Saturday 30 September 2023

Scaphism or Death by Boats

Scaphism- Greek for boat

The ancients were very adept at concocting particularly unwholesome means of dispatch for their malcontents and criminals. Crucifixion, a form of torture associated with the Romans, was actually devised elsewhere. Centuries before the Roman Empire, the Persians and Carthaginians were perfecting this method of extreme torture. Indeed, crucifixion was a very efficient way of extracting pain for an extended period of time. First off, the nails were not placed through the hand but through the wrists next to the radial nerve. During the act, the crucified individual had to continually raise his body, placing pressure on the wrists and nerves, causing searing pain. Levitation/elevation was a necessary recourse in order to relieve the constraining pressure upon the chest due to the slumped posture hinting at asphyxiation. However, once the body was raised and the victim caught a breath, the pain due to the nail impingement upon the radial nerve would cause collapse. Thereafter, the dreadful cycle would continue anew. Merciful death would intervene once the prisoner became exhausted, as suffocation would ensue. For a fit young man, the agony could last several days. The Carthaginians were well-versed and adept at this form of torture and would often crucify their own generals if they lost a battle.

Terrible as crucifixion was, there existed a form of punishment allegedly practiced by the ancient Persians that made crucifixion seem like a bad day in Tipton.

I suspect you had to be a very naughty boy indeed to suffer the horror that is scaphism. First, you would be secured to a small boat. The prisoner was then force-fed milk and honey, and then honey would be lathered liberally upon the wretches' naked body. 

A second boat would be secured over the first with openings allowing for the exposure of the head, feet, and arms. The boat would then be pushed out into a lake to bake under the hot Iranian sun. The diet of milk and honey would quickly induce diarrhoea, and the prisoner would be left to wallow in their own filth. The local flies and other insects would be attracted to the floating morass and feast upon the sweet/sweat fetid goodness, and thereafter lay eggs akimbo, possibly with aplomb. Soon maggots would issue forth to feast upon the prisoner's marinated flesh. It is impossible to imagine a worse horror than being slowly eaten alive by a host of god's goodly creatures. 

What follows is an account of scaphism as performed on a gentleman named Mithridates for the slaying of the king's (Artaxerxes II) brother Cyrus the Younger (c400 BC).

'[The king] decreed that Mithridates should be put to death in boats; which execution is after the following manner: Taking two boats framed exactly to fit and answer each other, they lie down in one of them the malefactor that suffers, upon his back; then, covering it with the other, and so setting them together that the head, hands, and feet of him are left outside, and the rest of his body lies shut up within, they offer him food, and if he refuse to eat it, they force him to do it by pricking his eyes; then, after he has eaten, they drench him with a mixture of milk and honey, pouring it not only into his mouth, but all over his face. They then keep his face continually turned towards the sun; and it becomes completely covered up and hidden by the multitude of flies that settle on it. And as within the boats he does what those that eat and drink must needs do, creeping things and vermin spring out of the corruption and rottenness of the excrement, and these entering into the bowels of him, his body is consumed. When the man is manifestly dead, the uppermost boat being taken off, they find his flesh devoured, and swarms of such noisome creatures preying upon and, as it were, growing to his inwards. In this way Mithridates, after suffering for seventeen days, at last expired.'

— PlutarchLife of Artaxerxes[

Just a point of interest before continuing with the theme: Plutarch was clearly a conventionally educated man of his time and no doubt Aristotelian in his thinking. This should be of no surprise. Aristotle had a profound and baleful influence on intellectual thought for nearly 2,000 years. Few would criticise this great man until the coming of the 'Scientific Enlightenment'. Interestingly, almost all that he taught was in error, except for his work on the syllogism. Thus, Aristotle informed those who could read, at least, that flies did not beget flies. Flies spontaneously became manifest from corruption. Surely Aristotle was not an experimental scientist. Tis such a shame that a man of such a great and manifest intellect should have neglected the enormous power of simple induction.

Did the barbarous Persians actually perform this horrendous form of execution, or was it the conjuring of an overactive imagination of the Greek biographer? Sadly, we will never know for sure, as Plutarch's account is the only independent source we have for the practice. Plutarch was writing 450 years after the reign of Artaxerxes, and it is likely that he was relying on a now lost source called 'Persika' written by another Greek, aptly named, Ktesias, in the 5th century BC. Ktesias was not a credible historian. In fact, from his writings, it can be discerned that Ktesias was as mad as a 'bucket of frogs in vinegar'. He had the misfortune of being endowed with the art of 'over elaboration'. Thus, apparently, from the same pen, we hear of lands where folk have dog's heads. Others have the sad affliction of being bereft of bonce and eyes that are strategically positioned upon the torso.......

