Sometime we have a tendency to think that stupidity is reserved only for the current generation. We look back with nostalgia and rose-colored glasses at historic individuals and think that they couldn’t possibly have committed stupid mistakes that caused their own deaths or mutilation. How wrong we are in this supposition.
Attila the Hun
The death of Attila the Hun is one of my favorites. The guy was unstoppable in his day. He was the superpower in the world and anyone who went up against him didn’t leave the battlefield in one piece. You would think that a guy like this would die by assassination, old age after conquering everything in sight, or on the battlefield. But no, he died on his wedding night and not from assassination. I wouldn’t put it past his enemies to hook him up with the killer bride, but that isn’t what happened. Evidently the man partied too hard, got too drunk, got a nosebleed, and drown in his own blood. That must have been the best party ever thrown, at least until that point in time.
I had heard of this one, but had forgotten the guy’s name until doing research for this article. Brahe was a famous dutch astronomer. Further he was smart, his work paved the way for Isaac Newton (I almost put Isaac Asimov, but without Brahe we might not have had Asimov so it would have worked) and others. He also rocked a killer mustache. Just look at the thing. He probably used it to hide extra brain power or maybe his telescope. Well, this guy had a bladder issue and knew about it, plus he was an excessive drinker. Both of these conditions worked against him. Now for the best part. During the 16th century it was considered rude to leave the table during a banquet. Brahe didn’t relieve himself before the festivities and drank too much. This aggravated his condition and caused his bladder to burst. It took him 11 pain filled days to die. He would have been fine if he’d taken the time to go to the bathroom.
Francis Bacon was another man considered by many to be a genius. The man did it all. He was a philosopher, a writer, a scientist, and a politician. I realize that last one might knock him out of the running for the title of genius, but he still qualifies because of the other three. That is until he decided to experiment with snow as a method of food preservation. He bought a chicken, killed it, and then proceeded to stuff the bird with snow. Evidently he thought that his big brain and enormous collar would keep be enough to keep him warm. However, the chicken never froze, but he did.
This next one is about a lawyer, so I don’t think anyone was too sad at the time. Anyway, he was defending a man who was charged with murder. A bar fight had broken out and Vallandigham’s client supposedly shot and killed someone during the fight. Vallandigham claimed that his client was innocent and that the dead man could have shot himself by accident while trying to draw his own firearm. I know, what you’re thinking, “the jurors would have to be idiots to swallow a story like that”. Well, Vallandigham recreated the scene exactly, including the part where he shot himself with his own gun. His client was acquitted, but Vallandigham died of his self-inflicted wound.
John Sedgwick was a Major General for the Union Army during the American Civil War. He was a key player during many of the decisive battles that led to the Union victory over the South. His successes may have contributed to his death. At the Battle of Spotsylavania Court House he was at the front lines directing artillery placements. The Rebels were 1,000 yards away and advancing. This caused a little bit of trepidation among his men, to which he responded by deriding them for their cowardice and claiming that, “they couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.” He was killed seconds later when a bullet hit him in the face, just under his left eye. I don’t know about you, but I thought Army 101 taught you that if you were under fire take cover. Maybe things have changed a little since the Civil War. I could be wrong. Maybe they don’t teach that lesson to generals because they don’t expect them to be at the front lines when the shooting starts.
I think that we should cut ourselves a little slack. Don’t get me wrong, I think we need to take proper precautions to not commit acts of lethal stupidity. However, if these historic figures can make mistakes I think it only fair that we allow the same for ourselves, as long as we learn from the lessons of history.