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Yes, that Herodotus. Well, part of the credit goes to the translator of this version, G.C. Macaulay (sadly uncredited in most versions). It may be two and a half thousand years old, but it’s still a really entertaining game of cat and mouse.

The king orders his tomb built and used to store some of his treasure. The thief, one of the sons of the architect, knows a secret way to break in and steal. On his next inspection the king notices this and sets a trap, snaring the thief’s brother. So the thief cuts off the brother’s head so that in the morning all the king finds is a headless body that could be anyone. In return, the king decides to hang the headless body on the walls of the city with guards to arrest anyone who is seen weeping nearby. And there are still a few more reversals to come.

It’s a fun battle-of-wits folktale, told at high speed; most of the reversals take less than a paragraph. Twenty-five hundred years old and still highly enjoyable.

The Thief Versus King Rhampsinitus by Herodotus

Availability: Free online, print

Word count: 1,300

First published: An Account of Egypt, Herodotus, 440BCE

Where to find it: It’s online in a variety of places. Gutenberg has An Account of Egypt here, but I recommend places where the story is by itself, such as here or here.

As for print versions, I found it in Historical Whodunits, edited by Mike Ashley, 1993, Barnes & Noble Books

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