-alongs with tinkling piano, the mid-summer sun reluctantly setting behind Salisbury Plain, the echoes of laughter absorbed and reflected off the sarsens of Stonehenge, and the candlelight glinting off an ice sculpture of a corn fritter.

I think it might be fun.

Angus McMahan

Send your questions on Paganism (or anything!) to:

P.S. Your turn. Who would you choose for YOUR dinner party? Where would you hold it? And it shouldn’t be hard to come up with a better menu than mine. Leave a comment with your ideas!

(Photo Note: All collage photos from Wikimedia Commons and under public domain. Photo of Me at Stone’enge taken by Admiral Karen Broughton.)

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