Discover the “Brazen Bull,” the Ancient Greek Torture Machine That Doubled as a Musical Instrument

His­to­ry is replete with bru­tal­ly imag­i­na­tive tor­ture and exe­cu­tion tech­niques. The list of cru­el­ties includes cru­ci­fix­ion, where vic­tims were left to die on the cross; the rack, where tor­tur­ers would place the vic­tim on a wood­en frame to be slow­ly pulled apart; and hang­ing, draw­ing, and quartering—the offi­cial Eng­lish pun­ish­ment for high trea­son from 1351 to 1870—where men would be drawn by horse to their place of exe­cu­tion, hung until near-death, and then emas­cu­lat­ed and dis­em­bow­eled before being decap­i­tat­ed and cut into quar­ters. The most intri­cate­ly sadis­tic form of tor­ture, how­ev­er, orig­i­nat­ed with the Greek tyrant Phalaris.

Phalaris, the despot of Acra­gas (now Agri­gen­to, in Sici­ly), was infa­mous for his cal­lous­ness and reput­ed­ly “devoured” suck­ling infants. The video above describes how Phalaris, keep­ing to his char­ac­ter, asked the crafts­man Per­i­laus to con­struct a bronze bull for the exe­cu­tion of crim­i­nals. The bull housed a hol­low cham­ber where vic­tims were deposit­ed through a trap­door. A fire was kin­dled beneath the bull, turn­ing the stat­ue into an oven.

As Phalaris sup­pos­ed­ly admit­ted him­self, the most sav­age aspect of this brazen mon­stros­i­ty was its musi­cal nature:

A coun­try­man of my own, one Per­i­laus, an admirable artist, but a man of evil dis­po­si­tion, had so far mis­tak­en my char­ac­ter as to think that he could win my regard by the inven­tion of a new form of tor­ture; the love of tor­ture, he thought, was my rul­ing pas­sion… He opened the back of the ani­mal, and con­tin­ued: “When you are mind­ed to pun­ish any one, shut him up in this recep­ta­cle, apply these pipes to the nos­trils of the bull, and order a fire to be kin­dled beneath. The occu­pant will shriek and roar in unremit­ting agony; and his cries will come to you through the pipes as the ten­der­est, most pathet­ic, most melo­di­ous of bel­low­ings. Your vic­tim will be pun­ished, and you will enjoy the music.”

It is doubt­ful that the tyrant so known for his bar­barism would cringe at this nov­el­ty; nev­er­the­less, Phalaris claims to have been sick­ened by Per­i­laus’ clev­er­ness:

‘His words revolt­ed me. I loathed the thought of such inge­nious cru­el­ty, and resolved to pun­ish the arti­fi­cer in kind. “If this is any­thing more than an emp­ty boast, Per­i­laus,” I said to him, “if your art can real­ly pro­duce this effect, get inside your­self, and pre­tend to roar; and we will see whether the pipes will make such music as you describe.” He con­sent­ed; and when he was inside I closed the aper­ture, and ordered a fire to be kin­dled. “Receive,” I cried, “the due reward of your won­drous art: let the music-mas­ter be the first to play.”

Upon hear­ing Per­i­laus’ shrieks, the con­tent tyrant removed the crafts­man from bull, and then threw him off of a cliff. “Mis­tak­en my char­ac­ter,” indeed.

Ilia Blin­d­er­man is a Mon­tre­al-based cul­ture and sci­ence writer. Fol­low him at @iliablinderman.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ancient Greek Pun­ish­ments: The Retro Video Game

What Ancient Greek Music Sound­ed Like: Hear a Recon­struc­tion That is ‘100% Accu­rate’

Hear Homer’s Ili­ad Read in the Orig­i­nal Ancient Greek

The His­to­ry of West­ern Archi­tec­ture: From Ancient Greece to Roco­co (A Free Online Course)

Marilyn Monroe’s Handwritten Turkey-and-Stuffing Recipe


Entire indus­tries seem to have sprung up around the mis­sion of demon­strat­ing that Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe did more in her short life than become an icon — the icon — of mid­cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can star­let­hood. We here at Open Cul­ture have pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured not just her famous­ly pho­tographed read­ing of James Joyce’s Ulysses, but the con­tents of her per­son­al library as well. The new book Frag­ments pro­vides a great deal of rich ephemera to those schol­ars of Mon­roe’s pur­suits off the screen, includ­ing, as Matt Lee and Ted Lee in the New York Times describe it, “assort­ed let­ters, poems and back-of-the-enve­lope scrib­blings that span the time from Monroe’s first mar­riage in 1943 to her death in 1962.” The arti­cle appears in the paper’s Din­ing & Wine sec­tion thanks to one Mon­rov­ian frag­ment of par­tic­u­lar inter­est this time of year: her per­son­al recipe for turkey and stuff­ing.


