Posts filed under 'Greece'

356 BCE: Herostratus burns the Temple of Artemis

3 comments July 21st, 2013 Headsman

By the ancient world’s tradition, it was on July 21, 356 — the night of Alexander the Great‘s birth* — that a theretofore forgettable man set fire to the wooden rafters of the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus.

Situated on the Hellenized coast of Asia Minor, near present-day Selcuk, Turkey, Ephesus was one of the great cities of the Mediterranean. It counted Artemis (Diana) its patron deity, and gloried in a jaw-dropping marble temple, bankrolled two centuries before by the Lydian king Croesus, that would have nearly covered a modern football pitch. Ephesians took their Artemis seriously: 400-plus years later, St. Paul would barely escape lynching at the hands of enraged Artemis devotees when he proselytized there.

What a horror it must have been for 4th century BCE Ephesians to awake this day to the destruction of their city’s own sacred pride.

Even more shockingly, the temple’s destroyer made no effort to conceal himself. He openly boasted of his act, and of the horrifying reason for it: merely to exalt his obscure name with the luster of infamy.

Ephesus not only put this man to death, but passed a damnatio memoriae upon him, forbidding any mention of his name, in order to deny him his victory.

But the the historian Theopompus, who was not Ephesian, cheated the city of its sentence by recording it: Herostratus. It’s a word that has become a metonym in many languages and an allegory in many books for any villain impelled to his wickedness by the allure of celebrity.

We have no specific date for Herostratus’s execution. But we do have his last tortured victory. We do have his name.

The Ephesians in time rebuilt the magnificent temple, bigger and more awe-inspiring than before. It stood some 600 years more until the Goths sacked it in 268 AD, long enough to secure its place among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

“I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the colossus of the Sun, and the huge labour of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus,” wrote Antipater of Sidon of the reconstructed, post-Herostratus temple. “But when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, ‘Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand.'”


The Temple of Artemis today: a weedy rubble. (cc) image from LWY.

* Plutarch remarked that Artemis was too distracted delivering the conqueror into the world to protect her shrine.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Greece,History,Language,Notable for their Victims,Popular Culture,Turkey,Uncertain Dates

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

399 BCE: Socrates

2 comments May 19th, 2013 Headsman

It might have been May 19, 399 BCE* — and if not, we’re in the neighborhood — that the original gadfly** philosopher Socrates obeyed a death sentence from his native Athens and quaffed a cup of deadly hemlock. It’s one of the most famous executions in history, and arguably one of the most consequential.

Socrates left no original writings that survive for us. Posterity sees him via the works of his students Xenophon and especially Plato, but he was a well-known figure to contemporaries in the polis.

For decades, the man with the method and the familiar daemon had been philosophizing around town. Socrates comes in for mockery in an Aristophanes play lampooning newfangled intellectual trends in the 420s BCE


“Like Ozzy Osbourne, [Socrates] was repeatedly accused of corruption of the young.”

The weird and unsatisfying corrupting-the-young and impiety charges which putatively caused the man’s trial and death sentence have been much-debated in the centuries since. It seems clear that at some level the “real” crime in the eyes of the hundreds of fellow-citizens who judged Socrates had to do with the students who weren’t reverential successor-eggheads, but toxic contemporary politicians. Socrates tutored the treacherous demagogue Alcibiades, who convinced Athenians to mount a catastrophic invasion of Sicily that cost Athens the Peloponnesian War; he rolled with Critias, one of the notorious tyrants of Athens during the 404-403 Spartan puppet dictatorship that resulted from losing that war.

All the while, Socrates had openly preached a dim view of the Athenian democratic system. Again, we don’t have the master’s direct words here, but something like the dialogue presented by the Socrates character in Plato’s allegory of the cave — in which non-philosophers are a lot of purblind morlocks — is difficult to square with anything but an elitist take of civilization. There’s a reason this could be a bit of a sore subject in a city that had just seen the glories of its late imperial apex possessed by Spartan hoplites, especially when espoused by a guy who rubbed chitons with the tyrants themselves.

Even so, Socrates was only narrowly convicted. Once convicted, the legal game had both the prosecution and the defendant propose a punishment, and the jury select one.

