Historical Persons I’d Like to Meet

About two years ago on a Saturday Q&A, the good folks at E-V.com were asked to name a historical figure that they’d like to meet. They replied with ten persons.

So I decided to make a list and I easily came up with ten persons of my own, and I could have easily doubled it. Yesterday, I took another look at that list and expanded it to a dozen (I mean, why not?).

I’m using the same ground rules that they did. There will be some sort of universal translator to facilitate communication, the meeting will have no effect on the course of history, and it will take place near the end of the person’s life so they can reflect on their entire career. Plus, I’ll make a video of the encounter for posterity.

Here’s my list:

1) Spartacus: Who was he? What was his real name? The true story behind the man and the legend. I have a theory that like Jesus, there wasn’t really just one Spartacus, but he was a composite of several slave leaders; they simply spread stories about him to frighten the Romans.

2) Livia Drusilla: To get a sense of what was really going on in Rome and how accurate are our current views of it and of her. And to find out what it was like to be a woman in that society (at least among the ruling class). And what was Claudius really like? Not to mention Augustus, Tiberius, and Caligula.

3) Queen Elizabeth I: Such an interesting person. Perhaps the first royal to actually try to govern for the benefit of her subjects.

4) Edward de Vere: He’s the guy that some folks think may have actually written the works attributed to Shakespeare. Occam’s Razor tells us that most likely Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare’s plays, so I’d like to see whoever it was that actually wrote them.

5) Benjamin Franklin: Because by all accounts he was a fascinating person and to find out which modern portrayal of him is the most accurate (hoping that it’s Howard da Silva in 1776).

6) Ludwig van Beethoven: I’d give him a copy of Charles Rosen’s The Classical Style to see how much Rosen got right. Also, I’d like to settle some of the controversies around his music. Did Beethoven really say that those opening notes of the Fifth Symphony were “Fate Knocking on the Door” or was that an invention of his pupil Ferdinand Ries (I’m betting on Ries’s invention). There are a lot of controversies that could be put to rest once and for all. But I would not ask about the identity of the Immortal Beloved; some things are best left as a mystery, I think. (Actually, I’d turn off the recording equipment before asking about that.)

7) Abraham Lincoln: I like their reasons: “To get a sense of his charisma (reportedly massive), to hear his actual voice (reportedly somewhat high-pitched), but mostly to hear his vision for Reconstruction, and how he plans to implement it. Obviously, we can’t tell him that it’s not gonna happen for him.” 

8) Richard Wagner: I’ve had a bit of a change of heart on this one. I think I might rather speak to another one of my favorite composers, Richard Strauss, as I realize I have more questions about his music than I do about Wagner’s.

9) Ulysses S. Grant: Because I’ve long admired him and am happy to see that his reputation is finally being rehabilitated. In his autobiography he went into great detail about his military career, so I’d ask him about his time as president.

10) Gracie Allen: I’d like to meet the real person behind her public persona. As far as I know, she never appeared in public as herself, there is no surviving film or video of Gracie Allen the person, as opposed to the persona that she created on stage and screen with George Burns.

11) Marilyn Monroe: Do I really have to give a reason?

12) Rock Hudson: What was it like to have to hide in the closet in Hollywood in the 50s and 60s?

13) Stephen Sondheim: When I said a dozen, I meant a baker’s dozen. And he died since the question was originally asked, so he’s now officially historical.

Obviously I’d have to bone up on my history for some of these, and I’d probably take along a history prof for some of them and a musicologist for some others.

And, of course, the list could easily be expanded to include Hannibal, Julius Caesar, Harriet Tubman, Emma Goldman, any number of presidents, Leoš Janáček, Eleanor Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Sitting Bull, Catherine of Aragon, Clarence Darrow, Agatha Christie, Jane Austen… 

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