Monday, April 18, 2016

The Ancient Greeks Knew... (Part 2)

Edited and Updated 20 April 2016

In the first part I brought to you several ancient epigraphy illustrations showing the different manner in which Prometheus was bound to the cliff in the Caucasus mountain range. Two of these show the Titan god to be impaled, or bound to look like he was impaled: through the rectum or perineum, out the back.

The illustrations which show the motif of Prometheus bound to a stake, or pillar, are repeated in Hesiod’s (760-650 BCE) Theogony 521, in which one of the gods carrying out the immobilizing of Prometheus instructs the other to fix a pillar in its place, driving it through the middle of… something:
For this lot Zeus assigned to him. And ready-witted Prometheus he bound with inextricable bonds, cruel chains, and drove a shaft through his middle, and set on him a long-winged eagle upon him, which used to eat his immortal liver; but by night the liver grew as much again every as the long-winged bird devoured in the whole day.

ταύτην γάρ οι μοῖραν ἐδασσατο μετίετα Ζευς. δῆσε δ΄ ἀλυκτοπέδῃσι Πρροομηθέα ποικιλόβουλον δεσμοις ἀργαλέοισι μέσον δια κίον ἐλλάσσας: καί οί ἐπ΄ αἰετὸν ὥρσε τανύπτερον: αὐτὰρ ὅ γ΄ ἧπαρ ἤσθιεν ἀπὰνατον, τὸ δ΄ ἀέξετο ἵσον ἀπάντη νυκτός ὅσον πρόπαν ἧμαρ ἔδοι τανυσιπτερος ὄρνις. [1]
Now in the above English translation (Hugh G. Evelyn-White) the scene depicted includes an impalement, which the Greek apparently includes. Part of the second sentence reads, δῆσε δ΄ ἀλυκτοπέδῃσι Πρροομηθέα ποικιλόβουλον δεσμοις ἀργαλέοισι μέσον δια κίον ἐλλάσσας (and he bound in unbreakable bonds the wily-minded Prometheus in painful chains he drove a stake through the middle). Now my English literal translation loses some of the apparent preciseness of the Greek, for “the middle” could be interpreted as the middle of the bonds and chains. This is also true of John Bowden’s English and Martin Hengel’s German because Hengel mentions that Hesiod “speaks of a post or pillar to which the god is fastened.” [2] Despite both Πρροομηθέα (Prometheus) and μέσον (the middle [of]) being in the singular masculine accusative sense, i.e., being the direct object or pertaining thereto, some ancient Greek artists clearly depicted Prometheus as bound to a pole or column with the bonds (usually ropes or leather strips) around it. So we can conclude that the Classical Greek was just as ambiguous, too; either that or the producers of ancient Greek art did not want to offend their contemporary purchasers.

Now we mention the images of Prometheus being “crucified” (although a cross, or tropaeum, is nowhere to be found), which go back to at least 350 BCE: there are a few writers (Lucian of Samosata [120-180 CE], Martial [38/41-102/104 CE], Apollodorus [b. 180 CE], Ausonius [310-395 CE]) who expound on or allude to the theme of Prometheus as “crucified.” [3] In his Prometheus, Lucian is very colorful in his writing style, he uses virtually every Greek verb known for executionary suspension, particularly that employed by the Romans in his time.

Aeschylus (525-456 BCE), too, has crucifixion-like imagery in his shackling of Prometheus to the rock:
Therefore on this joyless rock you must stand sentinel, erect, sleepless, your knee unbent.

ἀνθ΄ ὧν ἀτερπῆ τήνδε φρουρήσεις πέτρον όρθοστάδην, ἄυπνος, οὐ κάμπτων γόνυ: [4]
The imagery invoked in this text appears similar to that shown by a typical crucifix or in terrible movies like Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ with the legs stretched out almost almost straight and the feet nailed through their arches into a triangular-shaped, sloped “plinth” (suppedaneum).

