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By Jim Kempton
When we talk of living like kings, we underestimate ourselves. Today we live better than kings. Better than the richest man in the world ever did a century ago.
Every day when we get in our automobile, more 200 horses slip into their harness and race us to our destination at the tap of a pedal. Julius Caesar and all his legions never rode in a leather-cushioned chariot that could go zero-to-60 in less than 10 seconds. And there were no airbags when Roman rigs collided with armored cavalry.
In the course of history, we working stiffs of today are a lucky bunch. Consider the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt: all-powerful, near deities, they built the largest structures on earth at the time. But King Tutankhamun never lived in an air-conditioned bedroom or slept on an orthopedic mattress. He would have built the Sphinx in the shape of the supervillain Sub-Zero had he ever been able to drink a glass of iced lemonade. Or take Alexander the Great—he may have conquered the world, but he is assumed to have died in agony of typhoid fever, which would have been treatable today, if he was not already vaccinated.
And is there any doubt that the King of Siam would have whistled a happy tune if he could have seen Anna and the King on the big screen or heard the soundtrack on his iPod at the wave of his royal finger?
There are just so many things we have that king-types never did. For instance, convenience stores: Genghis Khan may have had a thousand temples built in his name, but he would have mortgaged his birthright for a Slurpee machine from the local 7-11 store. Not to mention 31 flavors.
And you talk about eating like kings? Before Columbus, no European sovereign had ever tasted a strawberry, an avocado, pineapple or a See’s chocolate bar. They all came from the new world. Would Henry the VIII have traded his six wives for half a dozen bushels of plums, pecans, or fresh heirloom tomatoes? It’s a good bet.
Queen Elizabeth was known to brag that she “bathed once a month whether she needed to or not.” Unfortunately, her subjects were not nearly so lucky to have that luxury. Princess Pocahontas bathed daily but in the icy currents of Virginian rivers. Neither she, nor any other royalty ever experienced a heated pool (or hot shower) so common to us all today. Plus, Queen Lizzie never surfed. (No wetsuit.)
Erasing pain seems so simple today, but it wasn’t always. Take toothaches: Queen Marie Antoinette demanded the finest sweets in Paris. But the resulting cavities made her suffer all her short life when dental fillings would have been a relief. Speaking of relief, imagine running without Nike’s, sunning without Wayfarers, brushing without Crest, sneezing without Kleenex or skiing without Gore-Tex, small luxuries most world rulers never enjoyed.
So, you can still say it’s good to be king, as long as you reign in the 21st century. I mean, let’s be truthful, would you trade your refrigerator, automobile, stereo, movies, or Penicillin to run an 18th-century empire? Probably not. Would you give up aspirin, heated pools, indoor toilets and dental fillings to be “ruler of the world” without them? Pretty unlikely. But going without ice cream, hot showers, surfboards and guacamole? Forget about it.
Jim Kempton is a surfer and writer who is pretty sure he could not live without the last four items mentioned above.
Editor’s note: Click the here see what device Tutankhamun likely used to sleep.