Last night on a BBC4 programme about Socrates the name of the pre-christian Athenian general, Pericles, cropped up. I wondered if Shakespeare would have been surprised that one of his characters had figured in a reasonably serious nationwide discussion on philosophy. Wished I could have told him, watched his face.
In The Guardian, celebrity interviews are often presented in a standardised Q&A form, one question being: who would you invite to dinner. I've always had Graham Greene on my list (Yes, I know he's dead.) but now I've dropped him. The risks of my appearing too naive are just too great.
But time-travelled world greats do present amusing opportunities. I wouldn't bother with Beethoven: he always knew he was great and wouldn't be surprised that crowds assemble for the Waldstein. But how would Mozart react to the fact that Cosi is staged in Tokyo with Japanese sub-titles?
And fame can also go backwards. John Galsworthy (incredibly!) won the Nobel Prize and would be depressed to find he now depended mainly on TV drama adaptations. Mind you, I'd hate to point this out; a lousy trick on a dinner guest.
I'm not sure Kafka is read recreationally these days but did Franz expect this to be the case? I'd leave him off the dinner list; I feel 99% convinced he'd have obscure dietary requirements.
Quisling was executed in 1945 for betraying Norway during WW2. He’d sit far down the table (mine accommodates ten with both leaves installed), not talking. "Hey Vidkun," I'd say. "Your name lives on." Still morose, he’d demand more wine.
But suppose Isaac Newton (a bit of a social bastard) asked: “And so, RR, what have you done with your life?” Guess I too would reach for the decanter.