5/6/08 - torture

In today's excerpt - after a victory of the Algonquin Indians over the Iroquois in a skirmish near the St. Lawrence River in 1609, the Algonquin warriors tortured an Iroquois warrior. As the author, esteemed historian and novelist Thomas Costain reports, this is in keeping with torture committed regularly and routinely on every continent and by every civilization for millenia prior to that day—a fact that illustrates how pervasive man's inhumanity to man has been through time, and how this inhumanity has also routinely been a source of public entertainment. Please do not read if you are uncomfortable with this subject area:

"[The Algonquin] lashed [the Iroqouis warrior] to a stake set up in a glade of the forest and told him to sing his death song. The unfortunate youth gave out a dismal and quavering chant. The dancing, jeering savages did not allow him to finish but dashed forward and set the wood around the stake to blazing. While the flames licked at the cringing copper flesh they indulged in other cruelties, tearing out his fingernails, pressing red-hot stones to his writhing limbs, ripping deep strips of flesh from his hide after breaking his bones and exposing the tendons. ...

"Cruelty was not a trait in which the aborigines of America had a monopoly. Ravaillac, the assassin of Henry IV [of France], was subjected to tortures before he was taken out to the Place de la Greve to die. ... They strapped his leg in an instrument called the brodequin, an iron boot which fitted closely from knee to ankle. They proceeded to drive stout wooden pegs between the flesh and the iron. Each blow tore the leg of the condemned man and caused him excruciating pain. By the time three pegs had been inserted the leg of the assassin was a broken, bleeding mass. ...

"In a weakened condition, he was carried out to the execution square, where every inch of space was occupied by avid watchers and the housetops were black with people who had paid large sums for the privilege of standing there. Red-hot pincers were applied to the most tender parts of his body, and then boiling oil was poured over the wounds. ... [Then], he was stretched on the ground, and his arms and legs were chained to four horses. The straining animals were then driven in the four directions of the compass. His bones snapped, and his limbs stretched grotesquely, but the horses lacked the strength, seemingly, to dismember the body. After more than half an hour of this, the crowds swarmed in and, with demoniac din, put an end to his life."


Thomas B. Costain


The White and the Gold: The French Regime in Canada


Random House, Doubleday


Copyright, 1954, by Thomas Costain


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