Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Bytes and Pieces: History

Some deaths . . .

Alexander the Great:

Prior to his death in 323BC aged 32, Alexander the Great had created one of the largest empires of the ancient world, stretching from Greece to northwestern India. He was undefeated in battle and is widely considered one of history's most successful military commanders. Poised on the edge of another invasion, he fell ill and died after 12 days of excruciating suffering. Since then, historians have debated his cause of death, some of the possibilities raised including malaria, typhoid, and alcohol poisoning to assassination by one of his rivals. 

Dr. Katherine Hall, Senior Lecturer at the Dunedin School of Medicine at the University of Otago, New Zealand, writing in an article published in The Ancient History Bulletin, has suggested that Alexander may have suffered from the neurological disorder Guillain-BarrĂ© Syndrome (GBS), which caused his death. Furthermore, she relies on historical accounts that his body didn’t begin to show signs of decomposition for a full six days, to argue that Alexander wasn’t dead yet when pronounced dead. 

Her views, in brief: 

- He was known to have developed a “progressive, symmetrical, ascending paralysis” during his illness. 

- He remained fully in control of his mental faculties until just before his death. 

- GBS, a rare but serious autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks healthy cells in the nervous system, can explain this combination of symptoms better than the other theories advanced for Alexander’s death. 

- Alexander likely got a variant of GBS that produced paralysis without causing confusion or unconsciousness. 

- The increasing paralysis Alexander suffered, as well as the fact that his body needed less oxygen as it shut down, would have meant that his breathing was less visible. 

- Because in ancient times, doctors relied on the presence or absence of breath, rather than a pulse, to determine whether a patient was alive or dead, Alexander might have been falsely declared dead before he actually died. 


Alexander Mosaic (c. 100 BC), ancient Roman floor mosaic from the House of the Faun in Pompeii showing Alexander fighting king Darius III of Persia in the Battle of Issus 

Grigori Rasputin:

Rasputin (1869 – 1916) was a Russian mystic and self-proclaimed holy man who befriended the family of Nicholas II, the last emperor of Russia. Rasputin gained considerable influence in late imperial Russia after he began acting as a healer for the imperial couple's only son, Alexei, who suffered from haemophilia. He was a divisive figure at court, seen by some Russians as a mystic, visionary, and prophet, and by others as a religious charlatan. As Russian defeats mounted during WW1 and with Tsar Nicholas away at war, both Rasputin and Alexandra became increasingly unpopular. 

According to noted historians Boney M: 

Then one night some men of higher standing
Set a trap, they're not to blame
"Come to visit us", they kept demanding
And he really came 

Ra ra Rasputin
Lover of the Russian queen
They put some poison into his wine
Ra ra Rasputin
Russia's greatest love machine
He drank it all and said, "I feel fine" 

Ra ra Rasputin
Lover of the Russian queen
They didn't quit, they wanted his head
Ra ra Rasputin
Russia's greatest love machine
And so they shot him 'til he was dead 

Oh, those Russians 

A popular urban view holds that after attempts to kill him, he finally drowned when his body was thrown in a river. Is this correct? 

From Wikipedia: 

A group of nobles led by Prince Felix Yusupov, Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, and right-wing politician Vladimir Purishkevich decided that Rasputin's influence over the tsarina had made him a threat to the empire, and they concocted a plan in December 1916 to kill him, apparently by luring him to the Yusupovs' Moika Palace. 

Rasputin was murdered during the early morning on 30 December [O.S. 17 December] 1916 at the home of Felix Yusupov. He died of three gunshot wounds, one of which was a close-range shot to his forehead. Little is certain about his death beyond this, and the circumstances of his death have been the subject of considerable speculation. According to historian Douglas Smith, "what really happened at the Yusupov home on 17 December will never be known". The story that Yusupov recounted in his memoirs, however, has become the most frequently told version of events. 

Yusupov claimed that he invited Rasputin to his home shortly after midnight and ushered him into the basement. Yusupov offered Rasputin tea and cakes which had been laced with cyanide. Rasputin initially refused the cakes but then began to eat them and, to Yusupov's surprise, he did not appear to be affected by the poison. Rasputin then asked for some Madeira wine (which had also been poisoned) and drank three glasses, but still showed no sign of distress. At around 2:30 am, Yusupov excused himself to go upstairs, where his fellow conspirators were waiting. He took a revolver from Dmitry Pavlovich, then returned to the basement and told Rasputin that he'd "better look at the crucifix and say a prayer", referring to a crucifix in the room, then shot him once in the chest. The conspirators then drove to Rasputin's apartment, with Sukhotin wearing Rasputin's coat and hat in an attempt to make it look as though Rasputin had returned home that night. They then returned to the Moika Palace and Yusupov went back to the basement to ensure that Rasputin was dead. Suddenly, Rasputin leapt up and attacked Yusupov, who freed himself with some effort and fled upstairs. Rasputin followed and made it into the palace's courtyard before being shot by Purishkevich and collapsing into a snowbank. The conspirators then wrapped his body in cloth, drove it to the Petrovsky Bridge, and dropped it into the Malaya Nevka River. 


The later autopsy determined that there was no water in his lungs and, contrary to other popular belief, his genitalia was intact. 


William Henry Harrison:

William Henry Harrison was a war hero of the War of 1812 who became the 9th president of the United States. 

He died of a cold that he caught while standing in the rain without an overcoat or hat for two hours during his inauguration speech, the longest of any US president. After the illness persisted for three weeks, presidential doctors gave him opium, castor oil, leeches, and Virginia snakeweed, treatments that drove Harrison delirious and only served to worsen his condition. His death one month later made him both the first president to die in office, and the president to have served the shortest term. 

Zachary Taylor:

Zachary Taylor was a war hero in the Mexican-American war who became the 12th president of the United States in 1849. 

In 1850, while attending a Fourth of July event at the Washington Monument, which was then under construction, Taylor consumed copious amounts of raw fruit and iced milk during the long, hot day. This combination of foods gave Taylor diarrhea and dysentery, which he died from five days later.

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