“Scrawled on sta­tionery with a let­ter­head from a title insur­ance com­pa­ny,” write Lee and Lee, “the recipe describes in some detail how to pre­pare a stuff­ing for chick­en or turkey. The for­mu­la is exten­sive in the num­ber of ingre­di­ents (11, not includ­ing the 5 herbs and spices, or salt and pep­per), and in their diver­si­ty (3 kinds of nuts and 3 ani­mal pro­teins). It is unortho­dox for an Amer­i­can stuff­ing in its use of a bread loaf soaked in water, wrung dry and shred­ded, and in its lack of added fat, broth, raw egg or any oth­er binder.” You can find a tran­script of the steps right below. And if you give a whirl on Thanks­giv­ing, let us know how it turns out.

For the Stuff­ing

  • No gar­lic
  • Sour­dough
  • French bread — soak in cold water, wring out, then shred
  • For chick­en giblets — boil in water 5–10 mins
  • Liv­er — heart then chop
  • 1 whole or ½ onion,  chop & pars­ley / four stalk cel­ery,  chop togeth­er fol­low­ing spices — put in rose­mary
  • Thyme, bay leaf, oregano, poul­try sea­son­ing, salt, pep­per,
  • Grat­ed Parme­san cheese, 1 hand­ful
  • 1/2lb – 1/4lb ground round — put in fry­ing pan — brown (no oil) then mix raisin 1 ½ cuops or more
  • 1 cup chop nuts (wal­nuts, chest­nuts, peanuts)
  • 1 or 2 hard boiled eggs — chopped mix togeth­er

To Prep the Bird

  • Salt & pep­per inside chick­en or turkey — out­side same and but­ter
  • Sew up clamp birds put chick­en or turkey in 350 oven
  • Roast­ing chick­en — 3or 4lbs or larg­er
  • Cooks 30 min to 1lbs
  • Brown chick­en or pheas­ant (vine­gar, oil, onion, spices) — let cook in own juice
  • Add lit­tle water as you go
  • ½ glass vine­gar — put in when half done
  • Cooks 2 hours
  • Put pota­toes
  • Mush­room — but­ton canned
  • Peas — fresh

via NYTimes,  Brain Pick­ings and The Dai­ly Mail

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe Reads Joyce’s Ulysses at the Play­ground (1955)

Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe Explains Rel­a­tiv­i­ty to Albert Ein­stein (in a Nico­las Roeg Movie)

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, Asia, film, lit­er­a­ture, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­lesA Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on his brand new Face­book page.

“Soda/Pop/Coke,” A Creative Visual Remix of Harvard’s Famous 2003 Survey of American Dialects

Tomor­row, friends and rel­a­tives from far-flung cor­ners of the coun­try will gath­er as they do this time each year—stuff them­selves sil­ly, trim Christ­mas trees, watch foot­ball, online shop, etc. And depend­ing on how far-flung those assem­bled are, there may be in cer­tain homes some clan­des­tine chuck­ling over a cer­tain guest’s request for “pop” instead of soda, or the oth­er way around, or some oth­er fun­ny way of say­ing things. Because in this gar­gan­tu­an expanse we call the Unit­ed States, we’ve got a wealth of region­al variants—some dif­fer­ences sub­tle, some quite notice­able (though with­out nec­es­sar­i­ly the degree of socioe­co­nom­ic bag­gage as the UK, I’m con­vinced).

I recall, for instance, mov­ing to New York City over a decade ago and grap­pling for the next sev­er­al years with New York­ers’ insis­tence on say­ing “stand­ing on line” instead of “in line.” As “online” acquired an entire­ly new mean­ing, this lin­guis­tic odd­i­ty took on an even more con­fus­ing dimen­sion for out­siders. And hav­ing grown up hear­ing the sec­ond per­son plur­al as rough­ly half “you guy”s and half “y’all,”s I’ve been amused by the New York “youse.” As we learn from The Atlantic’s “Soda/Pop/Coke” above, these dif­fer­ences in word­ing cor­re­spond to region­al dif­fer­ences in pro­nun­ci­a­tion of words like “bag,” “pecan,” and “coupon.”

