Horrors of the Empire
Punishment for parricide
That the condemned parricide, immediately following his conviction, shall be taken outside the city walls to the Field of Mars, close by the Tiber. Homs shall be blown and cymbals sounded, calling the populace to witness.
When the people are assembled, the parricide shall be stripped naked, as on the day of his birth. Two pedestals, knee-high, shall be placed several feet apart. The parricide shall mount them, one foot on each pedestal, squatting down with his hands chained behind his back. In this fashion, every part of his naked body is made accessible to his tormentors, who are charged by the law to lash him with knotted whips until the blood pours like water from his flesh. If he falls from his perch, he is made to mount it again. The whips are to fall on every part of him, even to the bottoms of his feet and the nether regions between his legs. The blood that drips from his body is the same as the blood that ran through his father’s veins and gave him life. Watching it spill from his wounds, he may contemplate the waste.
A sack shall be prepared, large enough to hold a man, made of hides so tightly sewn as to be sealed against water and air. When the whipmasters have completed their work-that is, when every part of the parricide is so covered with blood that one can no longer tell where the blood ends and raw flesh begins-the condemned man shall be made to crawl into the sack. The sack shall be placed some distance from the pedestals, so that the assembled people may watch his progress and be given the opportunity to pelt him with dung and offal and to publicly curse him.
When he reaches the sack, he shall be induced to crawl inside. If he resists, he shall be dragged back to the pedestals and the punishment begun again.
Within the sack, the parricide is returned to the womb, unbom, unbirthed. To be bom, the philosophers tell us, is an agony. To be unborn is greater agony. Into the sack, crammed against the parricide’s tom, bleeding flesh, the tormentors shall push four living animals. First, a dog, the most slavish and contemptuous of beasts, and a rooster, with its beak and claws especially sharpened. These symbols are very ancient: the dog and the cock, the watcher and the waker, guardians of the hearth; having failed to protect father from son, they take their place with the murderer. Along with them goes a snake, the male principle which may kill even as it gives life; and a monkey, the gods’ cruelest parody of mankind.
All five shall be sewn up together in the sack and carried to the river’s edge. The sack must not be rolled or beaten with sticks-the animals must stay alive within the sack so that they may torment the parricide for as long as possible. While priests pronounce the final curses, the sack shall be thrown into the Tiber. Watchers shall be posted all the way to Ostia; if the sack runs aground it must be pushed back into the stream at once, until it reaches the sea and disappears from sight.
The parricide destroys the very source of his own life. He ends that life deprived of contact with the very elements which give life to the world-earth, air, water, even sunlight are denied him in the last hours or days of his agony, until at last the sack should rupture at the seams and be devoured by the sea, its spoils passed from Jupiter to Neptune, and thence to Pluto, beyond the caring or the memory or even the disgust of mankind.