Tuesday, March 29, 2005


The Bed of Procrustes, or the Erineus Handsaw Massacre

Friedrich Hölderlin, Hyperion, volume 2, book 2 (tr. Willard R. Trask):
The time in which I live is like the raging Procrustes who, capturing men, put them in a child's cradle and, to make them fit into that little bed, hacked off their limbs!
Procrustes' name means Stretcher and comes from Greek prokrouo (stretch out). Like many criminals, he had aliases, being also known as Damastes (Subduer) or Polypemon (Harming Much). Theseus finally killed him, as Apollodorus, Epitome 1.4 (tr. James G. Frazer) relates:
Sixth, he slew Damastes, whom some call Polypemon. He had his dwelling beside the road, and made up two beds, one small and the other big; and offering hospitality to the passers-by, he laid the short men on the big bed and hammered them, to make them fit the bed; but the tall men he laid on the little bed and sawed off the portions of the body that projected beyond it.
Plutarch, Life of Theseus 11.1 (tr. Bernadotte Perrin), tells how Theseus killed Procrustes:
At Erineus, he killed Damastes, surnamed Procrustes, by compelling him to make his own body fit his bed, as he had been wont to do with those of strangers.
Pausanias 1.38.5 (tr. W.H.S. Jones) gives details about the location of Erineus:
At Eleusis flows a Cephisus which is more violent than the Cephisus I mentioned above, and by the side of it is the place they call Erineus, saying that Pluto descended there to the lower world after carrying off the Maid. Near this Cephisus Theseus killed a brigand named Polypemon and surnamed Procrustes.

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