If you've ever watched one of Buster Keaton's silent films, you've probably been amazed by his grace, agility, strength (especially for such a wiry little guy) and his brilliant sense of comedic timing. But you'll probably be most impressed by his absolute fearlessness: Buster choreographed and performed all his own stunts with an accuracy that usually kept him safe from harm -- but not always. Case in point? The time he broke his neck and didn't know about it until 10 years later.
It happened when he filmed this scene for his film Sherlock Jr.:
At the very end of that scene, the water tower unleashes a torrent of water on Buster and knocks him to the ground. He gets up and continues the scene without missing a beat, but reportedly suffered from headaches for several days afterward. In the 1930s, Buster discovered that his neck had been fractured and figured out that this very scene is when it happened. (He and his crew had grossly underestimated the amount of force of the water.)
But usually, Buster Keaton's sense of space and timing were impeccable -- allowing him to do impossible-looking stunts that could go horribly wrong if his calculations were off by a second or an inch. For example, just consider the following scene that gave Buster Keaton's film crew fits. This famous clip of a house falling around (and almost on) Buster is from Steamboat Bill Jr.:
Happily, Buster wasn't injured in that stunt (despite a very near-miss by the house facade that weighed two tons). But the story goes that half of his film crew walked off the set before that scene was filmed, and of the remaining half, none of them could bring themselves to look until the dust had settled!
Although many of today's film fans have never seen a silent film, it's truly worth it to check out some of Buster Keaton's best work -- movies like the ones mentioned above, or The General, the movie that Orson Welles called "the greatest comedy ever made, the greatest Civil War film ever made, and perhaps the greatest film ever made."
Even if silent movies aren't your thing, Buster Keaton's legacy lives on in the work of actors he's inspired, like Jackie Chan. But that's another story for another day...
Reading through Herodotus’ Histories is quite unlike reading a history book from today. In its pages gods, goddesses and mythical heroes rub shoulders with actual, verifiably real kings and other historical figures. He points out where Homer was erroneous in his telling of the Iliad (Helen and Paris made a detour to Egypt rather than proceeding to Troy) and gives us lessons in botany, such as the little-known fact that the tree that produces frankincense is guarded by flying snakes.
But then Herodotus also lists the provinces that existed in Persia under King Darius and exactly how much tribute was due from each, with an exactitude that lends credibility to a book that contains some pretty outrageous stories. And then there are the landmarks and wonders of the ancient world that he writes about in great detail -- enough to make the curious reader wonder, “Does that still exist?”
Case in point: The Tunnel of Eupalinos. Built in the 6th century BCE by order of Polykrates, the tyrant (ruler) of the island of Samos, this tunnel through Mount Kastro is described by Herodotus as a marvel of engineering. Under the leadership of Eupalinos, the first hydraulic engineer whose name has been passed down to us, two teams dug tunnels from opposite sides of the mountain to meet in the middle -- and amazingly, the two tunnels were only misaligned by a few feet.
The Tunnel of Eupalinos (also known as the Eupalinian aqueduct) is about eight feet high and eight feet wide, with a smaller channel dug along the side of the tunnel to act as an aqueduct -- the purpose of the tunnel being to bring water to the city of Samos from a spring on the other side of the mountain. This was important not only for the health of the city’s inhabitants, but also for their safety and defense: The inland spring that served as a water source was difficult to find and so was the aqueduct, meaning that an enemy would find it very difficult to block the city’s water supply during a siege.
The Eupalinian aqueduct was used for about a millennium, but was lost for a time before being rediscovered in the 1880s. You can still visit the Tunnel of Eupalinos if you visit the part of Samos Island now known as Pythagoreion. Part of the tunnel is open to the public.
So that's the tale of the Tunnel of Eupalinos. If ancient tunnels and other feats of engineering are your thing, you might be interested to know that Eupalinos' masterwork isn't even the oldest surviving tunnel of its kind. That distinction belongs to the Siloam Tunnel in Jerusalem, which is thought to have been built anywhere from the late 9th century BCE to the early 7th century BCE.
The posts on this blog are conceived of and written by various members of a homeschooling family. We're lifetime learners who delight in finding odd bits of history, obscure practices that were once commonplace, and forgotten cultural icons tucked away in books and on the Internet.