The Importance Of Thinking On One’s Feet: A Lucky Escape For Ibn Abi Muslim

We all know that the ability to think on one’s feet is an important skill.  There may even be times when this ability makes the difference between survival and execution.  The amusing anecdote that follows appears in Ibn Khallikan’s biographical sketch (IV.200) of a government official and administrator (مولى) named Yazid Ibn Abi Muslim, who served under an Umayyad governor of Iraq named Al-Hajjaj Ibn Yusuf (c. 661—714 A.D.).

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Hercules And The Apple Of Athena

One of the fables of Aesop concerns Hercules and Athena.  One day, Hercules was proceeding along a pathway in the mountains when he spotted an apple lying on the ground.  Irritated at its presence, he decided to smash it with his club; and when he tried to do so, the apple doubled in size.  Shocked, he swung his club at it again, this time determined to crush it completely.

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Camels, Eyes Of Needles, And An Old Proverb

Readers are likely to have heard, in one form or another, the New Testament proverb, “And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24).  The saying is an old one, and probably was in common currency centuries before its alleged utterance by Jesus.  I find proverbs and adages interesting, as they contain not just worldly wisdom, but information about the culture and period in which they were composed.  This point was recently impressed upon me while reading a forgotten bit of nineteenth-century travel literature, the Rev. F.J. Arundell’s 1834 memoir Discoveries in Asia Minor.

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The Chain Of Fortune Links The Fates Of Men

The British invasion of the Dardanelles in 1915 is a text-book example of how wishful thinking and imagination can override sound judgment and careful planning.  The idea of knocking Turkey out of the war with an amphibious landing at Gallipoli, followed by a march on Istanbul, was in principle strategically sound; but as a practical matter, the British simply lacked the tools and leadership for the job.

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