Cruel, But Not Unusual

Many of my students — especially a couple of 7th-grade boys — show a great deal of interest in ancient forms of capital punishment. Today I put together a model to illustrate the Athenian practice of apotumpanismós, or ‘planking’, which is essentially crucifixion without the nails (paradoxically, that makes it crueler):

The text on the lower left reads:

CRUEL, BUT NOT UNUSUAL
Ancient Athenian Capital Punishment

Stephen (Stéphanos) is a thief, caught in the act. His punishment is apotympanismós (‘planking’). He has been fastened to a wooden plank with five metal hoops and left out in the sun to die of hunger, thirst, heat, cold, and the nibbling of wild animals and birds. There are guards to keep his friends from releasing him or giving him food or water, but his enemies are free to come and abuse him whenever they like. If he were a major criminal like a traitor, he would have been thrown in the Bárathron, a deep pit near Athens, his body left there to rot and be eaten by vultures. Stephen will get a decent burial after he dies, though that may take a week or more.

That’ll teach Stephen to steal Barbie’s purse. It’s too bad about the hair-style — and the silly happy look on his face.

Next project: the Bárathron. That will take a bit more money, but will be easy enough. Take one large-sized plastic garbage can, add a small shelf on one side at the top, line the interior and the shelf with papier-maché to represent bare rock, add a fully-clothed Ken and Barbie throwing a loin-cloth’d Stephen over the edge, and put the pieces of another Stephen down in the bottom, with the broken-up remains of a couple of plastic skeletons, if I can find them in the right size. Bushes and vultures are optional, though they would add a bit of atmosphere. I’ll probably enlist my students to work on that, since their experience with papier-maché is undoubtedly fresher than my own (by 40 years or so, I estimate).

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3 Responses to Cruel, But Not Unusual

  1. Alfred M. Kriman says:

    Derek Cross asked

    > Do they still do papier-mache in school? It seems very low tech to me.

    Yes, but I think that they call it “developing small motor skills.”

  2. Derek Cross says:

    Do they still do papier-mache in school? It seems very low tech to me.

  3. chiara says:

    I was the TA for a class on Athenian Law at UWO in the fall and I think our class (of students ages 19-65)would have loved this piece! Actually, my Ancient Drama teacher forwarded me this link, because apotumpanismos came up while we were translating Aristophanes. I wish we could have shown this picture then too. It is AMAZING!

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