Inform­ing us that “at least 10 dis­tinct dialects of Eng­lish are spo­ken in the Unit­ed States,” “Soda/Pop/Coke” draws on the 2003 Har­vard Dialect Sur­vey, con­duct­ed by lin­guist Bert Vaux. As the film’s inter­view­ers ask callers Vaux’s sur­vey ques­tions, their region­al affil­i­a­tions appear graph­i­cal­ly on a map of the con­ti­nen­tal Unit­ed States, based on grad­u­ate stu­dent Joshua Katz’s heat map­ping of Vaux’s work.  You can see the more than one hun­dred vari­ants Vaux’s sur­vey mea­sures here, and The Atlantic points us to U Penn’s dense (and spe­cial­ized) Nation­al Map of the Region­al Dialects of Amer­i­can Eng­lish. It’s a com­pli­cat­ed and rar­efied sci­ence, lin­guis­tics, but we’re all at least ama­teur soci­ol­o­gists of lan­guage (some­times bad ones) as we sort and size each oth­er up—or com­plete­ly mis­hear each other—based on com­plete­ly uncon­scious choic­es in word­ing and pro­nun­ci­a­tion.

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Do You Drink Soda, Pop or Soft Drinks?: 122 Heatmaps Visu­al­ize How Peo­ple Talk in Amer­i­ca

The His­to­ry of the Eng­lish Lan­guage in Ten Ani­mat­ed Min­utes

What Shake­speare Sound­ed Like to Shake­speare: Recon­struct­ing the Bard’s Orig­i­nal Pro­nun­ci­a­tion

Learn 46 Lan­guages Online for Free: Span­ish, Chi­nese, Eng­lish & More

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Newly-Released Thelonious Monk Live Recording, ‘Paris 1969,’ Now Streaming Free for a Limited Time

Thelonious_Monk_and_Howard_McGhee,_Minton's_Playhouse_,_Sept_1947_(Gottlieb_10248)A quick heads up: Last week we told you all about how Thelo­nious Monk flubbed his first con­cert in Paris in 1954 and then made a tri­umphant return in 1969. The ’69 con­cert has just been released as a new CD, but, for a lim­it­ed time, you can hear it stream­ing online,  from start to fin­ish, for free. It’s all thanks to NPR’s First Lis­ten site. Enjoy.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Thelo­nious Monk Bombs in Paris in 1954, Then Makes a Tri­umphant Return in 1969

Advice From the Mas­ter: Thelo­nious Monk Scrib­bles a List of Tips for Play­ing a Gig

Thelo­nious Monk: Straight No Chas­er

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92nd Street Y Launches a New Online Archive with 1,000 Recordings of Literary Readings, Musical Performances & More

Kurt Von­negut once com­ment­ed, in an inter­view with Joseph Heller, that the best audi­ence he had ever encoun­tered was at the 92nd Street Y in New York. “Those peo­ple know every­thing. They are wide awake and respon­sive.”

Locat­ed at the cor­ner of 92nd Street and Lex­ing­ton Avenue, the 92Y has a ven­er­a­ble his­to­ry of pub­lic per­for­mance, con­ver­sa­tion, poet­ry and beyond. Von­negut him­self appeared at the 92Y sev­en times to read aloud from his own work. (Includ­ing this read­ing from Break­fast of Cham­pi­ons three years before the book was pub­lished.)

Cul­tur­al pro­gram­ming has been a focus at the 92Y since it opened in 1874. Orig­i­nal­ly, it served most­ly Ger­man-Jew­ish men (note, it isn’t a YMCA, but a YM-YWHA—Young Men’s and Women’s Hebrew Asso­ci­a­tion). But the Kauf­mann Con­cert Hall opened in 1930, and that’s where a ver­i­ta­ble Who’s Who of not­ed enter­tain­ment, pol­i­tics, sports, and sci­ence fig­ures have appeared over the years, speak­ing to that “wide awake and respon­sive” audi­ence.

Lucky for the rest of us, the 92Y record­ed the vast major­i­ty of those per­for­mances. And now 1,000 record­ings appear on a new site, 92Y On Demand. It’s a fan­tas­tic archive of audio and video files, search­able by top­ic, year or per­former name.

It’s all there: Yogi Berra look­ing back on his life and career. A 1961 read­ing by a young Nadine Gordimer. Harold Pin­ter read­ing his own short sto­ries and weigh­ing in on the Bea­t­les vs. the Rolling Stones. Andrés Segovia play­ing a clas­si­cal gui­tar recital. Lou Reed speak­ing on the eve of his live per­for­mance of Berlin (top). Bil­ly Crys­tal (below) on roast­ing Muham­mad Ali.

92Y is home to the Unter­berg Poet­ry Cen­ter, so the new archive abounds with poet­ry read­ings. Dylan Thomas read there in 1953. Two years ear­li­er play­wright Thorn­ton Wilder appeared and read from Emi­ly Dickinson’s work. And clos­er to our own time, Paul McCart­ney recent­ly read from his own poet­ry.

