Happiness is something that can be found in the darkest of places. A dinner party amongst friends is often one of those happy places and not considered a dark place despite differing opinions that often arise. Opinions fill the pages of books in both fictional and non-fictional form on how to have a happy life. Here, an unwanted party guest attempts to defile an imaginative dinner party of classical thinkers who are presumably friends as they discover the happiness within.

As we completed dinner, I invited the guests to transition to the living room where we could sit comfortably around the fireplace and continue to enjoy the evening. Dr. Aquinas offered to help in clearing the table, claiming that we should all help one another so we could all enjoy the discussion at hand and not leave me to do it later or by myself even though I was the host. One could always count on Dr. Aquinas to serve his neighbor and fulfill the great commandment to love all. Mr. Kant and Mr. Goethe eagerly agreed and the three had all jumped in to clear the table before I could even disagree. We finished the table quickly and joined the others in the living room where we happened upon the special guest’s controversial subject. Now to say he’s special isn’t to say that he has more or less meaning, or more or less worth. Mr. Nietzsche just happens to be a bit melodramatic and this dinner party was not intended for such flair. I simply wanted a quiet, peaceful dinner shared with friends, where we would break bread and share in thoughts and discussions, not a tense night, marked by the betrayal of peace. However, he showed up and I couldn’t turn him out. Instead, I set another place and tried to be hospitable while walking on eggshells. What he meant for unsavory, we would try to make sweet.

So, here we were trying to have a peaceful, convivial evening when Mr. Nietzsche announced, “For believe me: the secret for harvesting from existence the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment is – to live dangerously!”1 Now, with any other crowd, this might have gone unscathed, unnoticed, and just disappeared into the night with the many comments floating around the room and the chosen drinks from dinner and after, but from this man, in this time, with this particular group of chosen dinner guests, there was no stopping the thoughts and opinions. The bread had been taken, the wine had been shared but the thirty pieces of silver were already in hand, pocketed, simply waiting for the kiss.

Mr. Aquinas had already made his way across the room to sit beside the kind-eyed, interesting Mr. Fyodor Dostoevsky, and they both sat silently staring into the fire. Mr. Lucretius was standing near the fire warming his hands but nearly dropped his cigar from the exuberant exclamation by Mr. Nietzsche, if it was from the shock of the volume or from the statement itself, I cannot be sure. I continued searching the room for responses as Mr. Kant, Mr. Goethe, and I awkwardly walked to the open seats in the silent room. A dropped pin could have been heard were it not for the creaking of the floors or the cracking of the fire, or Mr. Lucretius’ long, wet drags on his cigar. I, like any good host, started to break the awkward silence that had infiltrated the room but was taken aback by Mr. Dostoevsky’s face. It seemed absent and stern yet expressed a sense of inquisitive love that stopped me in my tracks. So, the discomforting silence continued to permeate the room. No one made eye contact as Mr. Nietzche’s delighted gaze burned on each individual. His eyes reflected the flames in the room and you could see beads of sweat arousing on his brow, while those he intended to rattle sat unfazed, contemplating, unsure of this conversation. Just as politics and religion are ill suited for certain groups, perhaps happiness, love, and demeanor were also taboo conversations for a dinner party.

As the antique grandfather clock chimed to inform us of the time, Mr. Lucretius paced to the rhythm like an anxious dog circling to get comfortable, he then found himself a chair as the last dong echoed through the room. Almost as abruptly and sharply as Mr. Nietzsche’s first declaration, Mr. Lucretius settles in the chair then declares, “No report of gods, no lightning-flash, no thunder-peal made this man cower, but drove him all the more with passionate manliness of mind and will.”2 There was no turning back now, several were engaged, the conversation heightened. The peacefulness that had accompanied our dinner was now gone and it seemed the boxing gloves were coming out and we were all thrown into the ring together as Mr. Nietzsche sat with a certain smirk knowing his success in insinuating the friendly feast, the kiss had sealed the fate, but whose fate was still in question.

Mr. Lucretius voiced his thoughts on fear, declaring that it “induces hate of life and light, and men.”3 But before he could finish, Mr. Goethe interrupted, “Good, sensible people often withdraw from one another because of secret differences, each becoming absorbed by what he feels is right and by the error of the other. Conditions then grow more and more complicated and exasperating, until it becomes impossible to undo the knot at the crucial moment on which everything depends.”4 Leery of the conversation I spoke up, “Yes! Yes! If we are to go through with this conversation, what of the repercussions? Rifts created that are irreparable. Friends, should we? Dare we go on with this discussion?” Mr. Kant spoke directly to Mr. Goethe, “We shall be fine, good friends, as long as we use our logic. When we develop this reasoning and thought, it is an enlightenment that is expressed through independence of our thoughts and to our community which is one another.”5 So, there we had it. I got up to refill drinks and the conversation continued with the chosen few, except Mr. Dostoevsky who sat still and silent, staring into the fire.