Serious historians are the happiest when they have access to multiple independent sources describing a supposed historical event. That said, just because someone has the gift of writing absolute bollocks doesn't mean that they always write absolute bollocks. Sometimes, perhaps, true verity drips from their pen like a drippy thing. Nuff said.

A Denizen of Tipton No Less

Thursday 28 September 2023

Quid Est Veritas?

Enough of the esoteric bollocks of philosophical thought, science, mathematics, and total unadulterated/unmitigated ferret's plop. Let us return to history and ponder one of history's most enigmatic characters.

"Pontius Pilate is not the governor of Judea he is a very naughty boy"

Beware, what follows is a bit 'rambly' (not a real word)

Jesus' Trial

Poor Pilate was just a humble administrator of Rome enduring his job in a far-flung portion of the Empire. He had the unenviable task of ruling the intractable and fractious Jewish population. One day, during his tenure, the High Priest and his minions brought forth a poor, itinerant/illiterate Rabbi from Galilee. They said he had caused a minor disturbance in the temple courtyard and for his naughtiness, he was deserved of death. Pontius was a fair man and after interrogating the prisoner he could find no fault that would warrant a sentence of death. And so, he sent the man to be questioned by the nominal/puppet Jewish ruler of Galilee, Agrippa. Again, no infraction of the law could be found that decreed the death penalty. Thus, he was returned to Pilate unmolested. And Pilate cried out: "I find no fault in this man". But the priests did mutter darkly of insurrection if he was released and hinted that great Tiberius Caesar himself would be displeased. Pilate got the message and although deep down he was a good man he had the prisoner before him flogged and beaten. For Pilate was a weak, vacillating man and wanted to appease the roiling mob (ecce homo). The piteous sight of a man so handled by his soldiery shocked Pilate but the Priests were implacable in their hate and the mob became frenzied and screamed: ''Nail him to a piece of wood". Poor Pilate could do no more and did as the Jews demanded.     

Basically, the above narrative is one we glean from the New Testament. Is that how the scene went down? First off, the gospels are not historical narratives in any modern sense. The motives of the various gospel writers were essentially theological. Primarily this diverse set of books is a testament to faith and any 'factual history' embodied/embedded is happenchance. We know this because the gospel narratives are disparate and contradictory and also, how could the apostles have known the proceedings emanating from Pilate's chambers or Agrippa's palace? It is not as if they were allowed to enter these hallowed enclaves and take dictation. Furthermore, the gospel accounts are not firsthand. The earliest gospel, Mark, was composed about 40 years after Jesus' death. John's Gospel, the last to be written, was put to word as late as 90-100 AD. Initially, the gospels were part of oral tradition passed on to believers throughout the vast Roman Empire. The apostles were illiterate peasants and could not have composed the narrative in the elegant Greek we find in the gospels. The gospel writers were not of the poorest strata of the Empire. They were well-educated and likely native Greek speakers and ignorant of the Aramaic language spoken by Jesus and his band of brothers.

Let us return to Pilate and his jesting remark: "What is truth?" Luckily, we have other contemporaries who wrote about this period and the man. We have a brief mention in the works of Tacitus and a more extensive narrative by two Jewish writers, Philo of Alexandria and most notably, Josephus. Josephus was a very interesting character indeed. I'll come back to him in a thrice, but first a little about Pontius Pilate, after all, he is the main/man character of the plot.

Pilate was of Equestrian rank (knight) and at the time of his appointment, by Tiberius, as Prefect of Judea in 26 AD, he was already a seasoned administrator and military man. His position was a junior one and he was subservient to the governor of Syria.  He ruled in Judea for 10 years, however, due to mounting complaints from the populace, he was recalled to Rome by Tiberius, for investigation. During his 10-year tenure, he proved to be insensitive to Jewish religious sensibilities resulting in unrest, rioting, and on at least one occasion a substantial loss of life. However, the Jewish population, and specifically the Jewish leaders (High Priest and Sanhedrin), had an ace up their sleeve. They were not totally helpless when confronted by a harsh ruler. They had the right to appeal to Tiberius himself.  Ultimately, the threat of redress was a means to prevent extreme depredation by a particularly rapacious governor. 

Josephus relates several stories concerning Pilates' insensitive and vicious nature. It seems that Pilate was not particularly receptive to Jewish religious norms. In fact, he deliberately and knowingly provoked the Jews, directly challenging their strict and exquisite obeyance to the rigid laws of the one true god, Yahweh.  

