No Dessert

Despite the Spartan’s axiomatic toughness, they could be astonishingly gentle when dealing with their fellow Spartiates.  In court cases, the punishments doled out were, at times, the sort of thing one might expect a parent to assign to a child.  One rich man was condemned to go without dessert with his dinner.  Others were sentenced to bring back a reed or a handful of laurel leaves.  Even Agesilaus, one of Sparta’s ablest kings and commanders, asked that his friend, even if guilty, be found not guilty, for his sake.

The Half-Remembered Bribe

During the reign of Empress Wu, in Tang dynasty China, the Zhang brothers held inordinate influence, which they wielded with a certain lack of grace and subtlety.  They gladly accepted bribes, but their memories left something to be desired.  One graduate by the name of Xue approached Zhang Changyi, a sibling of the more famous brothers, and offered him fifty ounces of gold in exchange for his services in getting him an appointment.  Changyi agreed, but couldn’t remember the man’s first name.  Unwilling to anger the Zhang brothers, the vice-president of the board was forced to simply appoint every graduate by the name of Xue: sixty men in all.

The Spartans’ Apology

The story of the Persian messengers who demanded earth and water from the Spartans is well known.  To the Persians, this request for earth and water was a sign of submission and obedience, a request the Spartans strongly refused.  They were thrown into a well by the Spartans, and told that they would find both of each down there.  However, the sequel to the story is lesser known.

The Spartans later regretted this incident so greatly, for it was undeniably an immoral act, that they sent two citizens to Persia, who volunteered to be killed by them in order to erase the Spartans’ guilt from their own crime.

A Trial of Friendship

Alcibiades, the nephew of Pericles and student of Socrates, once decided to test his friends, in order to discover which were true.  To accomplish this, he had a mannequin constructed, which he then hid in his basement.  One by one, he led his friends to the basement and showed them this mannequin, pretending it to be the corpse of someone whom he had slain, and asked them to help him hide the fact.  Each of them refused, except Callias, who offered to take and hide the body.  After this, Callias became and remained his most trusted and faithful friend.

The Gifts of Polycrates

Polycrates was tyrant of Samos, and probably the first Greek leader to have control of a large navy.  He used this navy against both friends and enemies as privateers, seizing the property of merchants.  From his foes, he kept the goods, but to his friends, he returned it.  He enjoyed being able to give gifts to his friends, which is why he seized the goods in the first place, for if he didn’t, he would have nothing to give to his friends.  And through this largesse, he bound the recipients more closely to his own cause.