We all know the most famous bit of ancient advice inscribed on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi: Know thyself. It’s a powerful and daunting recommendation. If you take it seriously, you will begin to push through all of the misconceptions you have, not only about yourself but about human beings generally. You will begin to think deeply about who you really are and who you ought to be.

Leafing through this old A-to-Z of celebrities is like finding a Mad Magazine from the nineteenth century. The book’s lyrics and images wondrously lampoon the– mostly– old men of European civilization. Instead of being revered as timeless sages, they are brought low, returned to us as fallen flesh-and-blood creatures. Their everyday lives get the tabloid treatment. And, just like today, lust is the common sin that most often brings these high and mighty men crashing down to earth.

Various Thoughts on the Occasion of a Comet (1682), nominally dedicated towards taking down erroneous and popular opinions about comets, was a controversial bestseller, and a foundational work for the French Enlightenment. In it, Bayle launches a battery of arguments for the possibility of a virtuous atheist.