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 True Test of Friendship

Namertes the Spartan was sent as an ambassador to another nation, and when one of the people of that country congratulated him for having so many friends, he asked him whether he had any sure means of testing the strength of his friendships.  Namertes replied, “Through misfortune.”

The Tragedy of the White Ship

William Aetheling, son of Henry I, was sent to the French king to do homage to Normandy, which the English kings ruled as dukes, legally under the French kings, but often, in fact, free from and even above them.  The homage was a success, and Aetheling prepared to return to England aboard the White Ship, his father’s newest and finest vessel, accompanied by a large number of his noble friends.

They celebrated so greatly that soon even the crew was drunk, and the ship launched at night.  The ship struck a rock, and began to sink.  The crew was able to launch a single skiff and pushed the prince inside, who made his way towards shore and safety, but the cries of his half-sister, shrieking not to be abandoned, compelled him to return, where he drowned.  Only one person survived, a butcher who held onto the mast until morning.  The prince and many noble sons and daughters were lost, and Henry I lost his only legitimate heir.

The Death of Guerrero

In 1911, Cuyamel Fruit Company planned a coup against the Honduran government.  They intended to use Manuel Bonilla to lead a small force posing as a popular rebellion against the current president in order to force a regime change, in order that they might obtain more beneficial conditions in the country, in which they owned most of their land and from which they received most of their bananas.

During the battle for La Ceiba, a strongly-defended city which housed the nation’s treasury reserves, General Francisco “Chico” Guerrero was in charge of the city’s defense.  During a skirmish in the main square, the general, attempting to prevent a rout and keep his men fighting, turned to the enemy and yelled, “I will show you bastards how a man fights!”  He whipped his white mule into a dash, and was promptly shot a dozen times before he had made it ten yards.

By sundown, the city and silver belonged to the rebels.

Death of Chrysippus

Chrysippus was a Greek philosopher, known as the second founder of Stoicism for his contributions to the school.  His thoughts led to Stoicism becoming one of the most influential philosophies of the ancient world.  Despite his success in Stoicism, though, his death was less than stoic.  According to legend, he witnessed a donkey eating some figs and cried out, “Now give the donkey a drink of pure wine to wash down the figs!”  He then had such a fit of laughter that he died.

Evidently, humor was different back then.

Three Days of Happiness

Once, during the Pelopenessian War, the Athenians suffered a great defeat.  A surviving soldier hurried home, and told the city that they had, in fact, won a great victory, instead.  For three days, the city celebrated, until a messenger arrived with the unfortunate news.  They had lost, and many of their young men were dead.

Furious, the city leaders asked the soldier why he had lied to them and led them to think what was contrary to fact.  He replied that they would have found out about the defeat either way, but what hard had he done if, through his lie, he had given to them three days of happiness?

The Last Game

The Great Abbasid Civil War was a destructive conflict over the position of caliphate, the leader of Sunni Islam.  Muhammad ibn Harun al-Amin had inherited the title from their father, but his half-brother, Abu Jafar Abdullah al-Mamun ibn Harun, had been granted his own territory as well.  Al-Amin attempted to establish centralized control over his brother, whose resistance turned into a civil war.

In 813 CE, al-Mamun’s forces were besieging al-Amin’s capital of Baghdad.  As the city fell, al-Amin was engrossed in a lively game of chess against his favorite eunuch, Kauthar.  A messenger interrupted the game, informing the caliph that the city, and the caliph’s safety were in danger.  Now was the time to look to the city’s defenses, not to a board game.

Al-Amin waved the messenger off distractedly.  “Patience my friend.  I see that in a few movies, I shall checkmate Kauthar.”

The city fell, al-Amin won his game, and the caliph was executed, succeeded by al-Mamun.