Gallonio: Tortures
The text of Gallonio: Tortures


This form of torture is spoke of in the Histories of St. Maurice and his companions, and of St. Mark of Arethusa.

Three modes are to be found recorded in the Histories of the Martyrs wherein Christians were exposed to the rays of the sun with this end in view. Sometimes they were merely bound to stakes, as was done with St. Maurice and his companions; sometimes they were raised aloft in baskets made of rushes, as may be read of St. Mark of Arethusa, named a little above; lastly (as St. Jerome bears witness in the History of Paul, the first Eremite), they were sometimes laid on the ground with hands tied behind their backs.

Cœlius Rhodiginus states that there existed among the Ancients a form of punishment known as “Cyphonismus,” so named from the word Cyphon (κύφων), “from which also Cyphon is so called in Aristophanes’ play of Plutus,” writes Rhodiginus, “because it was a sort of fetter of wood or, as in the present day, of iron, commonly styled a pillory,” to which the prisoner was fastened by way of ignominy and there detained, smeared with honey and exposed to the bites of the flies. “Hence it came about,” adds the same author, “that this title of ‘Cyphon’ was given to scamps, and the punishment was called ‘Cyphonismus.’ Then again a little below: “I note among certain people a regulation to the following effect—that any man who shall have insolently thrown contempt on the decrees of the law, shall be kept in fetters at the public place of execution for twenty days, naked and smeared over with honey and milk, to be food for bees and flies; and when these have done their work, he shall be dressed in women’s clothes and cast headlong down a cliff.”

Of somewhat the same kind was a mode of punishment the Persians employed for criminals condemned to death, which they themselves called Scaphismus. Plutarch (Artaxerxes) speaks of it in these terms: “Accordingly he ordered Mithridates to be put to death by the punishment of the boats (scaphae). The nature of this form of death and punishment is as follows: Two boats being built of the same size and shape, in the one they lay the man destined for the torture, and putting the other atop of him, join the two together in such a way that his hands and feet are left outside, while the whole of the rest of his body (except the head) is imprisoned. They supply the man with food, and by prodding his eyes with sharp points force him to eat even against his will. But on his eating, they pour by way of drink into his mouth a mixture of milk and honey, and smear his face with the same. Also turning about the boat they so arrange it that his eyes are always facing the sun, and his head and face are covered every day with a host of flies that settle upon them. Moreover as he does inside the closed boats those things which men are bound of necessity to do after eating and drinking, the resulting corruption and putrefaction give birth to swarms of worms of divers sorts, which penetrating inside his clothes, eat away his flesh. For when, after the man is dead, the upper boat is removed, his body is seen to be all gnawed away, and all about his inwards is found a multitude of these and the like insects, that grows denser every day. Subjected to this form of torture, Mithridates actually endured the agonizing existence to the seventeenth day, before he finally gave up the ghost.” Thus Plutarch, whose account differs but little from that given by Zonaras (Annals) in the following terms: “The Persians outvie all other Barbarians in the horrid cruelty of their punishments, employing tortures that are peculiarly terrible and long-drawn, namely the ‘boats’ and sewing men up in raw hides. But what is meant by the ‘boats,’ I must now explain for the benefit of less well informed readers. Two boats are joined together one on top of the other, with holes cut in them in such a way that the victim’s head, hands, and feet only are left outside. Within these boats the man to be punished is placed lying on his back, and the boats then nailed together with bolts. Next they pour a mixture of milk and honey into the wretched man’s mouth, till he is filled to the point of nausea, smearing his face, feet, and arms with the same mixture, and so leave him exposed to the sun. This is repeated every day, the effect being that flies, wasps, and bees, attracted by the sweetness, settle on his face and all such parts of him as project outside the boats, and miserably torment and sting the wretched man. Moreover his belly, distended as it is with milk and honey, throws off liquid excrements, and these putrefying breed swarms of worms, intestinal and of all sorts. Thus the victim lying in the boats, his flesh rotting away in his own filth and devoured by worms, dies a lingering and horrible death. By this punishment Parysatis, mother of Artaxerxes and Cyrus, is said to have executed the man who boasted of having slain Cyrus when contending with his brother for the Kingship; he endured the torment fourteen days before he died. Such then is the nature of ‘Scaphismus,’ or the boat-torture.”

Something different the fate of those which were sewn up in an ox-hide. In this case the head alone was left outside, all the rest of the body being stripped naked and sewn up inside the hide. So we read in the Acts of St. Chrysanthus: “Carrying him away from that place, they proceeded to flay a calf, and to wrap him up naked in the fresh hide, placing him so as to face the sun; nevertheless, albeit exposed all day long to the excessive heat of a blazing sun, he could feel no especial warmth. But still continuing of the same freshness as at first, the hide could in no wise hurt God’s servant. So afterward they laid on him fetters and the like.” From this it is plainly evident how that this punishment of the raw hide was different and distinct from that just described under the name “Scaphismus.”

Similar forms of torture may be found in plenty described in Lucian’s Dialogue entitled Lucius, or the Ass, wherein the following story is related: “We must discover,” he then said, “some sort of death whereby this maiden may endure long-drawn and bitter torment.... So let us kill this ass, and afterwards cut open its belly and after removing the inwards, shut up the girl inside in such a way that only her head be left outside (this to prevent her being entirely suffocated), while the rest of her body be hid within the carcase. Then, when this hath been sewn up, let us expose them both to the vultures—a strange meal prepared in a new and strange fashion. Now just consider the nature of this torture, I beg you. To begin with, a living woman will be shut up inside a dead ass; then by reason of the heat of the sun will she be roasted within its belly; further, she will be tormented with mortal hunger, yet entirely unable to destroy herself. Yet other features of her agony, both from the stench of the dead body as it rots, and the swarm of writhing worms, I say nothing of. Lastly, the vultures that feed on the carcase will rend in pieces the living woman at the same time. All shouted assent to this monstrous proposal, and unanimously approved its being put in execution.”

To the same effect Apuleius in his Golden Ass, who writes thus: “Let us decide to cut this ass’s throat to-morrow, and when it hath been cleared of all the entrails, to sew the virgin naked into the middle of its belly, so that only the girl’s face project, while all the rest of her be imprisoned within the animal, and this done, to expose the ass with its contents on some craggy height to the exhalations of the blazing sun.”