Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Cry of the Brazen Bull

From approximately 570 b.c.–554 b.c. the tyrannous ruler Phalaris held control of Acragas (now Agrigentum), Sicily. Although Phalaris was known for his excessive cruelty it was the inventor, Perillus of Athens, who suggested the advent of the brazen bull (pictured left); the execution/torture device who's implementation made Phalaris most infamous.

The bull was essentially a hollow brass casting (as Perillus was a brass-founder) with a door in its side, into which criminals were placed. Once the criminal was within the belly of the bull the door was shut, locked, and a fire was started just under the bull's abdomen. The fire would grow and gain heat until the victim within was basically cooked to death. Yet Perillus did not leave his invention at that; a series of tubes from inside the bull transformed the convict's dying screams into a replication of the sounds one might hear from an angered bull. Consequently, when it came time to test the bull's ability to produce sound, Phalaris ordered that Perillus be thrown into the death machine of his own creation. Rumor has it that Phalaris also died within the belly of the bull when he was overthrown by Telemachus. Yet the bull claimed saints and sinners alike. One of the most famous people to lose their life within the brazen bull was the Christian martyr St. Eustathius.

According to legend, after his conversion to Christianity, St. Eustathius (pictured below) won a battle for the Roman Empire; which was the makings of a wealthy and glorious return to Rome. However, upon his return the Emperor Hadrian invited Eustathius to join him in the Temple of Apollo, where they would give thanks to the gods for St. Eustathius' military victory. Eustathius declined Hadrian's offer as Christianity forbids the worshiping of false idols. Because of his refusal Eustathius and his family were sentenced to be burned within the brazen bull (anywhere from 118-126 a.d.). Yet when the brass door was opened following their execution, the bodies of St. Eustathius and his wife and two sons remained unscathed.

Like the story St. Eustathius the actual implication of the brazen bull has become a legend unto itself. There is no actual documentation of the bull's construction or existence. In fact, some of the earliest accounts of the brazen bull can be found in a poem by the ancient Greek poet Pindar (522 b.c.-443b.c.) in his poem Pythian 1: For Hieron of Aetna, winner of the of the chariot race:

"…My friend, do not be taken in by unworthy use of wealth,
for the award of posthumous fame is the only testimonies
that story tellers and poets can give to the lives of the dead.
Croesus' generous virtues do not fade,
but he who burn men in his brazen bull, Phalaris,
is dogged by and evil report throughout the world,
and no lyres in men's halls welcome him to soft embrace…"

However, in 146 b.c. a brazen bull was found among the spoils at Carthage (the city with which Phalaris strengthened trade). With the discovery of this bull, the general belief became that Phalaris' torture device had been shipped to Carthage around 406 b.c. when Himilco took rule of Acragas. Yet other sources still claimed that the original brazen bull remained in Sicily. The reports from Timaeus, an ancient Greek historian from Sicily, claimed that the bull found at Carthage was not from Acragas. He stated that the original bull was cast into the sea by the people of Acragas following the death of Phalaris.

Sources for the article/for more information:
"Classica Et Rabbinica I: the Bull of Phalaris and the Tophet." Bohak, Gideon. Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman period. yr:2000 vol:31 iss:1 pg:203-216

"Phalaris' Bull in Timaeus ." Walbank, F.W. The Classical Review. Vol. 59, No. 2 (Dec., 1945), pp. 39-42

"St. Eustathius." Walter, Christopher. The warrior saints in Byzantine art and tradition. pp. 163-164

"Pythian 1: For Hieron of Aetna, winner of the of the chariot race." Pindar, Anthony Verity, and Stephen Instone. The Complete Odes. pp. 45


ahmed alaraby said...

i like your articale and hope to know more about brazen bull

Judge Dredd said...

I'd also like to thank you for this article. I was just wondering if this artifact still existed in any known sense.