30 BCE — Cleopatra commits suicide

Cleopatra VII, reputedly one of the most beautiful women ever to have lived, was the eleventh and last Ptolemy ruler of Egypt. A cunning politician who had co-ruled with her brothers Ptolemy XIII and XIV until the friction grew to the point where she was deposed and exiled.

She returned to Egypt and reclaimed the throne with the aid of Julius Caesar, with whom she had a son. After the death of Caesar, she manipulated his successors, Octavian and Marc Antony. When the tensions between the two Romans erupted into civil war, she threw in with Antony – who lost the war. Finally, in August 30 BCE, as Octavian invaded Egypt and Antony’s troops defected to the winning side, she and Antony each committed suicide – legend has it that Cleopatra provoked an asp (a poisonous snake native to Egypt) into fatally biting her.

Referenced in:

Man on the Moon – R.E.M.

1827 – William Blake dies

William Blake was perhaps the greatest English poet of his time, and one of the small pantheon of all time greats, standing alongside Shakespeare, Byron, Shelley and Tennyson. His best known works include The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, The Songs of Innocence and The Songs of Experience.

Born in London in 1757, not far the site of the Ripper murders over a century later, Blake’s family were not wealthy, and he stayed at school only long enough to learn to read and write. However, this was enough to get his natural talents as a writer and artist going, and Blake never looked back. His work, however, was often controversial – his most frequent subject matter could best be described as a species of pagan christianity, and his mysticism was a profound influence on his work. He died with visions of his Heaven in his eyes and words of faith and devotion on his lips.

Referenced in:

You Don’t Pull No Punches, But You Don’t Push The River — Van Morrison

1958 – “White Wilderness” premieres

The legendary documentary that began the whole “lemmings commit suicide” myth, White Wilderness was 72 minutes of the Disney Corporation making nature more interesting (for a given value of ‘interesting’) in another ‘True Life Adventure’. The scene of the lemmings jumping into the ocean has been at the centre of a number of controversies over the years – it’s actually a river, not the ocean; the filmakers built an apparatus to push the lemmings along; and, of course, lemmings are no more suicidal than any other species.

To be fair, at no point does the narration state that the lemmings are deliberately committing suicide, but nonetheless, this is the starting point of that urban legend.

Referenced in:
Lemmings — Blink 182
Hey Lord, Don’t Ask Me Questions — Graham Parker
Potshot Heard ‘Round The World — Dead Kennedys