And Aeschylus refers to Prometheus’ using the verb paschô (πάσχω), which comes from the same root as the Latin passio, from whence comes our word, passion, which Christians use to refer to the suffering of Jesus in The Crucifiction.
See what I, a god, suffer at the hands of Gods!

ἴδεσθέ μ΄ οἷα πρὸς θεων πάσχω θεὸς [5]
Well now we get to discuss the final images, where the immobilized Titan appears to be impaled. We have already seen above Hesiod’s reference in Theogony to the κίον (kion) as a “shaft driven through his middle” in Evelyn-Whit’s translation in English [1]. Apparently Aeschylus interpreted Hesiod’s reference as some kind of steel or steel-like wedge to be driven into or through Prometheus:
Now vigourously pin the remorseless point of an adamantine wedge right through his bosom!

ἀδαμαντίον νῦν σφηνὸς αὺθάδη γνάθαν στέρνων διαμπὰξ πασσάλευ΄ ἐρρωμένως. [6]
Now there is no indication which direction this wedge [7] was to be driven, whether from below by way of the rectum or from the front like when killing a vampire, which more readily comes to mind in the English, and probably to a modern Greek as well.

But the ancient Greeks like Aechylus may have interpreted the σφην (sfên) as travelling through the body from the rectum and out, in this case, through the sternum or on either side of it, and not out through the back as per usual.

Actually Aeschylus does know of impalement, and he does know of it as torturing individuals (undoubtedly almost always men) with a slow, lingering death. From his Eumenides where the god Apollo chases the Furies out of his temple after they scare off a Pythian and have a dialogue with the ghost of Clymnestra:
This house is no right place for such as you to
Cling upon; but where, by judgment given, heads
Are lopped and eyes gouged out, throats cut, and
By the spoil of sex, the glory of young boys is
Defeated, where mutilation lives, and stoning,
And the long moan of tortured men spiked
underneath the spine and stuck on pales.

ούτοι δόμοισι τοίσδε χρίμπτεσθαι πρέπει·
άλλ' οΰ καρανιστήρες όφθαλμωρύχοι
δίκαι σφαγαί τε σπέρματος τ' άποφθορά
παίδων κακοϋται χλοΰνις, ήδ' άκρωνία,
λευσμός τε, και μύζουσιν οικτισμόν πολύν
υπό ράχιν παγέντες. [8]
That place where Apollo says the Furies belong was the βασανιστέριον (basanisterion), unique among the Greek cities and towns to Athens and possibly Miletus. [9] It was a place of public torture, a kind of stadium open to the public that was maintained for legal purposes, where the people gathered and watched people being tortured, to find out what was being said, according to Demosthenes. Indeed the Athenians prided themselves on their methods of examination by torture, thinking it to be “the justest and most democratic way” for the examination of slaves. [10]

In addition to the “torture-stadiums” the Athenians also kept public execution grounds where they killed their convicted criminals, [11] usually by ἀποτυμπανισμος (apotympanismos), a form of “planking” or “crucifying to a plank” using crimp-nails, including a collar around the neck, that could be loosened and tightened at will. But clearly other forms of executions occurred as well because the prisoners’ corpses were left lying about in these places. Indeed the Athenians must have been quite familiar, perhaps too familiar, with these people’s suffering. [12] And judging by Aeschylus’ verse, the Athenians knew that those who were impaled often suffered a slow, lingering death, and offered up a long moan; or, if I may translate more literally, “they even moan[ed] piteously many a long lamentation” (και μύζουσιν οικτισμόν πολύν).

Another Classical Greek writer familiar with impalement was Euripides (480-406 BCE) who in Rhesus describes a scene wherein the protagonist Rhesus mentions to his dialogue partner, the Trojan commander Hector, that he was going to impale and hang alive a certain criminal waiting for him in ambush:
If I can catch this knave alive,...
I will impale him at the outlet of the gates
and set him up for vultures of the air to make their meal upon.
This is the death he ought to die,
pirate and temple-robber that he is.
(My translation following E. P. Coleridge’s)

This one …, I will take alive
and at the gates' outlet impale through the spine
and set up as a feast for winged vultures.
Being a robber and plunderer of the temples of the gods
he ought to die through this fate
(David Kovacs’ translation)

