If you are a liberal-arts student resuming classes today after the winter break, fret not! For below is everything you need to know about the History of Western Literature—and I’ve got you covered for your Philosophy 101 class. Don’t forget me later, when you’ve landed an awesome job because of your sweet, sweet education.
History of Western Literature
The Iliad: After a beautiful woman gets kidnapped hundreds of guys run around stabbing each other with spears.
The Odyssey: A hairy guy who yells a lot floats around in a boat.
Oedipus the King: When a guy discovers that he’s accidentally slept with his mom a lot he responds as most guys would, by gauging out his eyes with a spoon.
The Apology of Socrates: Socrates apologizes, but you can tell he doesn’t really mean 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 makes a nuisance of himself by asking a lot of questions.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet: A guy skulks around in a castle trying to make a decision about anything.
Don Quixote: A crazy old Spanish guy with a hilarious sidekick gets lost in Holland.
Paradise Lost: When banished to hell, Satan takes his revenge by continuing to be way more interesting than God.
Goethe’s Faust: Satan helps a dedicated bookworm finally get a date.
War and Peace: Napoleon invades Russia and interrupts everybody’s life.
The Death of Ivan Illyich: Ivan doesn’t pull through.
Anna Karenina: An chronically indecisive woman gets hit by a train.
The Brothers Karamazov: Four brothers with a crappy father get along about as well as you’d expect.
David Copperfield: An English orphan boy just cannot catch a break.
Pride and Prejudice: After some confusion, a hot couple decides to go for it.
Kafka’s The Metamorphosis: A guy turns into a cockroach the size of a courch. His family has trouble adjusting.
Western Philosophy 101
Socrates: Turns smugly asking endlessly annoyingly questions into the basis for Western civilization.
Plato: Believed knowledge was more about remembering than learning, and that abstract ideas beat reality every time. Inspiring college stoners since 400 B.C. and counting.Aristotle: Believed that all of nature was subject to rational analysis. Legacy includes systematic logic, scholasticism, zoos, and global warming.
St. Thomas Aquinas: Wrote Summa Theologiae, which proved that through the strict application of logic, a rational man could confuse himself into a religious revelry. Summa proved invaluable to surgeons of the Middle Ages, whose primary operating tools were sharp sticks and their teeth. Two sentences from SummaTheologiae, 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.
Rene Descartes: Proved true his famous axiom “I think; therefore I am” by one day falling asleep and instantly disappearing.
George Berkeley: Posited that reality divorced from human perception was logically unsupportable. Was proven wrong when killed by a tree that fell in the forest.
Immanual Kant: Famous for writing The Critique of Pure Reason. It was his freakish good luck that his publisher happened to be a drunk: the book was supposed to be titled The Reason of Pure Critique. Written as a humorous guide to Berlin’s museums, it was immediately hailed as breakthrough work on metaphysical speculation. No idiot, Kant kept quiet. Died smiling.
Nietzsche: Taught that history is the plaything of individual geniuses, the highest virtue is power, and that “God is dead.” First philosopher ever, apparently, to take steroids.
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 sunk savings into “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?
I’m the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question (which, unlike the above, is not a work of humor):