Tiberius died during Pilate's journey home and before he reached Rome the lovable rogue, Caligula had ascended the 'throne'. This is where Pilate disappears from the annals of history, although this did not stop Christians of later centuries from concocting fictitious accounts of his life after returning to Rome. I think it is probable that Caligula treated Pilate with leniency. During the early stages of his reign, the new Imperator was magnanimous and forgiving, bestowing benevolence with abundance and rampant abandon; this would change during the latter half of his divine rule- not the rampant abandon bit, though.      

Josephus was an aristocratic Jew who took part (a general, no less) in the ill-advised and doomed Jewish rebellion against Roman rule (66-70AD). Initially, the revolt achieved great success, and Romans throughout Judea were slaughtered. At that time, very few Roman troops were garrisoned in Judea, probably no more than 3,000, and in the event of serious trouble, the Romans relied on the two legions stationed in nearby Syria. I don't really want to go into detail concerning the 'Jewish War' although I will say this: the Roman response was swift and brutal. The war ended after the successful siege of Jerusalem, although the stronghold of Masada continued to hold out, for a little while afterward. During the war, Josephus was captured and was destined for a painful end. However, luckily fate intervened and he managed to ingratiate himself with the Roman general, Vespasian, soon to be Emperor. 

We also have the account of Pilate by the Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria. His description of Pilate is illuminating: "A man of inflexible, stubborn, and cruel disposition". This brief summation of Pilate's character seems very much at odds with the man described in the bible So, what are we to make of these discordant accounts? The gospel accounts containing the Pilate 'scenes' were composed after the Jewish revolt, perhaps with the exception of Mark. The gospel writers had an agenda. They were keen not to include material that in any way could be construed as 'Anti-Roman'. For obvious reasons, Jewish-Roman relationships following the war were a tad strained. Therefore, Christians were keen to distance themselves from Jews in general and to foster an air of acceptance of just Roman rule. From what we can discern from Pilate's character it is likely that he gave scant regard to saving Jesus' life and signed the death warrant without a second thought. In other words, the gospel accounts are fictitious screes of propaganda wantonly placing the blame for Jesus' death strictly on the Jews. A narrative that would have severe consequences for the diaspora culminating in the horror perpetuated by the Nazi regime in the 20th century.    

Pilates' position was unenviable and precarious. His remit from Tiberius was to maintain order and to ensure the efficient collection of tax revenue. Unlike most Roman provinces, Judea remained volatile after subjugation. A fine and delicate hand was required: don't upset the locals whilst maintaining the majesty and prestige of Rome and the Emperor- and don't forget the taxes. In addition, it was in Pilates' vested interest to maintain a viable working partnership with the high priest and the Sanhedrin. Ultimately Jews and Romans were fundamentally and mutually incomprehensible. Their cultures were so inherently divergent and incompatible that large-scale conflict was inevitable. Thus, Pilates' prefecture was doomed before he set foot in Judea. 


Thursday 21 September 2023

Death but not as we know it?

Into the Light? 

Just a little commentary concerning 'Near Death Experiences (NDEs).' This is a fascinating and controversial topic for consideration. For those not familiar with the phenomenon, here is an outline: This phenomenon relates to the situation where a patient experiences cardiac death but is consequently resuscitated. The patient upon regaining their senses is able to render a vivid recollection of experiences occurring during the unconscious interval.  At this stage, it is necessary to qualify or redefine/redeem what has been stated in the previous sentences. Thus, the patient is obviously not dead. These cases describe an event where the patient's heart has stopped beating however, generally through medical intervention, the heart is reactivated, and the patient is saved from certain and ultimate brain death. Clinical death is said to occur when the brain dies, this occurs about eight minutes post cardiac arrest and is a consequence of oxygen deprivation. Once this occurs there has been no documented revival, regardless of what you may read in the Bible. NDEs, when they occur, generally have a vivid, profound quality about them and there appears a remarkable degree of consistency in certain aspects of the experience that transcends culture and religious affiliation. Thus, a common feature involves a bright white light, often associated with a tunnel. In addition, those afflicted oft describe the appearance of a significant religious character relevant to their religious background. Thus, a Christian may encounter Jesus, while a Hindu may have a predilection for Shiva. They may also experience the manifestation of deceased loved ones and/or a reiteration of their life in vivid but truncated form. Sometimes, patients describe an out-of-body experience. 

All this is compelling stuff and for some patient's life-changing. Committed atheists have turned to Christianity after an encounter with the living Christ and so on. So, what is actually going on? Are dying patients actually peeking behind the veil separating life and death? Are they actually obtaining a glimpse of the afterlife, or is something else going on?