Were this system still practiced somewhere, game theorists would have a field day with it. But Socrates just opted out of the match by proposing that he be “punished” with a public pension for his services to the polis. There’s being a gadfly, and then there’s telling your jury to go take a long walk off a high rock: he was death-sentenced by a larger margin than had voted to convict. Plato makes this a much more martyr-like scene than Xenophon; the latter emphasizes that the septuagenarian chin-waggler didn’t much mind being excused from the frailties of advancing age.

Plato used Socrates repeatedly in various dialogues, and it goes without saying that these are cornerstones of the literary canon. The dialogues of most relevance† for his execution specifically are:

  • the Apology, Plato’s account of the defense Socrates mounted at trial: it’s in this text that Socrates is reported to utter the words, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”
  • Crito, a conversation between a wealthy guy of that name and the condemned Socrates in which the philosopher expounds his theory of citizenship and social contract in refusing Crito’s blandishments to escape before execution.
  • the Phaedo, in which Socrates argues for the immortality of the soul, and then gets down to the business of swallowing his fatal draught.

Soon the jailer, who was the servant of the Eleven, entered and stood by him, saying:—To you, Socrates, whom I know to be the noblest and gentlest and best of all who ever came to this place, I will not impute the angry feelings of other men, who rage and swear at me, when, in obedience to the authorities, I bid them drink the poison—indeed, I am sure that you will not be angry with me; for others, as you are aware, and not I, are to blame. And so fare you well, and try to bear lightly what must needs be—you know my errand. Then bursting into tears he turned away and went out.

Socrates looked at him and said: I return your good wishes, and will do as you bid. Then turning to us, he said, How charming the man is: since I have been in prison he has always been coming to see me, and at times he would talk to me, and was as good to me as could be, and now see how generously he sorrows on my account. We must do as he says, Crito; and therefore let the cup be brought, if the poison is prepared: if not, let the attendant prepare some.

Yet, said Crito, the sun is still upon the hill-tops, and I know that many a one has taken the draught late, and after the announcement has been made to him, he has eaten and drunk, and enjoyed the society of his beloved; do not hurry—there is time enough.

Socrates said: Yes, Crito, and they of whom you speak are right in so acting, for they think that they will be gainers by the delay; but I am right in not following their example, for I do not think that I should gain anything by drinking the poison a little later; I should only be ridiculous in my own eyes for sparing and saving a life which is already forfeit. Please then to do as I say, and not to refuse me.

Crito made a sign to the servant, who was standing by; and he went out, and having been absent for some time, returned with the jailer carrying the cup of poison. Socrates said: You, my good friend, who are experienced in these matters, shall give me directions how I am to proceed. The man answered: You have only to walk about until your legs are heavy, and then to lie down, and the poison will act. At the same time he handed the cup to Socrates, who in the easiest and gentlest manner, without the least fear or change of colour or feature, looking at the man with all his eyes, Echecrates, as his manner was, took the cup and said: What do you say about making a libation out of this cup to any god? May I, or not? The man answered: We only prepare, Socrates, just so much as we deem enough. I understand, he said: but I may and must ask the gods to prosper my journey from this to the other world—even so—and so be it according to my prayer. Then raising the cup to his lips, quite readily and cheerfully he drank off the poison. And hitherto most of us had been able to control our sorrow; but now when we saw him drinking, and saw too that he had finished the draught, we could no longer forbear, and in spite of myself my own tears were flowing fast; so that I covered my face and wept, not for him, but at the thought of my own calamity in having to part from such a friend. Nor was I the first; for Crito, when he found himself unable to restrain his tears, had got up, and I followed; and at that moment, Apollodorus, who had been weeping all the time, broke out in a loud and passionate cry which made cowards of us all. Socrates alone retained his calmness: What is this strange outcry? he said. I sent away the women mainly in order that they might not misbehave in this way, for I have been told that a man should die in peace. Be quiet then, and have patience. When we heard his words we were ashamed, and refrained our tears; and he walked about until, as he said, his legs began to fail, and then he lay on his back, according to the directions, and the man who gave him the poison now and then looked at his feet and legs; and after a while he pressed his foot hard, and asked him if he could feel; and he said, No; and then his leg, and so upwards and 118upwards, and showed us that he was cold and stiff. And he felt them himself, and said: When the poison reaches the heart, that will be the end. He was beginning to grow cold about the groin, when he uncovered his face, for he had covered himself up, and said—they were his last words—he said: Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius; will you remember to pay the debt? The debt shall be paid, said Crito; is there anything else? There was no answer to this question; but in a minute or two a movement was heard, and the attendants uncovered him; his eyes were set, and Crito closed his eyes and mouth.

