Meeting of Minds

Today, in a discussion with a coworker (ellipticcurve), I was mentioning Pirke Avot V:18, because she was remarking how I seem to know something about everything. For those that don’t recall, Pirke Avot V:18 says:

There are four types of those that sit in the presence of sages: the sponge, the funnel, the strainer, and the sieve. The sponge absorbs all; the funnel receives at one end and spills out at the other; the strainer lets the wine through and retains the dregs; and the sieve lets out the flour dust and retains the fine flour.

I’ve always viewed myself as a strainer, and this got me thinking to Steve Allen, and one of my favorite shows of childhood, Meeting of Minds. Steve Allen was a sieve, and he produced (at KCET in Los Angeles) a remarkable program, Meeting of Minds. This program, aired in the late 1970s, had a unique premise. Bring together famous historical figures (portrayed by actors, of course) for an intellectual discussion. In its four seasons, the following pairings occurred:

Season One
Pres. Theodore Roosevelt
Queen Cleopatra
Father Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Paine
Pres. Ulysses S. Grant
Queen Marie Antoineet
Sir Thomas More
Dr. Karl Marx
Charles Darwin
Emily Dickinson
Galileo Galilei
Attila the Hun
Season Two
Frederick Douglass
Empress Tz’u-hsi
Marchese di Bonesana Cesare Beccaria
Marquis Donatien Alphonse François de Sade
Martin Luther
Florence Nightingale
Sir Francis Bacon
Emiliano Zapata
Susan B. Anthony
Season Three
St. Augustine of Hippo
Empress Theodora of the Byz. Empire
Thomas Jefferson
Bertrand Russell
Niccolo Machiavelli
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Sun Yat-Sen
William Shakespeare and others:
Woman, Hamlet, Romeo,
Ghost of Hamlet’s Father, Othello, Iago
Season Four
Margaret Sanger
Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi
Adam Smith
Niccolo Paganini
William Blake
Leonardo da Vinci
Daniel O’Connell
Oliver Cromwell
Catherine the Great

For those that haven’t seen it, just imagine the discussions! Alas, this series has not been released on DVD, although it appears to be available on Videotape or Audio Cassette. Vol. I and II of the scripts are available through Amazon; the entire four volume set is available through Prometheus Books. I have a copy of the scripts, and I was looking at them whilst eating dinner. I had forgotten how good they were. Boy, I wish they would re-air this program—it was a real classic.