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Mark Twain once said that History does not repeat, but it does rhyme.  With that in mind, let me present a piece of doggerel based on one of the most botched assassinations in history; a cautionary tale about the dangers of indulging too much in four-dimensional chess.  Grab your togas as I salute the Muse and join me below the jump:


"No, Mister Bond, I expect you to DIE!!!"
-- A. Goldfinger

Perhaps sometime you chanced to read
Melodramatic narrative
Of villainy and dastard deed
As full of plot-holes as a sieve
The Hero's trapped in Evil's Lair;
The Villain vows to seal his doom.
He does not kill him then and there;
Instead he simply leaves the room!
What sort of overweening sap
By hubris blind or on a whim
Would make a complicated trap
Instead of simply shooting him?
It happens that long, long ago
There really was just such a man;
He sought to kill his direst foe
But used an over-cunning plan.
    He learned life's sad and tragic quirk
    Sometimes the death-trap does not work.

Nero, the Roman emperor,
Had a domineering mother.
Nagged him 'til his nerves were sore
And he wished his Mom to smother.
So Nero hired an artisan
To rig her ceiling to collapse
And crush her flat as marzipan
Next time she took one of her naps.
When that lethal architecture
Fell just like a cataclysm,
She was out, ('tis my conjecture)
Sitting on the euphemism.
    Outside the bedroom she did lurk
    And so the death-trap did not work.

The next plan that Nero approved,
Was to construct a special boat;
It had a plug, which when removed
Would cause the ship to cease to float.
And so with nothing else to lose
He placed his unsuspecting mater
Off upon this deadly cruise
On which the waves would inundate her.
He thought the plan out through and through;
He knew this trap just could not fail;
But he forgot to tell the crew
That they were not supposed to bail.
    They worked the pumps and did not shirk;
    And so the death-trap did not work.

In vain they labored through the dark
Against the leak which would immerse
Them all -- they could not save the barque
But did save all the passengers.
The Mother paddled safe to shore,
Her toga drenched and draped with kelp.
She saw a guard there, armed for war
And asked him for a little help.
The man knew well the emp'ror's dream
To see no more his Mom alive,
And so the guard devised a scheme
To see to it she'd not survive.
He saw no need for all the fuss,
And thought the snares and gadgets dumb;
He simply drew his gladius
And punctured her duodenum.
    He did the dame in with his dirk;
    Because a death-trap would not work.


The Moral of this doggerel
Is clearly plain for all to see:
The plan that you might think is swell
May fail through its complexity.
    Then friends will shake their heads and smirk:
    "I KNEW that death-trap would not work!"

    --Kurt Wilcken

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (9+ / 0-)

    "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

    by quarkstomper on Mon Mar 07, 2011 at 03:30:02 PM PST

  •  Most entertaining history lesson...ever..nt (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JaxDem, palantir
    •  Perhaps you will join (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      arodb, quarkstomper

      me in completing that essential worK: "The Limerick Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire"

      Chapter I

      The extent and military force of the Roman empire, in the age of the Antonines.

      In the Second Century AD
      Rome ruled from sea to sea
      But it began declining
      So it's no use whining
      That's just how things must be.

      It was guarded by antient valor
      And Gods of a distinctive pallor
      And Caesar Augustus
      Whose magnificent bust is
      Crumbling by the hour

      In a certain museum in Roma
      Under the magnificent doma
      Of the Vatican
      Maybe I'll go again
      Or maybe I'll just go to MOMA.

      When Caesar Augustus died
      He suggested that the Empire abide
      Within the current borders
      and those were his orders
      And his successors stood by his side.

      With the exception of the conquest of Britain
      With which the emperors were smitten
      It was so near Gaul
      And seemed easy and all
      And condign and really quite fittiing.

      And so they conquered the Druids
      Spilling their bodily fluids
      And even Boadicea
      Fell down before Caesar
      And the Brits ran away like poor newts.

      On the borders were many barbarians.
      Rome wished they could have been Unitarians
      But they mostly were Goths
      And liked to plunder a lot.
      But what if they were Rastafarians?