Such was the end, Echecrates, of our friend; concerning whom I may truly say, that of all the men of his time whom I have known, he was the wisest and justest and best.

A few books about the death of Socrates

* The Phaedo places Socrates’ trial on the day after Athens consecrated a ritual boat for its annual pilgrimage. (This was supposed to be the very boat that the hero Theseus had sailed back after defeating the minotaur in time immemorial, and the Athenians maintained it for centuries in a seaworthy state to make ceremonial voyages to the island of Delos, a sanctuary for Theseus’s patron Apollo. This is also the very conveyance in question in the “Ship of Theseus” paradox, a philosophical conundrum proceeding from the question of whether the thing was still “Theseus’s ship” if every single component of it had been replaced in the intervening years.) Anyway, Theseus aside, that mention of the consecration gives us Mounichion 7 on the confusing lunisolar Attic calendar for the trial of Socrates.

During the ship’s sacred voyage, Athens was to remain ritually “cleansed.” This condition included not conducting any executions. A date for the death of Socrates is established by Xenophon and Seneca reporting that the boat returned after 30 days — which was about twice as long as ordinarily required, but the archaic craft was very vulnerable to bad weather. 30 days is an eminently doubtable nice round number, but where ancient dates are concerned, we takes what we can gets.

“Counting inclusively, as was then the custom, Socrates died on Thargelion 6, which is the very day recorded for his birth,” notes Reason and Religion in Socratic Philosophy. It’s possible that Socrates’s birthday became associated with Thargelion 6 because Thargelion 6 was associated with Socrates via his execution … but Thargelion 6 became known as man’s execution date. It also happened to be the Athenian festival “Thargelia” (and the day before Plato’s Thargelia 7 birthday).

There are other dates out there. In particular, a number of easily accessible pages claim that the hemlock was downed on May 7, 399. I’m not positive, but it appears to me that this might have originally been arrived at by counting 30 days exclusively from Mounichion 7 to reach Thargelion 7, then noticing that Thargelion typically began sometime in May, and smushing together “May” and “7” from alien calendars … after which it’s been repeated on the basis of previous source’s authority. If there’s better support for this date than I infer, I welcome correction.

For my part, I’ve dated this entry based on the astounding Hellenic Month Established Per Athens calendar, specifically its dates for Thargelion of the 1st year of the 95th Olympiad. Thargelion 6 corresponded to May 18/19, says HMEPA — Greek days began at sundown — and since Socrates died at the end of daylight, just before sunset, that’s a Gregorian May 19th. Again, though, all this is built upon a chain of questionable inferences based on a few questionable passing remarks from just a couple of ancient sources. In the end, one just can’t know for sure.

** Plato reports in the Apology Socrates characterizing himself as such this way — “a sort of gadfly, given to the state by God; and the state is a great and noble steed who is tardy in his motions owing to his very size, and requires to be stirred into life” by his stings — bequeathing to us the evocative metaphor.

† Find these essential execution-related dialogues here, here, or here, or just the highlights here.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Famous Last Words,Greece,History,Intellectuals,Language,Myths,Notable Jurisprudence,Poison,Popular Culture,Scandal,Uncertain Dates,Wrongful Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

317 B.C.E.: Philip III Arrhidaeus, who succeeded Alexander the Great

1 comment December 25th, 2010 Headsman

It was perhaps on this date in 317 that the half-brother and successor of Alexander the Great was put to death, just another casualty as the conqueror’s vast empire fragmented.

The half-witted Philip III Arrhidaeus (or Arridaeus) didn’t exactly seem like he was born to rule — or maybe he was and that was just the problem. Plutarch juicily speculated that the boy was muddled intentionally by the snake-worshiping wife of Macedonian conqueror Philip II, Olympias. Olympias was the mother of a kid named Alexander whom she was trying to advance to the throne ahead of his half-siblings; Angelina Jolie made an apt choice to depict her at her ruthless harem-politicking best.

Arrhidaeus was the son of Philip by a courtesan named Philinna, a woman of low birth. His deficiency in understanding was the consequence of a distemper, in which neither nature nor accident had any share. For it is said, there was something amiable and great in him, when a boy; which Olympias perceiving, gave him potions that disturbed his brain.

