4 Surprisingly Young Historical Figures to Send You Spiraling About How Little You’ve Accomplished
Look, let’s all just admit that, even if we’re doing okay, we may have missed the mark on where we thought we’d be in life. Financially stable and loved by friends is pretty good, but it’s not the astronaut or millionaire we drew ourselves as back in the crayon days. Roosevelt once said “comparison is the thief of joy,” and that’s a good thing to remember — with a grain of salt, obviously. It’s definitely still very possible for your life to be crushingly sad all by itself.
Anyway! In case you are in the mood to send yourself spinning down a pit of self-evaluation and frenzied googling of “savings account how? when too late,” history offers plenty of devastating measuring sticks. Of course, plenty of people were dying at early ages from cuts on their feet that they rubbed ram’s blood and deer shit into, so there was a little more urgency. Still, the pure numbers will make you feel less than successful.
Here are four people from history who achieved greatness at distressingly young ages…
First up, let’s look at social studies textbook cover superstar, Tutankhamun. Known more commonly (and what feels like disrespectfully) as “King Tut,” we’re well familiar with his shiny golden face. If history wasn’t your personally chosen high school naptime, you might remember his reputation as “The Boy Pharaoh.” This nickname turns out to be barely figurative language, and pretty much just a literal description.
Tutankhamun became the Pharaoh of Egypt at roughly the age of nine. This wasn’t the case of some babbling baby fouling the throne through their diapers as a figurehead either. Tutankhamun oversaw real, significant change in Egypt, like undoing his father’s hugely unpopular shift of the Egyptian religion to monotheism. Sure, he had some very involved advisors, but making the final call on “an official religion that won’t send an empire spiraling into war and unrest” isn’t something I’d feel great about at any age.
Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc is a well-known figure summoned whenever the world is in need of a go-to “badass woman from history” for some condescending, pink-tinged infographic. Despite the fact that people seem dead set on turning her into corporatized, pop-feminist T-shirt fodder, she was indeed an important and highly impressive figure in world history. She also may have had some degree of light schizophrenia. Slay!
Whether true communion with the divine or a combination of religious beliefs and a seizure disorder, Joan, at the age of 13, heard voices telling her it was her destiny to save France. At 16, she convinced the French Prince Charles to let her attempt to drive the English out of France and allow him to regain the throne. He didn’t have much to lose outside of a dead, mentally ill teenager, so he shrugged his shoulders and said, “Go for it.”
About a year of ludicrously successful fighting later, she saw him crowned as the new King of France. At which point, he started to get genuinely freaked out by Joan’s cult-hero status, and cut off his support of her, leading to her capture, at which point he fully pivoted to “I don’t care what you do with that weird witch.” She was famously burned at the stake at 19. Which goes to show you — if some voices start yapping about your destiny, just ignore them. You might not make the history books, but you also probably won’t get set on fire.
Alexander the Great
You don’t get a name like “Alexander the Great” by being an all-time idiot. Actually, I guess it could be one of those ironic nicknames, like when a big henchman is called “Tiny.” Soldiers sarcastically quipping “all kneel before Alexander the Great” while he has his helmet on backwards and his dick out, getting clotheslined in a doorway by his own halberd. Now I’m kind of disappointed that this wasn’t the situation, and that Alexander the Great was, in fact, a highly accomplished ruler.
I think most people, at least depending on the quality and funding of their particular school system, know that Alexander the Great existed, and that he was one hell of a conqueror. But a detail that, for whatever reason, doesn’t seem as well-known is that he did it all at an astonishingly young age. His first taste of rulership came at 16, when he was put in charge of Macedonia during his father’s absence. Rather than twiddle his thumbs and wait for peepaw’s return, he decided to fight — and decisively win — a battle against the Sacred Band of Thebes, a military unit that was at the time, considered invincible. At which point, why not fight everybody else?
At 20, he took control of Macedonia after his father’s assassination, and spent his twenties on perhaps the world’s most violent and successful study-abroad campaign of all time. In 331 B.C., at 25, he won the Battle of Gaugamela and with it, he took control of the Persian Empire. Most people’s greatest achievements at the age of 25 these days is being able to rent a car by themselves.
Shah Shapur II
So far, I have purposely avoided including rulers crowned largely as a performative gesture at a young age. After all, it’s not really that impressive of an achievement to be a disfigured Habsburg baby, having your gaping fontanelle covered with a crown by some family attendant. Nobody’s looking at a painting of an 8-year-old with rheumy eyes, coughing up spinal fluid and thinking, “What am I doing with my life.”
However, I will make one exception for Shah Shapur II, ruler of Persia. He holds the honor of being the only ruler ever crowned while still in utero. As the legend goes, they popped a crown on his mother’s belly like a pair of headphones playing Mozart, meaning his personal timeline might have gone in this order: coronation, growing fingernails. You’d think crowning an embryo would have all the trappings of a serious jinx, but luckily for Persia, he turned out to be a pretty phenomenal ruler to boot. You heard it here: nepotism works!
Eli Yudin is a stand-up comedian in Brooklyn. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @eliyudin and listen to his podcast, What A Time to Be Alive, about the five weirdest news stories of the week, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever else you get your podcasts.