Published: Tortuous Cruelty as Human History on The Versopolis Review


Another in my series of poetic articles for the Versopolis Review. This one on Cruelty, and revealing my surprisingly deep knowledge of torture. This book here began my research into the human creativity of creating unimaginable pain.

“Did you know, for example, the Roman’s had five variations of the crucifix? This is nothing. They did so much more with suffering.

Did you know, for example, Plutarch describes The Boat thus, “The execution is performed like this: two boats are used that exactly fit. The prisoner is put on his back in one of them. He is offered food and he is drenched with a mixture of milk and honey. It is poured across his face. They keep his face turned to the sun and it becomes covered by the swarms of flies that settle. Then the other boat is laid on top. He is left for the rats and insects and vermin to prey upon him and slowly eat him away, from the bowels out. It took Mithridates 17 days to die. When the upper boat was lifted his body was a mass of maggots.” But this is something like dubious historical record. 

Did you know, for example, a human skull from nearly 3000 years ago has been found to have been scalped, ritually? A knife drawn across the forehead and the skin of the head ripped off with a grip of the hair. But this is something like dating technology.

Did you know, for example, that Timur would behead those who resisted his sieges and make towers of their skulls? An eye-witness counted more than 28 towers constructed of about 1,500 heads each after one siege. But this is nothing, there is one story, probably apocryphal, whereby he ordered his chief architect to build a minaret of living human bodies, to be cemented together, with the bottom body still alive when the top was laid in place. 

Did you know, for example, in Ernst G. Jung’s A small cultural history of the skin notes that the typical causes of death due to flaying was shock, critical loss of blood or other body fluids, hypothermia, or infections, and that the actual death after being skinned alive was estimated to occur from a few hours up to a few days after the flaying itself. Already from the times of Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BC) the practice of flaying was displayed and commemorated in both carvings and official royal edicts.