Plutarch

Philip III Arrhidaeus is one of the main characters of this historical novel.

Whatever potions Olympias did or did not administer, she did in fact put her kid in line to follow Philip; that boy vindicated the succession by rolling his phalanxes over vulnerable potentates from Hellas to India. You might have heard of the guy.

The problem for Macedon as for Arrhidaeus came after Alexander the Great’s brilliant career closed with his unexpected, youthful death.

The stupendous empire had no obvious heir, and different factions of Alexander’s military backed different candidates. Long story short, the Arrhidaeus succeeded as the titular, but powerless, king, under a succession of regents who were prone to untimely deaths.

“Merely” titular kingship is a pretty powerful post in itself, though, and Arrhidaeus’s wife Eurydice began maneuvering to gain a wider sphere of action from her now-allied, now-enemy regents, who were themselves fighting one another. In 317, Eurydice backed the wrong horse, and she and the hubby were put to death after capture by his rival, who was at the time allied with Olympias.

Alexander’s empire was fracturing, and would soon come completely apart (one of Alexander’s generals founded the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt, which ended with Cleopatra‘s asp). It was a dangerous environment for everyone within a pikestaff of power, which meant that at least Arrhidaeus and Eurydice could take solace from the next world when the very same fate befell Olympias herself.

(More posthumous consolation: the Rimae Ariadaeus lunar crater is named for this short-lived figurehead.)


The funerary tumulus at Vergina, one of Greece’s most spellbinding archaeological treasures, features an in situ tomb whose occupant — though grandly claimed to be the more impressive Philip II — might, in fact, be Philip III. The contents of this tomb have been the subjected of spirited academic, and even nationalist, disputation, on which topics this blog is blessedly destitute of authority.


Royal Macedonian Tomb, Vergina. (cc) image from Templar1307 (whose user ID alludes to another blog-worthy incident).

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Ancient,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Execution,Greece,Heads of State,History,Macedonia,No Formal Charge,Power,Royalty,Summary Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1972: Vassilis Lymberis, the last executed in Greece

2 comments August 25th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1972, 27-year-old Cretan electrician Vassilis Lymberis was shot for murdering his mother-in-law, his wife, and his two children by burning down the family house that January. It would be the last execution in Greece.

Lymberis didn’t so much deny torching the place as he did go for the insanity-esque defense of being off his rocker from the mother-in-law. (As seen on TV.)

He also insisted that he didn’t know his children were in the house when he set it ablaze. “If you don’t believe me,” he insisted, “execute me this very moment!”

That Lymberis would obtain his milestone status was hardly predictable at the time; the country was still under the military junta; two years later, the regime collapsed and its former principals were themselves sentenced to death. (Those sentences were later commuted.)

Greece abolished the death penalty in stages (initially retaining it for serious wartime crimes) in the 1990s and early 2000s.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arson,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Greece,History,Milestones,Murder,Shot

Tags: , , ,

1821: Tudor Vladimirescu, Romanian revolutionary

2 comments June 7th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1821, Romanian national hero Tudor Vladimirescu (sometimes “Theodore Vladimiresco” in 19th century Anglo sources) was executed-slash-murdered in revolt against the Ottoman Empire by his Greek counterparts.

In the run-up to the Greek War of Independence, the Greek patriotic network Filiki Eteria tried to line up support in the Danubian Principalities.

As it happened, Tudor Vladimirescu (English Wikipedia entry | Romanian) was the guy enlisted to head up the Wallachian rebellion.

The low-born Vladimirescu had risen to the boyard nobility through his own merit. He had also won the Russian Order of St. Vladimir for his service in that country’s army, which made him an attractive partner for Greek conspirators hoping to attract Russian aid.

Vladimirescu’s pandurs even made the first move, ahead of the Greeks, seeking to occupy a power vacuum with the death of the Wallachian prince.

And this fact, ultimately, brackets the Wallachian Uprising into its unfortunate fate. While Greek revolutionaries went on to romantic glory, Tudor Vladimirescu struggled to gain Russian support, stressed internal reforms as against breakaway aspirations to keep the Ottomans cool, and tried to stay on at least cordial terms with Greek revolutionary leader Alexander Ypsilanti.

