These People All Met a Tragic and Slightly Comedic End
These People All Met a Tragic and Slightly Comedic End

These People All Met a Tragic and Slightly Comedic End

Khalid Elhassan - February 15, 2021

These People All Met a Tragic and Slightly Comedic End
The Seer Calchas. Wikimedia.

3. A Tragicomic Demise From Laughing Too Hard at a Rival Soothsayer’s Failed Prediction

To compensate himself for having lost Chryseis, Agamemnon seized from Achilles, a princess whom the Greek hero had captured as a war prize, Briseis. That led to a feud between king and hero that drove much of the Iliad. Calchas also endorsed Odysseus’ Trojan Horse stratagem, predicting that it would succeed in infiltrating the besieged city. Centuries later, the Romans glommed on to Calchas’ reputation and ascribed to him a prophecy foretelling that the Trojan prince Aeneas would survive the fall of Troy, then go on to lay the foundations of Rome.

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

These People All Met a Tragic and Slightly Comedic End
A fifth century BC vase depicting a pankratist trying to gouge an opponent’s eye, and a judge preparing to strike him for the foul. Wikimedia

2. Ancient Greece’s Greatest Fighter

Pankration, which means “all force”, was an ancient Greek sport that combined wrestling and boxing. It was a no-holds-barred event, in which just about everything intended to inflict harm was allowed, except for gouging and biting, or attacking an opponent’s genitals. It is widely viewed today as the ancestor of modern Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). The ancient Greek world’s most famous pankratist was Arrhachion of Phigalia (died 564 BC), who was crowned champion of that sport in the 572 BC and 568 BC Olympiads.

These People All Met a Tragic and Slightly Comedic End
Pankratists. Ancient Origins

He returned to the Olympics in 564 BC, seeking a threepeat a third consecutive championship. Arrhachion advanced through the early rounds and made it to the title bout. There, perhaps with age catching up with him and slowing him down, he got into trouble. His opponent outmaneuvered Arrhachion, got behind him, and with legs locked around his torso and heels digging into his groin, applied a chokehold. Arrhachion was too much of a competitor to accept defeat, however, and managed to turn things around. Unfortunately, the result was his own tragicomic demise.

These People All Met a Tragic and Slightly Comedic End
Fourth century BC vase depicting pankratists. Wikimedia

1. A Great Fighter’s Tragicomic Demise at the Moment of Victory

When Arrhachion of Phigalia found himself locked in a chokehold in the pankration title bout at the 564 BC Olympics, the situation seemed hopeless for him. However, the two-time returning champion was a wily competitor and had a few tricks up his sleeve. Feigning loss of consciousness, Arrhachion tricked his opponent into relaxing a little. When his opponent eased off, the wily title holder snapped back into action, and snapped his opponent’s ankle while shaking and throwing him off with a convulsive heave.

These People All Met a Tragic and Slightly Comedic End
Copy of a third-century BC statue depicting ancient Greek pankratists. Wikimedia

The sudden excruciating pain made his opponent do the Ancient Greek equivalent of tapping out, and he made the sign of submission to the referees. However, in throwing off his opponent while the latter still had him in a powerful chokehold, Arrhachion ended up with a broken neck. His opponent having already conceded, the dead Arrhachion’s was declared the title bout’s winner – perhaps the only time in the history of the Olympiads that a corpse was crowned an Olympic champion. He thus added a wrinkle to the athletic ideal of “victory or death” by gaining victory and death.


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

History Collection – History’s Weirdest Deaths, From Antiquity to the Middle Ages

Classic Movie Hub – They Died With Their Boots On

Encyclopedia Britannica – Calchas, Greek Mythology

Encyclopedia Britannica – Pietro Aretino

Encyclopedia Britannica – Zeuxis, Greek Artist

History Collection – Atypical Deaths of these Historical Figures

Independent, The, October 11th, 2011 – Actor’s Family Get Pounds 650,000 Over Fatal Stunt

Internet Movie Database – Jack Budlong

Journal of Medical Biography, Vol. 7, Issue 4, 1999 – The Death of King George II, With a Biographical Note on Dr. Frank Nicholls, Physician to the King

National Catholic Register – Saint Lawrence Laughed in the Face of Death

Providentia – The Crucifixion of Margaretta Peter

History Collection – Historical Deaths Weirder Than the Movies

Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, September 30th, 1920 – One Year Locklear’s Limit; Daredevil is Killed in Stunt

Unbelievable Facts – 10 People Who Died From Laughing Too Hard

Wikipedia – Erfurt Latrine Disaster

Wikipedia – The Skywayman

History Collection – Most Unbelievably Strange Deaths of the Renaissance