      Which seems to be Rome's only hope:
      To get them all smoking some dope
      But they had whiskey and mead
      And didn't have any weed
      And Rome was sadly unable to cope.

      Rome left Caledonia alone
      To set their distinctive tone
      It was too gloomy
      And too damned mushroomy
      And far from the temperate zone.

      But then came the Emperor Trajan
      Who looking for a reputation
      The conquest of Dacia
      And then most of Asia
      Would bring glory to the old Roman nation.

      And Trajan remarked Im so old
      I have little time so Ill be so bold
      Ill ravage Belgravia
      Then savage Arabia
      And send back many slaves and much gold.

      And he did and then quietly sighed
      Looked at the Persian Gulf then quietly died.
      And when he was dead
      All that could be said.
      Is He once ruled the world and he died.

      And the Roman people called Yo Hadrian
      Who sailed over the seas Pelegian
      And refrained from attack
      And gave it all back
      Which pleased all the Roman sages and

      Displeased the military assholes
      With their eagles and their tassles.
      But Hadrian rested
      And was not really tested
      And messed about building some castles.

      And then came Antoninus Pius
      Who was one of those tranquil guys
      And Roman Arms
      Prevented all harms
      And seemed, for a time, to suffice.

      •  A gem..... (0+ / 0-)

        I never took a world history course, and so the Roman Empire is part of my long list of lacunae that I have to talk very fast to obfuscate.  And poetry, alas, only a few segments of English course in High School.  These seem like limericks in meter.

        But I love to write, and have a sense of rhythm and meter, that I try to optimize in my prose.  You have to supply the history, as the only Roman Emperor I know fairly well is Constantine the Great, from reading James Carroll, whose new book just came out today, it's called Jerusalem Jerusalem.  

        Some possible alternates that sound better, perhaps.  

        On the borders were many barbarians.
        Rome wished they could have been Unitarians
        Rome wished they had been unitarians

        And Trajan remarked Im so old
        I have little time so Ill be so bold
        with little time I'll be bold

        And he did and then quietly sighed
        Looked at the Persian Gulf then quietly died.

        So he did then quietly sighed
        Saw the Persion Gulf and then died

        Lots of fun to participate.  Be sure to send me the completed work.  Do you send it to a poetry journal or one on History?

      •  Not Bad (0+ / 0-)

        A little rough in the meter, but not a bad start.

        "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

        by quarkstomper on Mon Mar 07, 2011 at 07:25:40 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  That Wacky Nero (0+ / 0-)

    I took some liberties with the historical accounts of Agrippina's murder.  (I mean besides my alternate pronounciation of "duodenum" and the nonsensical phrase "as flat as marzipan".)  According to Tactius, the Collapsing Ceiling of Doom was part of Nero's Yacht of Death, and failed to kill her only because the ends of the couch she was lying on stopped it from crushing her.

    According to the plan, the soldiers on board the ship all rushed over to one side to try to tip it over.  The crew, unaware of the plan, naturally all ran to the other side to keep this from happening.  So instead of capsizing quickly, the ship sank slowly enough for Nero's Mom to escape.  I had trouble fitting this into an abab rhyme scheme, though, and so modified the events to make things clearer.

    According to Tactius, Agrippina did not at first believe that the soldiers who came to her after she had escaped the shipwreck had been sent by her son to kill her.  But when she realized that was the case, she said, "Then smite my womb!"

    But Agrippina was quite the piece of work herself.  It is generally believed that she was responsible for the poisoned mushrooms that finished off her husband, the Emperor Claudius.  (One Roman wit said that mushrooms must be the Food of the Gods since by eating them Claudius became one).  Tactius also tells the story that many years before she had consulted astrologers about her son's future.  They told her he was destined to be emperor and would kill his mother.  "Let him kill her," she said, "provided he is emperor."

    "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

    by quarkstomper on Mon Mar 07, 2011 at 07:22:32 PM PST

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