If You Could Invite People From History to a Dinner Party, Who Would You Choose?

Welcome, friends to a fantastical dinner party of your own making and imagination. Yes, it’s time to play a grand game and intellectual exercise, somewhat akin to the lunchroom game of Stranded On a Deserted Island. However, instead of imagining implements of survival, escape, and spiritual fulfillment, you are being asked to host a grand dinner party with the most intriguing, exciting, or entertaining guests you can cook up. Here is the beautiful scenario: You are to host a dinner party for which you may invite up to FIVE guests–living or dead. Deep in a distant wood is a secluded cabin with comfortable furnishings and a crackling fire that is waiting for your party. The linens and place settings are in place. The food’s piping hot and ready, dessert is chilled, coffee and tea are brewing, and the bar and wine cellars are endlessly stocked. All that’s needed from you is the guest list! Whom shall you invite?

Oh, sorry. Of course there are rules.

  1. Your guests may be living or dead, but must have been a real human at some point (in other words, no Mickey Mouse or Ace Ventura).
  2. Languages will be automatically translated in each person’s mind.
  3. If you like, you may specify which point in your guest’s life from which you will draw them (ie “Young Elvis” vs. “Old Elvis”). Generally, the deceased will be invited from the peak of their popularity or accomplishment, and the living will appear at their current age.
  4. With apologies, friends and family are not permitted unless they lived at least 100 years ago. In other words, you may invite ancestors. This is done for your own sanity and to maintain the integrity and spirit of the dinner party.
  5. Sorry, we can’t pull from the future
  6. The dinner party will commence at 6pm and continue until 6am. During this time, no one may leave the cabin where this party is being hosted. Aside from basic utilities, no electronics are permitted. No cell phones, television, cameras, or outside communication. Further, none may isolate themselves through distractions such as reading, napping, etc.
  7. Each guest will arrive voluntarily for this dinner party. So while they won’t be hostile toward the experience out of hand, they will exhibit their true personalities and expect their typical social treatment. Guests from history will be acclimated to the notion of being out of their own time, but their knowledge of the world’s future will be most minimal.
  8. You can’t change history. You can’t convince someone from the past to do or not do something. You can’t fix anything or save anyone. You can’t kill anyone. You cannot profit from anything material. The minute people from the past leave the party, they forget all, and you have no souvenirs but your memories. It *may* be possible for those guests living currently to remember you. Or not. This is an unknown for you.

(VARIATION #1, THE REALISTIC DINNER PARTY: The guests must all be living, and there could be a language barrier)

(VARIATION #2, THE CRAZY DINNER PARTY: Fictional guests are allowed)

(VARIATION #3, THE EMOTIONAL DINNER PARTY: Sure, you can invite as many family and friends past or present as you like–be ready to cry)

(VARIATION #4, THE ANYTHING-GOES DINNER PARTY: Ignore the rule about changing history. Go nuts. Kill someone. Attempt to seduce and get pregnant by someone. This is going to get messy.)

Alright then, who would you invite to your dinner party? There are so many considerations for your five choices.

First of all, who would be an interesting conversationalist? There are several important historical figures whose conversational skills would be duller than dishwater (Socrates). Or there are those who would completely monopolize the conversation (Napoleon). Others are so dark and gruesome that they would hardly be happy company for a full twelve hours (Hitler). Remember that if you invite royalty, they will be impossibly entitled. Can you tame their expectations? Might some guests strike fear in your heart? You can’t die at your party, but you can be driven mad with torments and screaming.

Hopefully, you will have a balance at the party–different perspectives, temperaments, and the ability for everyone to get some time to speak. Perhaps you want some great thinkers. Some charlatans. Some comedians. The great challenge of The Dinner Party Game is to put together the absolute most fantastic combination of wit, energy, humor, gravitas, and philosophy that will result in the most epic night of conversations imaginable. So what’s stopping you? Create the ultimate dinner party!

I now welcome you to see my invitation list for the perfect Dinner Party Game:

1. Benjamin Franklin

The great inventor, politician, philosopher, and statesman. He was also known to imbibe heavily in beer and appreciate a lovely repartee. He will be a voice of conscience and curiosity. Plus, he won’t be dull. His insight on the formation of America and the state of the globe at the end of the 18th century is worth every bottle of beer. I would be ravenous to ask him about his take on modern politics and the global condition. I also absolutely need to have a beer with him.

2. John Candy

Remember that I suggested to mix up the guest list. This isn’t a party for merely the greatest thinkers or leaders from history. We will definitely need a laugh and lighter perspective. I can think of no one better than John Candy. His infectious laugh and creative brain–even if mixed with melancholia–will provide needed relief from the intense gravity of the evening. I want to know what he thought of his life and work. I want to know whom he admired. And I want to hear him crack jokes at Benjamin Franklin.

3. Cleopatra

Her life is so much legend, and very little reality. No contemporary accounts of Cleopatra exist, and I would like to know who she really was. What she looked like. What she believed about gender and the gods and society and foods. I’m somewhat nervous she’ll dominate the conversation and be very demanding about rank–but perhaps she’ll surprise us and tap a keg. Legend says she was brilliant, and I can’t wait to hear her voice. We’ll have to keep her away from Franklin, though, so he doesn’t get handsy.

4. Lizzie Borden

She may be my oddest pick. I cannot tell you why I find her so fascinating, but I do and I want to know what happened and why. Did she do it? And if so, why? How? Does she regret it? Was it truly a one-time only thing? I also want to know specifics about day-to-day life for a woman in the late 19th century. I find her quite intriguing, especially since she was a regular woman who never sought fame. That sets her apart from my other guests. She may just ground the party with humility. Or she may go looking for an axe. Don’t we want to know!

5. Vincent Van Gogh

The poor tortured artist would be hardly uplifting. Probably. I suppose it depends on the state of his mind on the given evening. But he captured so much beauty in the everyday that I desperately want to talk about art and life and even sadness. Also, I kind of want to see if John Candy can get him to laugh. I want to know whom among the other guests inspires or intrigues him.

The Guests Not Chosen

There are plenty of those who nearly made the cut. Anne Boleyn would’ve been a fascinating guest, entertaining us with stories of the Tudor court.

Barack Obama would have been a modern joy, if not to talk politics, to just be able to do shots with him. He’d be serious but lively. Yeah, he would be brilliant. But his anchor to modern times just barely knocks him out of the running. Plus, he’s a politician. Could we get him to drop the facade?

Of all people, RuPaul was surprisingly hard to cross of the list. I would be ecstatic to share some drinks with Mama Ru and get her take on/reaction to the other guests. And given historical norms, she would be in for some lively convserations.

And the list of “oooh, almost” goes on and on: Groucho Marx, Jane Austen, Zelda Fitzgerald, Joan Crawford, Genghis Khan, Marcus Aurelius, Abraham Lincoln, Beethoven, Ada Lovelace, Mr. Rogers, George RR Martin, Stephen Hawking, Sean Gunn. It’s hard to pick. So you have a very difficult choice ahead of you. Good luck, and enjoy your party.


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