“For the first time in my life I saw the ‘library’ public in the mass!” wrote Arnold Bennett after attending an H.G. Wells lecture in 1911. “It appeared to consist of a thousand women and Mr. Bernard Shaw. Women deemed to be elegant, women certainly deeming themselves to be elegant! I, being far back from the rostrum, had a good view of the backs of their blouses, chemisettes, and bodices. What an assortment of pretentious and ill-made toilettes!”
In 1993 Estelle Ellis, Seventeen magazine’s first promotion director, gave a speech at the Fashion Institute of Technology titled “What Is Fashion?” Ellis gave her answer. Fashion is a perpetual-motion machine expressed in four areas: “mode—the way we dress; manners—the way we express ourselves; mores—the way we live; and markets—the way we are defined demographically and psychologically.”
While at war to end Sparta’s regional supremacy, Theban general Epaminondas persuaded his soldiers to fight an extra four months, in violation of law; for this he was condemned to death on returning home victorious. He made no defense but proposed an inscription be made clarifying that “Epaminondas was punished by the Thebans with death” because “he not only saved Thebes from destruction but also secured freedom for all Greece.” The jury broke into laughter and refused to carry out the sentence.
According to Pliny, after an oracle predicted Aeschylus would die from being hit by a falling house, the poet began “trusting himself only under the canopy of the heavens.” His precaution was futile; he was killed that day when hit by a tortoise dropped from the sky by a hungry eagle eager to crack open its shell.
In 1851 an Episcopal rector wondered why Nathaniel Hawthorne had selected the theme of adultery for his 1850 novel. “Is it, in short, because a running undertide of filth has become as requisite to a romance as death in the fifth act to a tragedy?” wrote the cleric. “We honestly believe that The Scarlet Letter has already done not a little to degrade our literature and to encourage social licentiousness.”
In her account of tenth-century Kyoto court life, The Pillow Book, Sei Shōnagon was fond of making lists. “Things later regretted: an adopted child who turns out to have an ugly face”; “Things it’s frustrating and embarrassing to witness: someone insists on telling you about some horrid little child, carried away with her own infatuation with the creature, imitating its voice as she gushes about the cute and winning things it says”; “Moving things: a child dressed in mourning for a parent.”
New York Giants pitcher Christy Mathewson wrote in 1912 that he had heard the Philadelphia Athletics “had a spy” who stole signs and “tipped the batters by raising and lowering an awning a trifle.” In Philadelphia for the World Series the year before, Mathewson had looked for the culprit. “In the enemy’s camp, I kept watching the windows of the houses just outside the park for suspicious movements,” he wrote. “But I never discovered anything wrong.”
Julius Caesar was criticized for his loosely belted toga. “Beware the badly belted boy,” said Sulla; Cicero sneered at Caesar’s habit of “trailing the fringe of the toga on the ground like an effeminate.” His political rival Cato the Younger made a point of wearing a short toga with no tunic underneath, as was considered masculine. But a decade later it was common for young Roman men to grow goatees, wear flowing togas, and use “loosely belted” as a catchphrase.
Michel de Montaigne’s father believed “it disorders the tender brains of children to awake them by surprise in the morning, and suddenly and violently to snatch them from sleep”; he preferred to rouse his son from slumber “by the sound of some instrument of music,” likely an early form of harpsichord called an epinette. Montaigne recalled later that he “was never without a musician for that purpose.”
Pianist and oil heir Roger Davidson brought his computer into a service shop in Mount Kisco, New York, in 2004, complaining of a virus. The owner, Vickram Bedi, confirmed there was a virus and claimed its source was a hard drive in Honduras, which he later explained was linked to an international conspiracy involving Opus Dei that threatened Davidson’s life. Over the course of six years, Bedi charged Davidson over $6 million for data retrieval and personal protection. Bedi was sentenced to jail in 2013.
Plato’s uncle Charmides boasted to wealthy aristocrat Callias that poverty granted freedom. “I lose nothing because I have nothing,” he said. Callias was unconvinced. “So, do you also pray never to be rich,” he asked, “and if you have a good dream, do you sacrifice to the averters of disaster?” “Not at all,” Charmides replied, “I accept the outcome like a daredevil.”