At the end of a long life, and ravaged by disease, King Mithridates thinks to end his own life.
“The pain is intense,” he tells his medica, “and I have done what I have said I would do. Why should I not spare myself this suffering? But, please, no pain — I would not have it said that I saved myself one pain only to succumb to another.”
The medica runs through the thousand poisons in her pharmacopia. None will do; long use of the theriac has left the king immune to all of them. “Drowning?” she suggests. “They say that drowning is a quiet, peaceful way to go.”
The king shudders. “All those dark depths? No.”
“Suffocation? I have here, o King, a silken pillow, worked in gold…”
That, too, he refuses: “Not for me the sudden clutch of fear, the unstoppable struggle for air, no, not even that.”
“Cold? Asphyxiation? Blunt trauma? Electrical shock?” This last despite the concept not even existing. Desperation has driven the medica beyond herself; she grasps at words, half understanding what they mean. All are refused.
“I would have a noble death, a king’s death,” says Mithridates, senile and querulous. “I would die cleanly, serenely, beautifully.”
“Ah,” says the medica. “Look here in my palm, then, o King, for I have discovered just this instant the kindliest, kingliest death of all.” When he bends close, fascinated, she stabs him in the eye. What could be more traditional?