London | Some might object that Monty Python’s Personal Best, airing in six installments in February and March on the Public Broadcasting Service, merely provides another money-making rehash for the famed comedy troupe. But the installment hosted by Eric Idle at least offers the classic Python Olympiad, featuring the second-leg football final in Munich between German and Greek philosophers. The two sides, kitted out in period gear with squad numbers, ruminate for much of the 90 minutes before a breakthrough by the Greeks in stoppage: the “odd goal,” according to announcer Michael Palin. Numerous transcripts exist on the Internet, but for those who need a reminder, here are the squad lists:
2 I. Kant
6 Beckenbauer (“obviously a bit of a surprise there”)
3 Aristotle (“very much the man in form”)
5 Empedocles of Acragas
Substitutes are not specified, although Karl Marx does come on late for the Germans—for Ludwig Wittgenstein—and has little influence.
The sketch manages several parodies simultaneously: of over-excitable commentators, of intellectuals incapable of understanding the rudiments of a simple game and of football itself, sometimes portrayed by comics in non-football cultures as slow and without purpose.
Turning philosophers into footballers has become something of a cottage industry for Mark Perryman, who has written a book, Philosophy Football, featuring profiles of 11 writers and thinkers and their playing tendencies, and helped launch a start-up featuring team shirts with philosophers’ names and tangentially football-related sayings. Witness Wittgenstein, from Philosophical Investigations:
Imagine people amusing themselves in a field by playing with a ball. Throwing the ball aimlessly into the air, chasing one another with the ball. The whole time they are playing and following definite rules. Is there not also the case where we play and make up the rules as we go along?