Bopped on the Head

Famous Knocks on the Noggin

A blow to the head usually spells trouble, but it isn’t always a bad thing. Here are a few famous people who, for better or worse, were Bopped on the Head.

Sir Isaac Newton

For all his accomplishments, SIR ISAAC NEWTON is still best known for being conked on the head by an apple around the year 1665. According to legend, Newton was resting beneath a tree when a falling apple clobbered him, suddenly giving him new ideas about the theory of gravity — in particular, that the force which affected the apple might also affect heavenly bodies like the moon. In point of fact, the original legend was that Newton merely saw the apple fall, rather than being hit by it — and even so, there seems to be no firm proof that the incident ever occurred.


The playwright AESCHYLUS was the unfortunate victim of his own receding hairline. Clifton Fadiman, writing in the Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes, describes the doom of Aeschylus this way: “Ancient biographies record the tradition that his death came about when an eagle, which had seized a tortoise and was looking to smash the reptile’s shell, mistook the poet’s bald head for a stone and dropped the tortoise upon him.” Other sources identify the bird as a vulture. The incident is recounted in the Alexandre Dumas book Louise de la Valliere, among other places.

Cyrano de Bergerac

Legendary poet and soldier CYRANO DE BERGERAC was killed when a loose plank or a beam fell on him as he entered the home of his patron, the Duke d’Arpajon, in 1654. Cyrano’s sharp sword (and pen) had made him plenty of enemies, and it is unclear now whether the falling wood was an assassin’s plot or a simple accident. Cyrano was seriously injured and succumbed to his wounds a year later, in July of 1655 — just 10 years before Newton’s famous encounter with his apple.In Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac, the incident is moved outdoors but remains suspicious. In act 5, scene 3, the hero’s friend Ragueneau reports that as Cyrano strode through the streets of Paris, “Suddenly, from out a window where he was passing. . .was it chance?. . .may be! A lackey let fall a large piece of wood.” Cyrano is mortally wounded, but his head is bound up just long enough for the secret of his enduring love to be revealed to the beautiful Roxane.

King Tut

Egypt’s KING TUT was once thought likely to have been murdered by a blow to the head. The ancient Egyptian ruler’s mummy was uncovered in 1922 by archaeologist Howard Carter. X-ray analysis of the mummy in 1968 showed trauma to the back of Tut’s head, along with a fragment of bone lodged inside the skull. That led some scientists to believe that Tut was bludgeoned to death at the young age of 18, which in turn created a lively discussion among historians about which of Tut’s advisors might have bumped off the youthful pharoah. However, hi-tech analysis early in the 21st century seemed to indicate that Tut was not clobbered but died shortly after breaking a leg, possibly as a result of infection in the wound.

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