It’s perhaps because he accomplished none of these things and therefore became no other man’s instrument that Vladimirescu can be appreciated by posterity as a true exponent of the nationalist cause.* Illustrative of the difficulty: one of Romania’s chief nationalist beefs at this point was with Phanariot Greeks who soaked the Balkans under the Ottoman aegis; Vladimirescu’s initial manifesto to Constantinople called for restoration of Wallachian privileges and protection from Phanariot abuses. And that Greek leader Ypsilanti? He was a Phanariot himself. Peasants who rallied to the Wallachian banner weren’t looking to go to the wall for the Greeks.

Sources of a Hellenic bent are liable to perceive “perfidy and crimes” in Vladimirescu’s twisting and turning and maneuvering … which happens to be what Ypsilanti decided, too. This, too, was probably in the best interests of Tudor’s long-term reputation.

Vladimirescu was arrested by Greek agents, subjected to a drumhead tribunal for cooperation with the Ottomans, and immediately put to death. (And then chopped up and tossed in a privy; clearly, the Greeks were giving up on the diplomatic approach to Wallachia.) The Turks bloodily pacified the Principalities, and the locus of the war shifted to the Peloponnese.

There are today many streets named after Tudor Vladimirescu in Romania. There was also a pro-Soviet Tudor Vladimirescu Division that fought the fascist Ion Antonescu government during World War II, and the man’s face used to adorn the 25-leu note.

If only by happenstance, this “perfidious” and perhaps mainly self-interested captain has morphed into a Rorschach-blot nationalist image amenable, as Lucian Boia observes, to almost any reading.

The hero of 1821 passed all ideological examinations con brio, being invoked successively by liberals, Legionaries, “internationalist” communism, and nationalist communism. A major historiographical offensive was launched in the time of Ceausescu around his relations with the Greek Etaireia movement. After Andrei Otetea had striven to demonstrate the close links between the two (Tudor Vladimirescu and the Etairist Movement in the Romanian Lands, 1945), the historians of the nationalist phase did all they could to absolve the Romanian revolutionary of any obligation towards the Etairists.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Borderline "Executions",Execution,Famous,Greece,History,Martyrs,No Formal Charge,Nobility,Occupation and Colonialism,Ottoman Empire,Power,Revolutionaries,Romania,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , ,

1943: Jerzy Iwanow (Georgios Ivanof)

2 comments January 4th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1943, Polish-born Greek resistance hero Jerzy Iwanow-Szajnowicz was shot (or shot attempting to escape the Kaisariani execution ground, which amounts to pretty much the same thing) for a dramatic career fighting the occupation of Greece.

Iwanow (Polish) — or Georgios Ivanof — was the son of a Russian officer, but his parents divorced in his childhood, and mom married a Greek.

Jerzy was on his way to a cosmopolitan upbringing, mastering half a dozen languages and apparently just as many sports.

His athletic and linguistic prowess would both come in handy for derring-do missions (more Polish) in the Greek waters that saw him sink a German submarine and a destroyer with magnetic bombs. He even escaped the first two times he was captured.

Third time was a charm for the Nazis.

Sounds like celluloid material. As a matter of fact, a 1972 Polish film valorized Iwanow as Agent Nr. 1.

You can see the full movie on Veoh, if you’re prepared to install their viewing software.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Greece,Guerrillas,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Treason,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

c. 560 B.C.E.: Aesop, fabulist

2 comments December 28th, 2009 Headsman

On an unknown date around the 560s B.C.E., the storyteller Aesop is supposed to have been executed in Delphi by being hurled from the Hyampeia rock.

The semi-legendary fable-fashioner is not quite so irretrievable to history as, say, Homer, although assuredly many or all of the tales that have accrued under the heading “Aesop’s Fables” trace to origins other than this man.

Supposed to have lived from the late 7th to mid 6th centuries B.C.E., Aesop is first referenced by history’s first historian, Herodotus.

But by way of summation, we cannot improve upon Plutarch‘s succinct description of Aesop’s fate in his essay, “On God’s Slowness to Punish Evil”. (Available here; a different translation is free online here.)

