Did you know Socrates left no writings at all? What we know of the philosopher comes via his students Plato and Xenophon and the playwright Aristophanes.
Here is some more trivia to drop when the conversation lags at the in-laws:
Lord Byron served wine in a human skull found by the gardener on the grounds of his estate. He even wrote a poem about it: “Lines Inscribed Upon a Cup Formed from a Skull.”
Printers during Elizabeth I’s reign were not permitted to include the scene in Shakespeare’s Richard II in which the monarch is deposed. The censorship was not lifted until five years after the queen’s death.
Sir Isaac Newton predicted the world will end in 2060. He calculated the date from the 70-some years he spent studying the books of Daniel and Revelation and discussed in Observations on the Prophecies of Daniel, and the Apocalypse of St. John.
Shakespeare is credited with writing 37 plays and 154 sonnets. But the plays of another popular Elizabethan playwright—Thomas Watson—are lost to antiquity. Watson’s lyrical poems, written mostly in Latin, are available but his dramatic works have disappeared.
Readers love the story of Abdul Kassem Ismael, a 10th-century grand vizier of Persia. The scholarly ruler traveled with a library of 117,000 volumes carried by 400 camels trained to walk in a fixed order. The camel-driver librarians could lay their hands on whatever volume the master wished to consult.
Thomas Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration of Independence included an anti-slavery passage that was voted down by Southern delegates to the Continental Congress. Jefferson was so upset by this deletion (and other edits) that for years afterward he sent copies of both the original and amended versions to friends. Few colonials outside the delegates and his closest associates even knew Jefferson was the author until a newspaper article revealed his identity in 1784.
Descartes might have lived to a ripe old age had he not been so flattered by a queen. Queen Christina of Sweden lured him to the palace for private instruction in philosophy, but the harsh Scandinavian winter, lack of central heating, and hours of tutoring took their toll. Descartes caught flu and died at 54.
Writer Sherwood Anderson (Winesburg, Ohio) died of peritonitis. He drank a martini and didn’t realize he’d swallowed the toothpick along with the olive.
Why does the author of Ivanhoe appear on the Scottish bank note? He saved it. In 1826, when British parliament proposed halting the production of bank notes of less than five pounds, Sir Walter Scott wrote a series of letters to the Edinburgh Weekly Journal under the name Malachi Malagrowther defending the right of Scottish banks to print their own notes. His image still appears on all notes issued by the Bank of Scotland.
Leo Tolstoy advocated non-violence towards all creatures. He was giving a lecture on the subject when an audience member asked, "What should I do if attacked in the woods by a tiger?" Tolstoy responded, "Do the best you can. It doesn't happen very often."