Round three of this set. Just as a proof that not all historical figures who are brought up in this segment are successful or clever in what they do.
Xerxes I: So Powerful He Punished A RIVER
The Emperor of Persia from 486-465 BCE, Xerxes has recently gained a degree of face time in pop culture with the release of 300, the film that somehow managed to gratuitously protray everything. Not exactly a 7 foot tall golden Goliath coated in rings and piercings, Xerxes was not the eldest son of Darius I of Persia. By tradition, this would mean that he was not destined to rule, but Darius married Xerxes’ mother to solidify his power as emperor, making Xerxes the child of royalty and a symbol for the cohesion of the Persian Empire. His father left for Egypt to put down a revolution in 486, and true to Persian tradition, he chose his successor and built his tomb before leaving (just in case he died while there). Xerxes was chosen and when Darius died in 486, he became the true emperor of Persia. He charged the Egyptians and splattered a couple uprisings in Babylon before setting his sights on Athens. Making it his target, Xerxes gathered his forces to invade. Ordering the creation of a massive pontoon bridge across the Hellespont for a land invasion into the Greek lands and a channel to be dug for the naval forces, Xerxes began his quarrel in 480. A storm happened to completely destroy his bridge across the Hellespont, and according to Herodotus, Xerxes ordered the river to get 300 lashes and fettered. So men went wading into the water to “punish” it for ruining his plans. Herodotus also wrote that there were whispers about him trying to brand the river by wedging red hot pokers into the waves, all the while the torturers were supposed to say “Thou bitter water, thy master lays upon thee this penalty, because thou didst wrong him not having suffered any wrong from him: and Xerxes the king will pass over thee whether thou be willing or no.. Thou art a treacherous and briny stream.” Yessir. Before starting off his 15 year war with Leonidas and the rest of Greece, Xerxes decided to punish nature for stopping him. Not content with just punishing it, he had to chastise it and LITERALLY CALL IT NAMES. They say power does things to people…
Lu Buwei: The Man with the “Plan”
Lu Buwei was a Chinese official/merchant/scholar who was at the peak of his career, he had massive influence in the court, he was a successful general, he had the young emperor in the palm of his hand. He gathered scholars and clever people from across China at the court and developed the Spring and Autumn Annals, basically Ancient China’s encyclopedia Britannica. His only trouble that he had was in the Empress Dowager being somewhat free with her sexual desires (like, really really free). While the illicit adventures of the Empress wasn’t ruining his career, rumors about Lu Buwei and the Empress fathering a child (and rumors about Lu fathering the current Emperor with the former Empress) were beginning to cramp his style and could have led to his execution. He came up with a plan, ordering a man named Lao Ai to the court, Lao became one of Lu’s personal assistants. Lu had Lao Ai parade around doing what he was known best for: having a huge “tool”. Stories were that Lu had Lao wedge his thing into the center of a wooden wheel and walk around showing off his skill as a wheel axle. As Lu predicted, the Empress was excited with the new addition to the court and he met with her in private to explain his “plan”. He planned to accuse Lao Ai of a crime heinous enough to require castration, then bribe the man with the tin snips to “forget” his job for a day, they would then shave Lao and pluck his eyebrows. Lao Ai then became assigned as one of the Empress’ eunuchs to “wait” on her night and day. After fathering two of her children, Lao Ai decided he should be the rightful emperor and raised an army to take the capital city. The Emperor Qin Shi Huang cracked down on the rebellion and Lao Ai’s ambitions. Ai was executed, as was every single living family member of his, both his sons, and basically anybody who had any relation to him whatsoever. The empress was placed under house arrest for the rest of her life and Lu Buwei was banished to another kingdom. Sensing that he would be executed on arriving in a kingdom he had led armies against, Lu committed suicide and the emperor expelled every scholar from the court in a paranoid reaction to Lu’s betrayal. Other people have said that the entire Lao Ai saga was made up as a reason for the young emperor to wrest the power from Lu Buwei’s impressive base. The decision is up to you: was the exile of Lu because he was a politically relevant target who made ambitious decisions, or because he ordered a gigalo for the empress?
Hopefully y’all learned something new, something cool or something different, at the very least that the history of interesting people is not always super heroic.
Citations, because Lao Ai is virtually scrubbed from the history books:
Xerxes: Ever Been SO Mad You…
Lu Buwei’s Shame (Seriously, there is almost literally nothing online about Lao Ai)