Are you a college student taking either a History of Literature class, or Western Philosophy 101? Great! Because below is all you need to know for those two classes. Don’t forget me later, when you’ve landed a great job due to your sweet, sweet education.
History of Literature
The Odyssey: A hairy guy who yells a lot floats around in a boat.
Oedipus the King: A guy marries a girl a little too much like the girl who married dear old dad. (When this play opened at the Viennese National Theatre in 1901, Freud, in attendance, died of an asthma attack.)
The Apology of Socrates: Socrates feels bad. He didn’t mean to do it. Plato made him do it.
Ovid’s Metamorphoses: More people than you can shake a stick at get mysteriously transformed into … well, sticks.
Dante’s The Divine Comedy: A guy in a funny hat visits Hell and acts rude. We follow him into the pits of unbearable agony, which lasts right up until the moment we close this book.
Don Quixote: A skinny old Spanish guy goes nuts and rides around being hilarious. (This really is the funniest book ever written. A must read. Get the Samuel Putnam translation.)
Goethe’s Faust: A guy who over-intellectualizes everything sells his soul for a chance to have sex. A lesson for college students everywhere.
War and Peace: Guys go crazy killing each other. Guys go crazy over women. Peace is elusive.
Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Illyich: Someone named Frank Boltosky croaks. Kidding! What really happens is that Ivan Illyich, whom everyone thinks is dead, suddenly leaps from his bed, and declares that from then on he will dedicate his life to aerobic fitness. Three days later he is killed when his overcoat gets caught in a threshing mill. Sad, in a pointless kind of way.
Kafka’s The Metamorphosis: A guy turns into a cockroach the size of a sofa, and spends all his time in his room sulking about it. His family has trouble adjusting.
Western Philosophy 101
Socrates: Liked to call himself a “gadfly.” No one argued it. Turned unceasingly asking annoying questions into the basis for Western civilization.
Plato: Believed knowledge was more about remembering than learning. Yet founded the first college in the Western World. Been confusing people ever since. Famous for the Socratic dialogues, which were later refashioned into scripts for the hit TV show, My Two Dads. Wrote Republic, in which he posited that the key to harmonious communal living was unisexual clothing, plenty of stop signs, and people picking up after their dogs. Spent majority of life trying to get people to call him just anything but “Plato.” Failed. Died miserable.
Aristotle: Believed all of nature was subject to rational analysis and understanding. Legacy includes systematic logic, scholasticism, butterfly collecting, and global warming.
St. Thomas Aquinas: Famous for writing Summa Theologiae, wherein he proved that, through the strict application of logic, a rational man could confuse himself into a religious reverie. Summa proved invaluable to surgeons of the Middle Ages, whose primary operating tools were sharp sticks and their teeth. Two sentences from Summa Theologiae, carefully whispered into a patient’s ear by an aquinaesthesiologist, would instantly numb the patient from the neck down. For brain surgery, a third sentence was read. For public executions, a fourth.
Descartes: Proved true his famous axiom “I think; therefore I am” by one day falling asleep, and instantly vanishing.
Berkeley: Renowned for being the first (and last) famous philosopher named George. Felt that reality divorced from human perception was logically unsupportable. Died unaware of why he had never been invited to any parties.
Kant: Held that all ethical decisions should be formed in response to the single question, “Do these pants make me look fat?” Famous for writing The Critique of Pure Reason. It was his freakish good luck that his publisher happened to be a moron: the book was supposed to be titled, The Reason of Pure Critique. Written as a humorous guide to Berlin’s museums and cafes, it was immediately hailed as breakthrough work on metaphysical speculation. No idiot, Kant kept quiet. Died smiling.
William James: The Mr. Goodwrench of philosophy. American. Felt that philosophy was too far removed from reality to serve any verifiably useful purpose. As a result, started his own school of philosophy, Pragmatism, which quickly grew into a franchise operation, “Uncle Willie’s 1-Stop Philosophy Shop,” where drive-through customers could receive instant adjustments to their philosophical positions. Later started “Positions to Go!,” which promised philosophical constructs delivered to one’s home in thirty minutes or less. Died penniless.
Sartre: Important, but why should we care?
The above is included in HA!, a collection of my humor: