3Nero and the Magic Collapsible Ceiling
In the first century A.D., Rome was caught in a power struggle at the very top of the government. Nero had ascended the throne and become the emperor, but his mother, Agrippina, still held a lot of power in the state, including supreme authority over snacks and bedtime. Despite having been stripped of all honors and official power, she still held a lot of influence and was rather popular, and Nero eventually decided that she had to go. Nero really needed it to look like an accident but, being an ancient Roman and, well, Nero, he had an imagination that was more than a bit twisted. He eventually settled on a couple of plans that Rube Goldberg would be proud of.
And nobody else.
Especially not his mommy.
According to the ancient historian Suetonius, Nero rigged Agrippina's bed so that when she lay down in it, her weight would activate a mechanism that would cause the ceiling to collapse on top of her. The original plan, penned by a Mr. W. E. Coyote, had a pile of birdseed instead of the bed, but Nero was an improviser. The plan might have worked, despite (or possibly because of) spitting in the face of logic and sanity, except for one thing: Agrippina had a habit of using slaves to warm her bed before she lay in it, and it was the slave who was crushed to death. That's right: Agrippina's life was saved by a combination of slavery and hedonism. We'll say it again: Karma is bullshit.
Hedonism: the life-saving habit.
Shaking his fist, Nero went back to the drawing board and somehow came back with a self-sinking boat. He invited his mother onto the boat to celebrate the festival of Minerva, and Agrippina accepted. Partway through the cruise, a mechanism was triggered that made the ceiling collapse (Nero had a theme; you can't take that away from him), but when this once again failed to kill her, or even sink the boat, the crew decided to capsize it themselves. As the boat sunk to the depths below, Agrippina managed to outwit certain death by utilizing all of her tenacity and cunning: She swam to shore.
Finally abandoning pretense altogether, Nero sent three men to just stab Agrippina to death in her home. When news of her death spread, many Roman generals sent letters to Nero, congratulating him for finally murdering his mother, since they evidently knew how much of a headache it had been for him.
2Gao Jianli, Lutenist for Hire
If you asked someone which Chinese ruler was the most unpopular, they'd say one of two things: "Excuse me? Listen, buddy: My coffee isn't going to get itself," or far less likely, "Qin Shi Huang."
Not to imply that Chinese people can't also be snooty to wait staff.
Many people were upset with Huang over his various personal scandals and brusque personality, or maybe it was that time he took over all of China. After a previous attempt on his life, Huang issued orders to hunt down all known accomplices of the assassin, one of which was Gao Jianli, who was forced to change his name and go underground. He got a job in a wine shop and took up the lute, and it turned out he was really, really good at playing it (we're mentioning this for a reason, by the way).
Though our friends at the Renaissance Faire do tell us there's nothing like a blistering lute solo.
So good, in fact, that word spread all about town and even made it to Emperor Huang himself, who wanted to hear this incredible musician . Jianli was summoned to the palace to play, where somebody recognized him and alerted the emperor. Huang would have had Jianli killed right then and there, but he was so moved by the incredible performance that he pardoned Jianli on the spot--after putting out both of his eyes (pardons were a double-edged sword back then).
Huang kept soliciting Jianli's services as an entertainer and, as time passed, the emperor grew more fond and more trusting of him, to the point where the lutenist could come in and perform without being guarded, even sitting close to the emperor when he played. Having earned the acclaim and trust of the most important man in the Chinese empire, Gao Jianli finally decided to take his lute and use it to ... try to kill Qin Shi Huang.
A strategy The Who would later rediscover to the amazement of audiences everywhere.
Let's recap quick: First off, his weapon of choice is basically a small guitar, a weapon that only ever worked for El Kabong. Second: He was blind. Luckily, Jianli's lack of deductive skills was more than compensated for by his unshakable self-confidence, so he went ahead with the plan. He tied a heavy piece of lead to the instrument to give it more weight and swung the lute at where he guessed the emperor's head was.
To nobody's surprise, he missed, and was quickly executed by order of the emperor, who learned a rather important lesson: Forgiveness and compassion are important qualities to have, but maybe you shouldn't hire the guy whose eyes you just gouged out to perform at your parties.