I’m sure you know the story of how Aesop came here bringing gold from Croesus. He meant to make a magnificent offering to the god,* and also to give every inhabitant of Delphi four minas, but apparently he got angry and fell out with the locals; so he made the ritual offering, but sent the money back to Sardis, because he didn’t think that the people deserved a windfall. They then engineered a charge against him of temple robbery and executed him by pushing him from the famous cliff called Hyampeia.** Subsequently, the story goes on, divine wrath afflicted them with failed harvests and with all kinds of strange diseases, and as a result they used to visit all the festivals where Greeks were assembled and make an announcement inviting anyone who so wished to claim compensation from them for Aesop. Two generations later Idmon of Samos arrived at Delphi; not only was he not a relative of Aesop, but he was in fact a descendant of the people who had bought Aesop as a slave in Samos.† It was only when the Delphians had compensated him that their troubles ceased.‡ (We are also told that this incident was the reason for moving the place of punishment for temple robbers from Hyampeia to Aulia.)

There are many books and media under the Aesop’s Fables branding available for purchase, but you can also find the same content in the public domain at Gutenberg.org and elsewhere.

In any format, they’re timeless. “The Mischievous Dog”, for instance, could have been written especially for bloggers.

[audio:http://www.gutenberg.org/files/19616/mp3/19616-04.mp3]

* Referring to the sacred shrine occupied by the Oracle of Delphi, of course.

** When visiting Delphi, look for Hyampeia marked on your tourist map as “Phleboukos”, one of the Phaedriades surrounding the sacred site. Hyampeia/Phleboukos towers above the Castalian spring. It’s high.

† Besides being a slave, Aesop (at least, the Aesop as legend accumulated) was afflicted with other disadvantages suitable to elevate his mythological wisdom. According to The Life of Aesop:

AESOP (according to Planudes, Cameraius and others) was by Birth, of Ammorius, a Town in the greater Phrygia; (though some will have him to be a Thracian, others a Samian) of a mean Condition, and his Person deformed, to the highest degree: Flat-nos’d, hunch-back’d, blobber-lipp’d; a long mishapen Head; his Body crooked all over, big-belly’d, badger-legg’d, and his Complexion so swarthy, that he took his very Name from’t; for Aesop is the same with Aethiop. And he was not only unhappy in the most scandalous Figure of a Man, that ever was heard of; but he was in a manner Tongue-ty’d too, by such an Impediment in his Speech, that People could very hardly understand what he said.

Be sure to check The Life‘s account of Aesop’s demise, with the undiplomatic Aesop having enraged his hosts with his poor opinion of their digs … and the fables he tells in his defense falling very flat: “He was speaking on, but they pushed him off headlong from the Rock, and he was dashed to pieces with the Fall.”

‡ The Delphians’ search for compensation is directly described by Herodotus’ Histories, written little more than a century after Aesop’s death. Though the execution story itself could be apocryphal, its presence in Herodotus at least makes Greeks’ belief in the event as a real one of their recent past about as credibly documented as anything from 2500+ years ago.

That Aesop belonged to Iadmon is proved by many facts — among others, by this. When the Delphians, in obedience to the command of the oracle, made proclamation that if any one claimed compensation for the murder of Aesop he should receive it, the person who at last came forward was Iadmon, grandson of the former Iadmon, and he received the compensation. Aesop therefore must certainly have been the former Iadmon’s slave.

Evidently, Aesop’s reputation for sagacious wit was well-established in the 5th century B.C. Aristophanes makes respectful references to Aesop in his plays The Wasps, Peace and The Birds — in the latter, the birds’ ignorance is underscored because they haven’t read their Aesop.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Ancient,Artists,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Greece,History,Myths,Popular Culture,Precipitated,Public Executions,Slaves,Summary Executions,Wrongful Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1178 B.C.E.: Penelope’s suitors, by Odysseus

Add comment April 16th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1178 B.C.E., according to some enterprising astronomers, the Greek hero Odysseus returned home to Ithaca from a 20-year absence and slaughtered the suitors who had taken up lodgings in his palace.

The date was asserted in 2008 based on astronomical clues in the text of Homer’s Odyssey.

This sort of putative historical specificity extracted from what could as well be read as literary devices — e.g., an eclipse — for a literary episode might gratify an advocate of “the higher naivete”, but the reader is well entitled to doubt.

Similarly, and more specifically for this venue, is the problem of whether the summary justice exacted by a Bronze Age chieftain meets the definition of an “execution”. This dubious case is resolved here by the unique subject matter.

