Monday, 4 January 2010

Monty Python: Philosphers' World Cup

I found this old sketch on You Tube a while ago - I hadn't seen it elsewhere, and it's not included on my brother's Best of Monty Python collection. It's perhaps not up there with their best work, but I must admit I found this funnier than the 'Scott of the Antarctic/Sahara' sketch that was included in the DVD set - but maybe I'm prejudiced because I find anything involving Greek philosophers doing silly things amusing automatically.

The sketch shows us the final of the Philosophers' World Cup (football world cup that is, and by football, I mean soccer. To a British person, the 'World Cup' is always football unless otherwise specified, and 'football' is always soccer - rugby football is usually just 'rugby' and American football is ignored all together). The two teams competing in the final are the Germans and the Greeks (I can't actually think of any other large groups of famous philosophers all from the same country, but I'm sure someone will think of some!). We're introduced to the Germans first, who are mostly from the nineteenth century or thereabouts and dressed accordingly, and then to the Greeks who are, of course, from ancient Greece and dressed in the usual white sheet outfits.

My knowledge of philosophy not really being what it should be, I actually haven't heard of half the German team and so don't always get the jokes. I even got confused by the Greek team, because the match is supposedly being held in Munich and all the names are given in German. While I can read German, albeit slowly, I haven't done a lot of work on philosophy lately, so I'm not familiar with all the German versions of the philosophers' names, and there isn't really time to take them all in within the sketch. This is possibly because the Monty Python team didn't actually write their sketches for people to analyse in intimate detail forty years later. Or maybe that's why this sketch isn't on the DVD.

Anyway, the Greek team includes all the usual suspects - Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Archimedes. The inclusion of the latter was apparently a 'surprise', according to the commentator (Palin, I think). The two linesmen are St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas - this really made me laugh, as they both have little gold circles over their heads, for halos (and I've always been quite fond of St Augustine). The referee is Confucius.

Finally, the match begins - and they all wander off to discuss philosophy very intently in pairs or wander the pitch waving their hands as if giving a speech, the ball left untouched in the centre of the pitch. An announcer says we'll come back to the contest as soon as anything happens. There's a break, and when we come back, Nietsche has been booked for arguing with the referee, the third time in four games, as we're told, so Karl Marx, the substitute, is warming up. The German manager is, it turns out, Martin Luther.

Just as it looks like the game will end without the ball moving, Archimedes has an idea, shouts 'Eureka!' ('I have it!') and actually kicks the ball. The Greeks leap into action and Socrates scores while the Germans continue to wander around thinking intently. The Germans try to contest the goal with philosphy, except Marx, who thinks it was offside, but to no avail and the Greeks win - giving us the very funny image of ancient Greek philosophers jumping around with their fists in the air.

I thought this was very funny, and deserving of inclusion in a 'best of', but I guess if you don't spend your entire time studying either the ancient Greeks or German philosophy, it might not be so amusing, and you do have to know who Archimedes is to get the 'eureka' joke. I could try to claim that this sketch says something very profound about the ultimate uselessness of standing around philosophizing when you could be actually doing something productive but maybe I won't - partly because I think the Pythons probably just thought it was funny, and partly because that would seem to imply that my own career is not the most useful thing in the world either...


  1. The Pythons had a few philosopher-based bits. The Philosophers Song also comes to mind, citing Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates. They all have Oxbridge educations, but none of them appear to have actually studied philosophy. At least one of them also appears to have a more than passing familiarity with German.

    About the only other country I can think of that might be able to field a side would be Scotland. I suppose there are others, but I'm not sure if most of them could come up with enough "big league" names to really compete.

  2. This has always been one of my favourite Python sketches :)

  3. The French a bunch of philosophers that could be included. Maybe Scotland and France lost in the Semifinals.


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