Edgar Degas (1834)

Degas was a French painter and sculptor. After copying the Old Masters and becoming a skilled draftsman, he was introduced to Impressionism by Édouard Manet. He then gave up his academic aspirations to pursue art exclusively. Many of his works depict the fast-paced city life of Paris, particularly the ballet, theater, circus, track, and cafés, and feature non-traditional compositions influenced by Japanese prints and photography. Which of his works was criticized for its “appalling ugliness”? Discuss

Robert Hooke (1635)

Hooke was a prolific English physicist, mathematician, and inventor. He was a geometry professor and the curator of experiments for the Royal Society. An architect as well, he played a major role in the surveying and rebuilding of London after the 1666 fire. Considered the greatest mechanic of his age, he made myriad improvements to astronomical instruments and timepieces. In his pioneering book Micrographia, he described his microscopic observations of plant tissue and coined what term? Discuss

S.Y. Agnon (1888)

Agnon was an Israeli writer who is widely regarded as one of the greatest modern Hebrew novelists and short-story writers. Born into a Polish Galician family in what is now Ukraine, Agnon settled in Palestine in 1907. His fiction explores Jewish life from the late 18th century to the post-WWI period. The Day Before Yesterday, perhaps his greatest novel, examines the problems faced by the westernized Jewish immigrant to Israel. In 1966, Agnon shared the Nobel Prize in Literature with whom? Discuss

Saint Clare of Assisi (1194)

Born to a noble family, Chiara Offreduccio, now St. Clare of Assisi, was deeply influenced by fellow Assisian St. Francis. Refusing to marry, she instead fled to a chapel where he received her vows. She later became abbess of a female religious community that included her sister and mother. The Second Order of St. Francis, or Poor Clares, adopted the absolute poverty of St. Francis but was strictly cloistered, unlike its counterpart, the Franciscans. Why is Clare the patron saint of television? Discuss

Jacques Derrida (1930)

Derrida was an Algerian-born French philosopher whose critique of Western philosophy encompasses literature, linguistics, and psychoanalysis. In his famously dense and complex writings, he attempted to take apart, or “deconstruct,” the edifice of Western metaphysics and reveal what he deemed its incompatible foundations. His thought is based on his disapproval of the search for an ultimate metaphysical certainty. Why was Derrida so controversial among many of his fellow philosophers? Discuss

Ingmar Bergman (1918)

Bergman was a Swedish film and stage writer, director, and producer. He achieved an impressive degree of freedom early in his career and used it to create and develop a highly individual approach. Working with many of the same actors and technicians from film to film—including actor Max von Sydow and cinematographer Sven Nykvist—Bergman filled his work with an unusual degree of unity and continuity. He won international acclaim for The Seventh Seal and what other films? Discuss

Julius Caesar (100 BCE)

Caesar, a Roman general and statesman, formed the First Triumvirate with Pompey and Marcus Licinius Crassus. He later precipitated the Roman Civil War, defeating Pompey and becoming dictator for life. His dictatorial powers, however, inspired great resentment. He was in the midst of launching a series of political and social reforms when he was assassinated on the Ides of March by conspirators led by Cassius and Brutus. His commentaries on what wars are considered classic military documents? Discuss

Milton Berle (1908)

Berle was an American comedian and the first major US television star. He began acting in vaudeville at age 10 and went on to perform in more than 50 silent films, on radio, and as a nightclub comedian. His great success, however, was as the host of NBC’s Texaco Star Theater, which earned him the nickname “Mr. Television.” He contributed significantly to the medium’s growing popularity, and many are said to have bought TV sets just to watch “Uncle Miltie.” How did he get that nickname? Discuss

Luis de Góngora y Argote (1561)

Góngora was a poet of the Spanish Golden Age who successfully wove Renaissance and popular poetry into an original and elegant form. Very influential in his era, he developed the difficult, complex poetic style that became known as Gongorism. It provoked enmity from many of his contemporaries and was so exaggerated by less gifted imitators that his reputation suffered until the 20th century. He has since been called Spain’s greatest poet. What is his most famous work? Discuss

John Calvin (1509)

Calvin was a French theologian and a major figure of the Protestant Reformation. In 1531, he became part of a movement that emphasized salvation by grace rather than by works. By 1555, Calvin had succeeded in establishing a theocracy in Geneva, where he served as pastor and head of the Genevan Academy and wrote the sermons, biblical commentaries, and letters that form the basis of Calvinism. What theologian, whose arrest was ordered by Calvin, was burned atop a pyre of his own books? Discuss