Crafty quasi- (or altogether) mythical hero Odysseus (aka Ulysses), having left a generation before for the decade-long Trojan War which he finally resolved with the famous Trojan Horse strategem, then spent the next decade wandering about the sea en route to his home island.

When he gets there, he finds that 108 ill-mannered suitors have moved in, dissipated his fortune in merrymaking, and have ceaselessly dogged his faithful wife (and presumed widow) Penelope to remarry one of them.*

Together with his now-grown son Telemachus, Odysseus punishes them terribly .

“Dogs, did you think that I should not come back from Troy? You have wasted my substance, have forced my women servants to lie with you, and have wooed my wife while I was still living. You have feared neither God nor man, and now you shall die.”

They turned pale with fear as he spoke, and every man looked round about to see whither he might fly for safety, but Eurymachus alone spoke.

“If you are Ulysses,” said he, “then what you have said is just. We have done much wrong on your lands and in your house. But Antinous who was the head and front of the offending lies low already. It was all his doing. It was not that he wanted to marry Penelope; he did not so much care about that; what he wanted was something quite different, and Jove has not vouchsafed it to him; he wanted to kill your son and to be chief man in Ithaca. Now, therefore, that he has met the death which was his due, spare the lives of your people. We will make everything good among ourselves, and pay you in full for all that we have eaten and drunk. Each one of us shall pay you a fine worth twenty oxen, and we will keep on giving you gold and bronze till your heart is softened. Until we have done this no one can complain of your being enraged against us.”

Ulysses again glared at him and said, “Though you should give me all that you have in the world both now and all that you ever shall have, I will not stay my hand till I have paid all of you in full. You must fight, or fly for your lives; and fly, not a man of you shall.”

The suitors fight back, and most of the resulting deaths occur in the fray. But it’s about as one-sided as the contest on any proper scaffold.

As eagle-beaked, crook-taloned vultures from the mountains swoop down on the smaller birds that cower in flocks upon the ground, and kill them, for they cannot either fight or fly, and lookers on enjoy the sport — even so did Ulysses and his men fall upon the suitors and smite them on every side. They made a horrible groaning as their brains were being battered in, and the ground seethed with their blood.

And if many of the doomed die with their boots on, there are at least a couple of specific instances that clearly have a summary-execution character.

Leiodes then caught the knees of Ulysses and said, “Ulysses I beseech you have mercy upon me and spare me. I never wronged any of the women in your house either in word or deed, and I tried to stop the others. I saw them, but they would not listen, and now they are paying for their folly. I was their sacrificing priest; if you kill me, I shall die without having done anything to deserve it, and shall have got no thanks for all the good that I did.”

Ulysses looked sternly at him and answered, “If you were their sacrificing priest, you must have prayed many a time that it might be long before I got home again, and that you might marry my wife and have children by her. Therefore you shall die.”

With these words he picked up the sword that Agelaus had dropped when he was being killed, and which was lying upon the ground. Then he struck Leiodes on the back of his neck, so that his head fell rolling in the dust while he was yet speaking.

The minstrel Phemius, whose services had been procured by force, has better luck pleading for clemency when Telemachus intervenes before Odysseus can give him the chop. But the explorer’s son has no use at all for twelve corrupt handmaids who have abetted the suitors’ predations. I like this version in the chilling verse form quoted by Dr. Samuel Haughton in an 1866 paper on hanging that weirdly goes on to produce the physics necessary to demonstrate the intuitively obvious point that this must have required the main rope to anchor to pillars between each suspended noose, rather than all twelve on a single line.

…leading forth
The women next, they shut them close between
The lofty wall and scullery, narrow, straight,
And dreadful, whence no prisoner might escape.
Then, prudent, thus Telemachus advised:
 The death of honour would I never grant
To criminals like these, who poured contempt
On mine and on my mother’s head, and lay
By night enfolded in the suitors’ arms.
 He said, and noosing a strong galley rope
To a huge column, led the cord around
The spacious dome, suspended so aloft,
That none with quivering feet might reach the floor.
As when a flight of doves entering the copse,
Or broad-winged thrushes, strike against the net
Within; ill rest, entangled, there they find;
So they, suspended by the neck, expired
All in one line together. Death abhorred!
With restless feet awhile they beat the air,
Then ceased.

On whatever date imagined, or strictly as fiction, this whole bloodbath fixes the climax of one of seminal works of the western literary canon.

