01 Greece (the Country):
The Only Facts You Need to Kn
Everyone knows the story of the marathon: Some Greek guy ran for about 20 miles from the city of Marathon to neighboring Athens, whereupon he gasped, "Nike," and promptly died. (That wasn't an early form of product placement, just the Greek word for "victory.") You might not know, however, that at the first modern Olympics in 1896, the marathon distance was set at 24.85 miles (40 kilometers). So why is it 26.2 today? To please the King of England, of course! For the 1908 Olympics in London, the distance was lengthened to 26 miles so the course could go from Windsor Castle to White City Stadium and then lengthened another 385 yards so the race could finish right in front of Kind Edward VII's stadium box. Now you know whose name to curse when staggering those last miserable marathon steps.
The first winner of the modern Olympic marathon, incidentally, was a Greek. Spyridon Louis, a postal worker (who trained, we imagine, by running away from ferocious dogs). He finished in 2:58:50.
And you thought 99 bottles of beer on the wall was bad: The Greek national anthem, with its 158 stanzas, is the longest national anthem in the world.
If you've ever found yourself legs akimbo, feet in stirrups, wondering why they call it a "Pap" smear: Greek-American George Papanicolaou created the test, which has helped reduce cervical cancer fatality rates by almost 50 percent since its introduction in the 1940s. (For some reason, "Papanicolaou smear" never caught on.)
02 Means to an End:
Unpleasant Execution Methods Throughout History
(In Reverse Order of Preference!)
Ling Chi: A slow, excruciating death, implemented a millennium ago by China's Song dynasty, ling chi (or "slicing") entails a piecemeal disassembling of the arms and legs by knife, culminating in decapitation. On the upside, luckier victims got to indulge in a good bit of opium beforehand, as an act of mercy. We'd argue that a better act of mercy would be not to carve up living people, but that's just us. The good news is ling chi was abolished. The bad news is that it wasn't until 1905, only 900 years late.
Sawing: Employed by historical free spirits like Caligula, Spanish Inquisitors, and—whaddya know—the ancient Chinese, death by sawing is kind of like the horror franchise Saw, except more horrific and not a movie. The convicted was strung up by the feet and sawed in twain, beginning at the crotch; his upside-down position ensured a continuous flow of blood (or whatever blood remained) to the brain, so he barely had to miss a moment of the terror until it was over. Recipients included such heinous criminals as adulterers and sodomites, plus a few saints, maybe the prophet Isaiah, and any young woman thought to be carrying Satan in her womb. That's the thing about the Beelzebaby—you never can be too sure, so kudos to the Spanish, because during the entire Inquisition, Satan's spawn wasn't born even once.
Boiling Alive: Fairly self-explanatory. Historically, execution by boiling is far more widespread than you'd think. In fact, it was prevalent in the Roman Empire, ancient China, Egypt, throughout the Middle East (where to conserve water they used oil), classical Japan, 17th-century India, England under Henry VIII, and Uganda under Idi Amin in the 1970s. More recently, the gruesome act seemed relegated exclusively to members of the crustacean family—-until an autopsy report emerged from Uzbekistan in 2002 implicating the...
Author: Editors of Mental Floss
Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur met as first year students at Duke University. Ignoring the lures of law school and investment banking, the pair co-founded mental_floss and have been grinning ever since. Maggie Koerth-Baker is a freelance journalist and a former assistant editor at mental_floss magazine, where she consistently astounded Will and Mangesh with her amazingness.
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