Miscellany and Trivia

Anecdote Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz – German mathematician and philosopher (1646 – 1716)

Leibniz wrote obsessively, compulsively. His complete works, centuries after his death, is still not compiled. As he used to write so frequently, he had a special desk designed so he could write while travelling by carriage.

Looking through Leibniz's study at his thousands upon thousands of pages, scholars discovered a paper on which he had been working out the benefits of having a wife or not. He ultimately decided it was logically superior not to have a wife.

In his teens, Leibniz inherited his father's largely Latin library. Not knowing Latin yet did not dissuade him. He taught himself Latin simply by studying the Latin texts.


Anecdote Rene Descartes – French philosopher, mathematician and writer (1596 – 1650)

Knowledge, as we know, was limited in the Renaissance. Where today it would be quite impossible to study all the major fields of knowledge, it was no so centuries ago. Descartes studied in a Jesuit school in his youth. The Jesuits were renowned as scholars; having a Jesuit education was the best for which one could hope. Descartes, however, did not just master the subjects he was being taught, but having done so spent his free time in the Jesuit library. By the time he was in his late teens, he had read everything in the Jesuit library and knew everything there was to know--literally.

Knowing everything, Descartes decided to give up the scholar's life and live a little. So he did what many young men were then doing: he got involved in the war. Descartes, though, did not choose a side. Instead, he became a mercenary and fought on both sides of the war just for the fun of it. Indeed, not only did he know everything, but he also happened to be one of the finest swordsmen in France.

Anecdote Thomas Aquinas – Italian Dominican priest, philosopher and theologian (1225 – 1274)

When Aquinas was a student, his reserved demeanor kept him from participating in class discussions. Rather than assume shyness or meekness, the other students presumed Aquinas was simply stupid. In the Middle Ages, when noblemen frequently placed their children in monasteries or universities by force of position, it was common to have relatively unintelligent people even in university. This way Aquinas earned the nickname "the dumb ox," referring, of course, to his size and silence. Another student, taking pity on Aquinas, offered to aid Aquinas with his logic work. Aquinas accepted out of meekness. As the student attempted to demonstrate various rules of logic to Aquinas, he found himself being corrected by Aquinas. The student soon caught on and left Aquinas alone.

Anecdote Diogenes of Sinope – Greek philosopher and one of the founders of the Cynic philosophy (412 or 404 BC – 323 BC)

Also known as 'the Cynic,' Diogenes was the major follower of Antisthenes, who had invented cynicism as a philosophical movement. Cynicism demanded extreme detachment from society and its rules, living according to one's reason. One way Diogenes used to scandalize the Athenians was to eat in the Agora. Any bodily function was expected to be confined to the home, where no-one else need see it. Going one beyond this, Diogenes was once found masturbating in public. Asked how he could do such a thing, Diogenes replied, "If I could satisfy my hunger by rubbing my belly, I'd do that too."

Diogenes' fame began to spread, both as a sort of madman and as a wise man. For the latter reason, Alexander the Great reportedly came to Athens from Macedon to glean some wisdom from this eccentric philosopher. Alexander would find Diogenes in his customary place, an empty wine vat which he had made his home. When Alexander approached with praise for Diogenes wisdom and humbling himself to request audience, Diogenes replied, "Could you move? You're blocking my light."

Anecdote Thomas Mann – German novelist social critic and philanthropist (1875 – 1955)

Once Mann was visited by an amateur writer who showed him some of his works and asked for advice.

'After all, you should read a lot', said Mann.

'Why?', asked the young author.

'Because if you read a lot you won't have time to write', replied the writer.’

Anecdote Johann Wolfgang Goethe – German writer, artist, and politician (1749 –1832)

Goethe once wrote a very long letter to one of his friends. In the end he added a postscript explaining: 'I am very sorry for sending you such a long letter but I did not find enough time to write a shorter one.'

Anecdote Ernest Hemingway – American author and journalist (1899 – 1961)

Hemingway had a son who at the age of twenty had already tried to work in many different professions. He considered himself a person with a huge life experience and decided to publish his diaries so he asked his father, already a famous writer awarded the Nobel Prize, to write a preface to his memoirs.

'After that, we'll talk about the copyright', the son added.

'My son', the writer said, 'you should know that I, as your father, own all the rights regarding your person'.

Anecdote James Joyce – Irish novelist and poet (1882 – 1941)

One day a friend visited the writer and found him totally depressed. Joyce explained that he couldn't finish some book he was writing.

'So how much have you written yet?', the friend asked.

'Seven words', Joyce replied.

'It's not that bad', the friend tried to console him.

'Maybe, but I still don't know in what order I should put them', said the writer.

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