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  • Russian Roulette Before the Pistol July 30, 2010

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient , trackback








    Beachcombing has never played Russian roulette. But he can think of plenty of people – mainly fictional – who have from some gentlemen in the Deer Hunter, to the hero of Royal Flash, to an all too factual bored teenage Graham Greene – though Greene’s experimentation with loaded pistols may have been all too fictional, Greene was a bit of shyster when it came to autobiographical details.

    But before the arrival of gunpowder how could you possibly have diced with death?

    Well, the ancient Thracians, a tribal people from the Balkans, had cornered the market with their own pre-bang version of the game. The following comes from Athenaeus’ Deipnosophists (4, 42). In the passage Athenaeus (fl. late second, early third century A.D.) quotes from Seleucus (see also 2, 40) who could have been one of any number of authors with that common Greek name. This lack of exactitude means that Beachcombing cannot begin to date this fragment: any info on this please write drbeachcombingATyahooDOTcom

    And Seleucus says, ‘that some of the Thracians at their drinking parties play the game of hanging; and fix a round noose to some high place, exactly beneath which they place a stone which is easily turned round when any one stands upon it; and then they cast lots, and he who draws the lot, holding a sickle in his hand, stands upon the stone, and puts his neck into the halter; and then another person comes and lifts the stone, and the man who is suspended, when the stone moves from under him, if he is not quick enough in cutting the rope with his sickle, is killed; and the rest laugh, thinking his death good sport.’

    Those long Balkan nights must just have flown by…