16 Dramatic and Bizarre Ways People Died in Ancient Greece and the Hellenistic World
16 Dramatic and Bizarre Ways People Died in Ancient Greece and the Hellenistic World

16 Dramatic and Bizarre Ways People Died in Ancient Greece and the Hellenistic World

Khalid Elhassan - October 3, 2018

16 Dramatic and Bizarre Ways People Died in Ancient Greece and the Hellenistic World
‘The Sacrifice of Iphigenia’, by Carle van Loo. Greek Legends and Myths

16. Ancient Greece’s Greatest Seer Laughs Too Soon at a Rival’s Failure

Calchas, in ancient Greek mythology, was a seer who had been blessed with the gift of foretelling the future from the flights of birds. He could else soothsay by interpreting the entrails of enemies during battle. He accompanied the Greeks when they invaded Troy, and Homer extolled his skills in the Iliad, stating that: “as an augur, Calchas had no rival in the camp“.

Before the Greeks could get to Troy, their assembled army was stuck on a beach, prevented from sailing by contrary winds. Calchas prophesied that the winds had been sent by the god Artemis, who had been offended by Agamemnon, the Greek high king and army leader. The only way to appease Artemis, Calchas advised, was for Agamemnon to sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia. It was done, the winds shifted, and the Greeks were finally able to sail.

When the Greek armies were struck with a devastating plague during the Trojan War, they sought Calchas’ advise. He divined that it had been sent by the god Apollo, who had been angered by Agamemnon’s enslavement of Chryseis, daughter of a priest of Apollo, and his refusal to allow her father to ransom her. Agamemnon was forced to send Chryseis back to her father, but then compensated himself by seizing from Achilles a princess whom the Greek hero had captured as a war prize. That triggered a feud between king and hero that drove much of the Iliad.

The soothsayer also lent his support to Odysseus’ Trojan Horse stratagem, predicting that it would succeed in infiltrating the besieged city. Centuries later, the Romans incorporated Calchas in their national origin story, and ascribed to him a prophecy that the Trojan prince Aeneas would survive the city’s fall, and go on to lay the foundations of Rome.

Calchas reportedly ended his days by laughing himself to death at what he believed to be a rival soothsayer’s incorrect prediction. Calchas had planted some grape vines, but the rival prophesied that Calchas would never drink wine produced from those grapes. The grapes ripened, however, and were made into wine. Calchas then invited his rival to the first tasting, and lifting a cup of wine made from the grapes in question, he started laughing at the failed prophecy. He ended up laughing so hard that he choked to death.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources & Further Reading

Ancient History Encyclopedia – Philip II of Macedon

Ancient Origins – The Brutal Draconian Laws of Ancient Greece

Ancient Origins – Thucydides: General, Historian, and the Father of Scientific History

Bleacher Report, April 11th, 2011 – MMA History: How Pankration Champ Arrichion Won Olympic Crown After His Death

Chrystal, Paul – In Bed With the Ancient Greeks (2016)

Encyclopedia Britannica – Milo of Croton

Encyclopedia Britannica – Pyrrhus, King of Epirus

Greek Mythology – Calchas

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy – Empedocles

Listverse – 10 Incredibly Bizarre Ways People Died in Ancient Greece

Livius – Miltiades

Brown University – Zeuxis and Parrhasisus

Perseus Encyclopedia – Thucydides

Quirkality – The Curious Death of Chrysippus of Soli

Ranker – The Most Bizarre Deaths in the Ancient World

Wikipedia – Aeschylus

Wikipedia – Heraclitus

Wikipedia – Philitas of Cos