First off, I must state the obvious. In all these instances we are dealing with a brain deprived of oxygen. And before we start looking for supernatural explanations for this phenomenon, it is well worth seeking a naturalistic explanation, devoid of hocus pocus and wand waving. As in all cases where the solution is not obvious, let us apply the rule of parsimony (Occam's razor), and let us not posit beyond what is necessary. Tis often the case that the simplest solution is the most plausible without a need for a gaudy display and descent into silliness. An abundance, nay a plethora of explanations, is not the rational man's friend. So, having stated the problem, let us delve into this most perplexing conundrum without descending into irrational bollocks.

A Bit of Science (with emphasis on the bit)

It is important to note that personal testament is essentially poor evidence and is certainly non-scientific. Anecdotal reports are not verifiable data and therefore should be dealt with scant regard. A study into the phenomenon of NDEs consisting of 197 cardiac arrest patients found that only 9% of patients had an experience that could be classified as an NDE. Interestingly, Dr. Olaf Blanke of the University Hospital of Geneva (remember him?) was able to reproduce the classical NDE experience in experimental subjects by inserting probes into their cortex. In addition, it has been noted that fighter pilots whilst undergoing training in G force-inducing centrifuges, may on occasion be subject to an NDE- this is due to hypoxia impinging upon the brain under these extreme conditions.   

So, in conclusion, currently, we have no evidence that withstands scientific scrutiny of NDEs somehow providing a preview of the 'afterlife'. Proponents who are convinced that NDEs are a foreboding, furtive glance unto the infinite will continue believing so. However, we have no data, to date, that is supportive of their conclusion. Some folk will believe regardless, because they want to even in the absence of supportive data. From my perspective, I find no evidence to support any form of life's continuance once we are pronounced brain dead. Therefore, take pleasure in our brief sojourn on this bittersweet journey that is 'life'. Enjoy, quaff deep, read well, and make love. Converse with the wise and eschew the fool. All else is but commentary, clutter, and noise. Arse.


Thursday 7 September 2023

O Shit There's Two Of Them!

Sadly, They Both Escaped from Toyland

Time for a bit of titillation for the senses and time off from my usual bollocks. First off, I must apologise to my non-UK readers, as this post will make no sense at all. Anyway, I was browsing the omniscient/omnipresent app, YouTube when I espied a video that captivated my interest. I'm sure my readers are well aware of this video platform. Like most stuff on the netty, the content of YouTube is not worth a view. That said there are nuggets of gold if you are prepared to dig. The video to which I'm referring is not a golden feast/fest for the optic organs. Nevertheless, it did capture my jaded attention.

The subject of the video concerned the life of two British 'comedians', Mike and Bernie Winters. The brothers were born in 1926 and 1930 respectively to working-class Jewish parents, in London. From an early age, they became interested in the 'Performing Arse' (surely sum mistake?). Sadly, they decided to form a comedy duo and during the 1950s they managed to obtain exposure on the new-fangled tele thingy. Alas, they became a feature on the tele throughout the 1960s and well up into the 70s. At that stage, the brothers had a falling out, and the less 'funny' one of the pair fucked off to the US leaving behind the goofy one. Said goofy one then managed to 'star' in a tele show costarring with a large dog. This televisual debacle lasted but two years.

The video droned on for eight minutes and was narrated by a gentleman with a mid-Western American accent. The video praised the duo for their long and (un?) funny career and interspersed within the video there were relevant photos and video clips. The narrator gushed about how the pair was iconic and beloved by the British audience. This is not how I remember the double act - they were even less funny than others of their ilk. Remember, 'Little and Large' and 'Cannon and Ball'?    

Unfortunately, I grew up in an age when these two unfunny prats minced upon the screen and after viewing this misleading video, I felt an urgent need to comment. Here goes: 'Absolutely awful. Useless pair of old hacks. Hackneyed unfunny routines. How they managed to become mainstream is an enigma wrapped in a puzzle. A drain on legitimate humor everywhere'.  

I decided to check other comments placed on this very video. Here are a few snippets:

'There was a joke doing the rounds, years ago.... Which were the two worst winters of the past 50 years?' Ans....Mike and Bernie....they were about as funny as toothache.'

'You cannot have the word comedy associated with these two. Out of 10 for comedy, they would be the only duo to get a minus score. They were awful.' 

'I remember Mike & Bernie Winters. The lobotomy didn't help erase the memories.'

'I never understood how they got on TV there was nothing funny going on - ever.'

'As funny as cholera!' 

And so, it goes on in a similar vein. As said it was inexplicable to why they were such a success. And then it came to me in a flash. They were good mates of Lew Grade. Nuff said..........

After this touch of whimsy, I promise to put forth material with a little more substance and dare I say it, gravitas. Watch this space (cadet?). Arse.