τουτον -- -- ζωντα συλλβων εγώ
πυλων επ' εξόδοισιν ευπείρας ράχιν
στήσω πετεινοϊς γυψι θοινατήριον'
ληστην γαρ οντα και θεων ανάκτορα
συλωντα δεϊ νιν τωδε κατθανεϊν μόρω [13]

Here Euripides exhibits knowledge that death by impalement could come about over a long period of time, not just by the shock and bleeding from the piercing of the body ‘neath the spine but also because of the additional suffering of being molested and partly consumed alive by birds. Hermann Fulda in his Das Kreuz und die Kreuzigung cites this example to show that impalement by way of the buttocks (i.e., rectum, anus) were to be understood as under the ῥάχις (rakhis) “spine, chine, tailbone” or in Latin, obscoena “the private parts / excrements [entrails],” and (although not mentioned in this example) the pole was not pushed through the full length of the body so that one had the opportunity of speaking of one so impaled as “sitting on a cross.” [14] So here Fulda understood that impalement could cause the suspended person to suffer a long death struggle, so long as certain provisions were taken to prevent the piercing of vital organs or the nicking of vital blood vessels.

Next we have a (likely Athenian) Middle and New Comedy poet / playwright by the name Alexis (Hellenistic Era, ca 375 - ca 275 BCE). In his The Parasite it appears that we have chanced upon a bit of an ancient equivalent the Comedy of the Absurd. This sort of comedy was not unknown to the Romans (who got a lot of their ideas and attitudes and social conventions from the Greeks) as evidenced in Plautus’ play Mostellaria. [15] Now the last line of Alexis’ fragment of what is believed to be known as The Parasite, describes a punishment an enraged speaker wishes to visit upon the parasite (and one Theodotus, too): “transfix [him] upon The Wood” (άναπήξαιμ' έπι τοΰ ξύλου):
Otherwise when you must bind the cheat Theodotus,
or the parasite so that I have known the profane
playing the prude, the ones in white and the taking up of mattocks [i.e., pick-axes],
pleasant if I were to seize [them] and transfix [him] up {through him} upon The Wood.

άλλ' έπάν δή τον γόητα Θεόδοτον,
ή τον παραμασύντην ϊδω τον άνόσιον
βαυκιζόμενον τα λευκά τ' άναβάλλονθ' άμα,
ήδιστ' άν άναπήξαιμ' {άν αύτον} έπι του ξύλου λαβών. [16]
Like the rest of his text, the translation and interpretation is rather awkward. The verb άναπηγνύναι (anapêgnunai) is defined as “to transfix, impale.” [17] But the problem is that the transfixing is to take place upon The Wood (τὸ ξύλον [to xylon]), which in the Athens of the time probably did not refer to an impaling stake but some other kind of trimmed or fabricated wood instrument. The awkwardness and discrepancies in this verse was noticed by W. Geoffrey Arnott of Cambridge University and concludes that “in Alexis here the use of άναπήξαιμ' (anapêxaim) and the general tone of anger suggest something more vicious than whipping in the stocks or pillory: perhaps ἀποτυμπανισμος where a criminal was executed by being fixed naked to an upright plank on which iron bands encircled ankles, wrists and neck.” [18] If so, then the use of the verb suggests something more cruel and unusual, like a Roman penalty instead: i.e., “crucifying” on a plank with real nails and not those crimp-nails the Greeks usually used. But this, too, like impalement was an un-Attic penalty. It suffices to say, though, that transfixing a person with The Wood would have been patently absurd, just like those illustrations of Prometheus that appear to depict him impaled. Hence Alexis would have gotten a big laugh and a standing ovation at the end.

Now we take a look at two lexicographers from the Byzantine Era (5th and 12th Centuries CE), who compare the nouns σταυρὸς, σκόλοψ and χάραξὸς and their derived verbs. Nowhere have I found any English translation of their definitions in Byzantine Greek, but I did find Latin translations in Justus Lipsius’ De Cruce, which was some help to me in coming up with my own translations.