“Each of us are masters of our own actions through reason and will,” stated Dr. Aquinas, “Living dangerously with or without fear or love is still dangerous living. What is the difference between these? Is it not lustful and evil living that affects our living most?”6 Mr. Lucretius had put down his cigar and was adamantly talking with his hands, “For all their excessive appetite for life, their cowardly fear of death – their unconcern became a Nemesis . . . The most pitiful thing of all was desperation, loss of nerve!”7 I moved my gaze to look at Mr. Nietzsche’s expression. It wasn’t clear if he was enjoying the discussion or had drifted away into his own thoughts as his eyes had glazed and he was watching the fire. Abruptly Mr. Goethe spoke, “We yearn to surrender all of our Self and let ourselves be filled to the brim with a single, tremendous, magnificent emotion,” he paused and rose to walk across the room to fetch himself a cigar, “we hurry to the spot, when there,” (gesturing back to his seat) “becomes here, everything is as it was before and we are left standing in our poverty and constraint, our souls longing for the balm that had eluded us.”8 A new silence enveloped the room as the souls sat absorbed in their own emotional ties to longing. I was shaken from my comforting thoughts as I realized that Mr. Dostoevsky was still quiet. It was unlike him to shy away from a hearty debate and discussion. I wondered where his thoughts were and made a mental note to ask him later if he never opened up to the conversation.

Dr. Aquinas, who had such a calm manner of speaking, broke the silence once again, “So, would we all agree that human actions therefore must be for an end?”9 Sounds of agreement filled the room as he continued, “So, then we might all agree that happiness and satisfaction would be important in our living?”10 Again, more nodding and grunts of approval, which I welcomed as the congenial host, as the Doctor continued by asking how virtue fit into the discussion. It was here I knew we had some vastly varying sentiments toward virtue and the conversation needed to shift to more agreeable discussions, “Virtue, oh must we really go there?” Mr. Goethe cheerfully sanctioned, “If only man would tell himself daily: you owe your friends nothing but to leave them their joys and increase their happiness by sharing it with them.”11 Good ol’ Mr. Goethe. Kind, wise, Mr. Goethe.

“Yes, yes!” agreed Mr. Kant, “we need peace and unity among us, not things of strife; but I do think it’s good to have an understanding amongst us, wouldn’t you agree Mr. Nietzsche?”12 As we all turned to where Mr. Nietzsche had been sitting, we noticed the emptiness on his face. The smirk that had been present, the sneering eyes, and unpleasant expression had faded, he sat motionless and slightly slouched. It is here that Mr. Dostoevsky silently crossed the room, suspecting something that none of us had noticed. He put his finger against the neck of Mr. Nietzsche then pronounced him dead. Shaking his head Mr. Dostoevsky solemnly reflected, “I heard a man once say, ‘I live out my days in a corner, taunting myself with the spiteful and entirely useless consolation that an intelligent man cannot seriously become anything and that only a fool can become something . . . Man only likes to count his troubles; he doesn’t calculate his happiness. If he figured as he should, he’d see that everyone gets his share.’”13 Mr. Dostoevsky crossed the silent room. He picked up his belongings, faced his companions who sat in disbelief, bowed his head and exited the party into the star lit streets.

Notes:

1 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, With a Prelude in Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs, trans. Walter Kauffmann (New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 1974), 228.

2 Lucretius, The Way Things Are: The De Rerum Natura of Titus Lucretius Carus, trans. Rolfe Humphries (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1968), 21.

3 Lucretius, 88.

4 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther and Selected Writings, trans. Catherine Hutter (New York: Signet Classics, 1962), 122.

5 Immanuel Kant, “What is Enlightenment?”, in The Portable Enlightenment Reader, ed. Isaac Kramnick (New York: Penguin Books, 1995), 6.

6 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (New York: Benzinger Brothers, 1911-1925), I-II, q. 1, a. 1; I-II, q. 95, a. 1.

7 Lucretius, 234.

8 Goethe, 42.

9 Aquinas, ST I-II. Q1. A1.

10 Aquinas, ST I-II. Q5.

11 Goethe, 47.

12 Immanuel Kant, “Perpetual Peace,” in The Portable Enlightenment Reader, ed. Isaac Kramnick (New York: Penguin Books, 1995), 553-559.

13 Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground, trans. Michael R. Katz (New York: W. W. Norton, 2022), 7, 103.