Nope, not the political kind. A couple of weeks ago I was at a graduate student's oral qualifying exam. After we had all asked questions and it was clear that the the student had passed with flying colors, one of the other faculty asked the following question (accompanied with the qualifier that the student's answer's had no bearing on whether or not they passed):
You are going to hold two dinner parties. For the first you can invite any four scientists, living or dead. For the second, any four famous people who are/were not scientists, living or dead. Who would you invite and why?
I forget the student's precise answers, and for this post they're not important anyway. The first party was a test of the student's breadth of knowledge of science in general (including it's history). The second had to do with the student's knowledge of topics other than science. The faculty member wanted to stress the importance of knowing much more than just your own narrow little area of research.
I think I would invite the following (putting aside all potential communication issues):
Josiah Willard Gibbs - he was the most under-appreciated theorist of his time. Perhaps ever.
James Clerk Maxwell - not just a famous theoretical physicist, but also a poet! Albeit not a great one... And a contemporary of Gibbs.
John Edsall - a protein chemist's physical chemist. I had the pleasure of meeting him once. A wonderful gentleman.
J. Robert Oppenheimer - someone who went from being the most influential scientist of his time to a victim of McCarthyism has got to be worth a dinner party. And he hiked around Corsica with John Edsall when they were both young.
Hmmm, obviously I have a thing for the physical sciences...
Ludwig von Beethoven - how he wrote his Ninth Symphony while deaf is something that has always fascinated me.
Picasso - no doubt he would keep the conversation interesting (and wine flowing).
Euripides - of the few authors of Greek tragedies whose work has survived, he is my favorite.
Charles Dickens - despite the best efforts of my high school English teachers, I really enjoy his books and their insight into Victorian England.
So, dear readers, who would you invite and why?