First is Hesychius of Alexandria (5th C. CE), from his Alphabetical Collection of All Words.

(1) Stauroi, those planted pointed stakes, palings
(2) Skolopes, upright and sharp timbers, pales/poles, palings. 
(3) Kharaksi, fencings-in, with sharp timbers, and with reedy pipes/vine stakes, and those pales/poles.
(4) Keleontes, [in Antiphon are briefly rendered] upright timbers. 

(1) Σταυροί, οί καταπεπηγότες σκόλοπες, χάρακες·.
(2) Σκόλοπες, ὀρθέα (I. ὀρθὰ) καὶ ὀξέα ξυλα, σταυροί, χάρακες·
(3) Χάραξι, φραγμοῖς, ὀξέσι ξύλοις οί δέ, καλαμοις, οι δέ, σταυροῖς.
(4) Kελέοντες [in Antiphon are briefly rendered] ὀρθα ξυλά [19]
He comments in his Etymologus, concerning the noun κελέοντες. It isn’t how the noun came about or where it came from, just how it is misused.
Keleontes, those long beams which govern a loom, [is] misused and even those planted timbers, they [the people] call these and stauroi.

κελέοντες, κυριως οί ἱστόποδες, καταχρηστικῶς δὲ καὶ τὰ καταπεπηγότα ξυλα, ά καὶ σταυροὺς καλοῦσι. [20]
Also in his Etymologus he gives us a clear relationship between the noun σκόλοψ (skolops) and the verb ἀνασκολόπιζω (anaskolopizô), and makes the meaning of the verb clear by comparing it with the roasting of fishes on spits:

On skolopes as a roast: for in olden times those dealing basely were impaled, a sharpened stake along the spine and [through] the back, just like those roasted fish on spits.

Σκόλοψιν ὡς ὅπτησιν τό γαρ παλαιό ν τούς κακούργου ντας άνεσκολόπιζον, όξύνοντες ξύλον δια τής ραχέως και τού νώτου, καθάπερ τούς όπτωμένους ιχθύς έπι οβελίσκων. [21]

In the above description, the location within the impaled could also be interpreted as “past / through the tailbone and the back” with no interpolation necessary. [22] And as noted above, “past the tailbone” would be understood as under it, i.e., through the rectum, the back passage. This of course probably was the same route the Turks used in Egypt and elsewhere to avoid lethal damage to any critical blood vessels or vital organs, resulting in a slow, lingering death.

Unfortunately Hesychius’ information is the only place where the verb ἀνασκολόπιζω is connected to the noun σκόλοψ, and is clearly explicit that the verb referred to impaling, probably because at the time of Hesychius, people were being executed by being skewered on spits. [23] Modern scholars today may see this linkage that this is a case of Byzantine-era etymological fallacy, in this case the projection of contemporary times upon the past: all other mentions of this verb, particularly ones that antedate this one, do not make the linkage. Unfortunately, Hesychius does not tell us whether this method of execution resulted in a slow, lingering death, or in a quick, messy death.

Finally we have Eustathius of Thessalonica (1115-1195 CE), a late Byzantine / mid-Mediaeval grammarian who produced his Commentaries on the Iliad and Odyssey. In three places he discusses the nouns σταυρὸς (stauros) and σκόλοψ and in two of those places links them with the verbs ἀνασταυροω (anastauroô) and ἀνασκόλοπιζω and claims the verbs are derived from the nouns:
Skolopes are called these of such a kind, and stauroi – and from these [derive] the verbs anaskolopizeiv and anastauroun.

σκόλοπες λέγονται δὲ οἱ τοιτοῦτοι σκόλοπες καὶ σταυροὶ -- ἐκ δὲ τούτων τὸ ἀνασκολόπιζειν, καὶ ἀνασταυροῦν. [24]

Stauroi: upright and sharpened timbers. But these themselves are called by this, and skolopes; from these [derive] the [verbs] anaskolopizesthai and anastaurousthai.