The excerpts quoted here are from the Internet Classics Archive; multiple versions of both The Odyssey and The Iliad are available on Gutenberg.org … they’ve even done The Odyssey as a TV miniseries.

* This site claims that there’s at least one alternate tradition in which the famously virtuous Penelope — wasn’t.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Execution,Fictional,Greece,Known But To God,Mass Executions,Myths,No Formal Charge,Nobility,Not Executed,Pelf,Power,Put to the Sword,Scandal,Sex,Shot with Arrows,Summary Executions,The Worm Turns,Uncertain Dates

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

1952: Nikos Beloyannis, the man with the carnation

2 comments March 30th, 2009 Headsman

Before dawn on this date in 1952, four Greek Communists were shot outside Athens for treason.

Nikos (Nicholas) Beloyannis (or Mpeloyannis), the most prominent among them, spent a goodly portion of his adult life in prison for his subversive opinions — first at the hands of the interwar Greek nationalist government, then the Nazi occupation, then the British.

His many years’ service to communism was, unbeknownst to him, even then being horse-traded away as Stalin and Churchill carved up post-World War II spheres of influence.

Uncle Joe ceded Greece to the West — so the reds were left dangling during the Greek Civil War, and guys like Nikos got fitted for left martyrology.


The Execution of Beloyannis, by Peter de Francia.

“The man with the carnation” — it was his signature prop at the mass show trial where he drew a death sentence for “conspiring to overthrow by force the present regime in Greece.”

The trial, and the outcry that greeted its swift resolution, helped establish an enduring international reputation among fellow-travelers.

(From The Man With The Carnation, released after the fall of the Papadapoulos dictatorship.)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Greece,History,Martyrs,Politicians,Power,Shot,Treason,Wrongful Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1798: Rigas Feraios, Greek poet

Add comment June 13th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1798, the Greek revolutionary Rigas Feraios and five co-conspirators were strangled by their Ottoman captors on the Danube River en route to Constantinople to prevent their rescue.

A Vlach by blood, Feraios was a hero — and ultimately a martyr — of Greek independence years before the revolution against Ottoman rule that would deliver it.

A Renaissance man for the Greek Enlightenment, Feraios had a variegated youthful career knocking about the Ottomans’ Balkan possessions and absorbing the revolutionary Zeitgeist abroad in Europe.

Settling in Vienna in his mid-thirties, he brandished his pen in the service of an imagined pan-Balkan, pan-Hellenic uprising to shake off the Turkish yoke. He edited the first Greek newspaper, published a map* and constitution for the imagined realm of the “Inhabitants of Rumeli, Asia Minor, the Islands of the Aegean, and the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia”, and churned out blood-stirring poetry in Demotic, the vernacular tongue — most memorably, the Thourio, i.e., “War Hymn”.

… and a little taste of the gist, in English:

How long, my heroes, shall we live in bondage,
alone,like lions on ridges, on peaks?
Living in caves, seeing our children turned
from the land to bitter enslavement?
Losing our land, brothers, and parents,
our friends, our children, and all our relations?
Better an hour of life that is free
than forty years in slavery.

This sort of fire-breather is not the sort of man the Ottomans were keen on seeing involve himself with Bonaparte, most especially now that the French kingpin had started outfitting Oriental adventures. The Turks’ Austrian allies nabbed Feraios in Trieste en route to confer with Napoleon’s Italian subalterns about interfering in the Balkans.

Shipped to the governor of Belgrade, Feraios was to be sent to Constantinople for adjudication by Sultan Selim III. A Turkish buddy of the poet’s, however, happened to be blocking the way with a sizable force of his own who’d been administering a rebel statelet carved out of Ottoman territory. Tipped that this gentleman was keen to liberate the Turks’ unwelcome prisoners if they tried to pass, the local authorities had them summarily strangled and their bodies dumped in the Danube.


A Rigas Feraois monument in Belgrade. (Author’s photograph, in terrible light.)

* Including Constantinople. The dream of “Greater Greece” would persist long, and die hard.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Famous Last Words,Greece,History,Intellectuals,Martyrs,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Ottoman Empire,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Strangled,Summary Executions,Torture,Treason

Tags: , , , , , ,

Next Posts Previous Posts


Calendar

November 2019
M T W T F S S
« Oct    
 123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
252627282930  

Archives

Categories

Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!