Σταυροὶ ὀρθὰ καὶ ἀπωξυμμένα ξύλα. -- οἰ δ΄ αὐτοὶ καὶ σκόλοπες λέγονται,ἀφ΄ ὧν τὸ ἀνασκολόπιζεσθαι, καὶ ἀνασταυροῦσθαι. [25]
Here in this work in two places (comments on Iliad ή.441 and Odysseus ώ.452-3) Eustathius clearly states that two Classical-Koine-Byzantine Greek verbs for executionary bodily suspension, commonly meaning “impale” and “crucify (again)” in modern English, came from their respective nouns; not only that, but also because the nouns refer to one and the same kind of pole – sharpened timbers. The verbs, too, apparently in his time referred to one and the same action – suspend on sharpened timbers, that is, impale -- despite today having entirely different senses. And in the third place he confirms that in his time, stauros and skolops were two words for one and the same thing – and they weren’t crosses:
But skolopes even now [are] upright timbers, these and stauroi.

Σκόλοπες δὲ καὶ νῦν ξύλα ὀρθα, οἱ καὶ σταυροί. [26]
This is Eustathius’ comment on Homer’s Odysseus η. 44, which describes “Tall walls” as “Fit together with upraised stakes” (Τείχεα μακρὰ … Ὑψηλὰ σκολόπεσσιν ἀρηρότα [Teikhea makra … Ypsêla skolopessin arêrota]). So even in the Late Byzantine - Mid Mediaeval time of the 12th Century ce, we have a clear indication that the stauros and skolops, outside of the Church and outside of the Greek Orthodox Bible, meant only one thing: an upright pale or stake, with no transom indicated. Additionally, the derived verbs would probably have meant, as in Hesychius’ time the 5th Century CE, to suspend on an upright pale or stake, i.e., impale.

So, in conclusion, we can plainly see both from the extant artwork and epigrams that the Greeks, possibly as late as the 5th Century CE and even the 12th and beyond, probably knew, and most certainly did know according to Aeschylus and Euripides, that it was possible to execute someone by impalement, and have that action result in a slow, lingering death. This, of course, is contrary to the conclusions made by certain scholars today!



       [1] Hesiod, Theogony 520-5, Hesiod. The Homeric Hymns and Homerica. With an English Translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard Univ. Press; London: William Heinemann, Ltd. (1914), page unknown. Cited in: Gunnar Samuelsson, Crucifixion in Antiquity. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, (2011), p. 69.
       [2] Martin Hengel, Crucifixion, trans. by John Bowden. Philadelphia: Fortress Press (1977), p. 11 n. 1, the English of δεσμοις ἀργαλέοισι μέσον δια κίον ἐλλάσσας reads, “bound with inextricable bonds, driving a shaft through the middle.” 
       [3] Ibid., pp. 11 n. 1, 2 n. 2, and 58 n. 13. For further investigation see the references cited by Hengel, to wit: Lucian, Prometheus 1-2, 7, 10, 12, 17; Apollodorus 1.7.1; Iuppiter confutatus 8, De sacrifiis 6, and Dialogi deorum 5(1).1; Martial, Liber spectaculorum 7.1ff; and Ausonius, Technopaegnion (De Historia) 10.9ff. See also Lucian’s Prometheus 4, 9 and 15. The extant Greek texts are available for viewing and downloading at the Perseus Digital Library (PDL), Latin at the PDL and The Latin Library.
       [4] Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 31. From Aeschylus, with an English translation by Herbert Weir Smyth, Ph. D. in two volumes. Vol. 1, Prometheus Bound. Herbert Weir Smyth, Ph. D. Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press. 1926 (found at PDL).
       [5] Ibid., 93. Trans. mine.
       [6] Ibid., 64-5. Trans. mine.
       [7] From the Perseus Greek Word Study Tool (PWGST), referencing the LSJ and Middle Liddell lexica, we have this for σφηνὸς: it is the genitive of σφην (sfên), “wedge, shim, plug.” It is related to σφην-εύς (sfên-eüs), “mullet-like fish”; σφην-ισκος (sfên-iskos), “wedge-shaped nostril plug, irregularly truncated pyramid”; σφιγ- (sfêig), “related to binding, nooses, sphincters, constipation, sphinx, bracelet, greed”; σφην-οω (sfên-oô), “shape like a wedge, to be cloven with a wedge, inlaid, fix by means of a wedge, to become fixed like a wedge, plug up, close up, close, catch cold in the head, obstruction, torture, rack” (the last two in Plutarch An vitiositas 2.498D). The fact that this word σφην is related somewhat to the ancient Greek for “sphincter”, and the fact that the references to “torture, rack” in the derived verb could refer what the Inquisition called the Judas Chair or in Italy il cavaletto, might be a clue that the wedge was an item meant to enter the person through the anus.
       [8] Aeschylus, Eumenides 185–190. Aeschylus. With an English Translation by Herbert Weir Smyth, 2 vols., LCL. London: William Heinemann; New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons (1922), page unknown. Cited in: Eva C Keuls, The Reign of the Phallus. Sexual Politics in Ancient Athens. Berkeley - Los Angeles – Oxford: University of California Press (1993), pp 8-9.
       [9] Keuls, p. 7.
       [10] Lycurgus 29, quoted in Keuls, p. 7.
       [11] Keuls, p. 8.
       [12] Plato, Rep. 4.439e, cited in Keuls, p. 8.
       [13] Euripedes, Rhesus 513-7, original Greek cited in Hermann Fulda, Das Kreuz und die Kreuzigung, Breslau, Wilhelm Koebner, 1878, p. 114. First transl. mine, following The Plays of Euripides, transl. by E. P. Coleridge, Volume I, London. George Bell and Sons (1891), page unknown (found at PDL). Second transl. from Euripides. With an English Translation, by David Kovacs, LCL, Cambridge, Mass. Harvard University Press (1994), page unknown, cited in: Samuelsson, p. 72.
       [14] Fulda, p. 114.
       [15] Here (Plautus, Mostellaria 359ff; transl. by John Bowden, in: Hengel, Crucifixion, p. 52 n. 3) the slave Traino believes he has found himself in a bit of a pickle, and expresses his willingness to pay someone to take his expected penalty for him:
Ego dabo et talentum primus qui in crucem excucurrerit;
sed ea lege, ut offigantur bis pedes, bis bracchia.
Ubi id erit factum, a me argentum petito praesentarium.

I’ll give a talent to the first man to charge my cross and take it
on the condition that his legs and arms are double-nailed.
When this is attended to he can claim the money from me cash down.
This is a clear case of an ancient comedy of the absurd. How would his place-taker accept the talent (about 200 Pounds Sterling in Victorian days) of precious metal if both his hands and both his feet are secured with two nails each?
       [16] Alexis (The Parasite), 224.10 (222.10 as cited in the LSJ listing (s.v άναπήγνυμι) in the Perseus Greek Word Study Tool and the PDL), transl. mine.
       [17] This LSJ listing includes at least two citations for demonstrating the first person singular sense of the verb (άναπήγνυμι) as “I transfix, impale”: Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae 843a (λαγῷ΄ αναπηγνύνασι, “they are spitting the hares”) and Plutarch Artaxerxes 17.5 (διὰ τριῶν σταυρῶν ἀναπῆξαι, “impaled across [lit.: through] three pales”).
       [18] W Geoffrey Arnott, Alexis: The Fragments: A Commentary. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press (1966), p. 645.
       [19] Hesychius, Alphabetical Collection of All Words, s.v. Σταυροί.
       [20] Hesychius, Etymologus ??.??
       [21] Hesychius, Etymologus 100.51
       [22] LSJ, s.v. “ῥάχις” at PDL and PGWST.
       [23] Samuelsson, p. 284.
       [24] Eustathius, Commentaries on the Iliad and Odyssey, Iliad ή 441.
       [25] Ibid., Odysseus ξ.11.
       [26] Ibid., Odysseus η.44.

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