See many more cel­e­brat­ed fig­ures such as Maria Bam­fordMau­rice SendakDan Sav­ageJunot Díaz and Jamaica Kin­caid read and dis­cuss their work at 92Y On Demand.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Kurt Vonnegut’s Very First Pub­lic Read­ing from Break­fast of Cham­pi­ons (1970)

Lou Reed Rewrites Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.” See Read­ings by Reed and Willem Dafoe

Allen Gins­berg Gets Heck­led by Beat Poet Gre­go­ry Cor­so at a 1973 Poet­ry Read­ing

Kate Rix writes about dig­i­tal media and edu­ca­tion. Fol­low her on Twit­ter.

Slavoj Žižek Examines the Perverse Ideology of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy

Beethoven’s icon­ic Ninth Sym­pho­ny pre­miered in Vien­na in 1824, at “a time of great repres­sion, of ultra-con­ser­v­a­tive nation­al­ism” as the old orders fought back against the rev­o­lu­tions of the pre­vi­ous cen­tu­ry. But it’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine the com­pos­er hav­ing any nation­al­ist intent, what with his well-known hatred of author­i­ty, par­tic­u­lar­ly impe­ri­al­ist author­i­ty (and par­tic­u­lar­ly of Napoleon). Even less obvi­ous is the impu­ta­tion of nation­al­ist ten­den­cies to Friedrich Schiller, whose poem, “Ode to Joy” Beethoven adapts to a glo­ri­ous cho­rus in the fourth move­ment. Schiller’s poem, writes Scott Hor­ton in Harper’s, “envi­sions a world with­out mon­archs” in which uni­ver­sal friend­ship “is essen­tial if humankind is to over­come its dark­er moments.” And in his take on the ubiq­ui­tous piece of music, con­trar­i­an the­o­rist Slavoj Žižek acknowl­edges in the clip above from his lat­est film, A Pervert’s Guide to Ide­ol­o­gy, that the Ninth is gen­er­al­ly tak­en for grant­ed “as a kind of an ode to human­i­ty as such, to the broth­er­hood and free­dom of all peo­ple.”

And yet Žižek , being Žižek, draws our atten­tion to the Ninth Sym­pho­ny as a per­fect ide­o­log­i­cal con­tain­er, by ref­er­ence to its unfor­get­table use in Stan­ley Kubrick’s A Clock­work Orange, as unspar­ing a look at humanity’s “dark­er moments” as one might find on film (excerpt above). Kubrick (and com­pos­er Wendy Car­los) drew on a long, dark his­to­ry of asso­ci­a­tions with the Ninth. As evi­dence of its “uni­ver­sal adapt­abil­i­ty,” Žižek points to its well-known use by the Nazis as a nation­al­ist anthem, as well as by the Sovi­et Union as a com­mu­nist song; in Chi­na dur­ing the Cul­tur­al Rev­o­lu­tion, when almost all oth­er West­ern music was pro­hib­it­ed; and at the extreme Apartheid right in South Rhode­sia. “At the oppo­site end,” Žižek says, the Ninth Sym­pho­ny was the favorite of ultra-left­ist Shin­ing Path leader Abi­mael Guz­man, and in 1972, it became the unof­fi­cial “Anthem of Europe” (now of the Euro­pean Union). The tow­er­ing piece of music, Žižek claims, enables us to imag­ine a “per­verse scene of uni­ver­sal fra­ter­ni­ty” in which the world’s dic­ta­tors, arch-ter­ror­ists, and war crim­i­nals all embrace each oth­er. It’s a deeply dis­turb­ing image, to say the least. Watch the full excerpt for more of Žižek’s exam­i­na­tion of the ide­o­log­i­cal weight Beethoven car­ries.

via Bib­liokept

Relat­ed Con­tent:

In His Lat­est Film, Slavoj Žižek Claims “The Only Way to Be an Athe­ist is Through Chris­tian­i­ty”

Slavoj Žižek’s Pervert’s Guide to Ide­ol­o­gy Decodes The Dark Knight and They Live

The Mak­ing of Stan­ley Kubrick’s A Clock­work Orange

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

The “Pursuit of Ignorance” Drives All Science: Watch Neuroscientist Stuart Firestein’s Engaging New TED Talk

Neu­ro­sci­en­tist Stu­art Firestein, the chair of Colum­bia University’s Bio­log­i­cal Sci­ences depart­ment, rejects  any metaphor that likens the goal of sci­ence to com­plet­ing a puz­zle, peel­ing an onion, or peek­ing beneath the sur­face to view an ice­berg in its entire­ty.

Such com­par­isons sug­gest a future in which all of our ques­tions will be answered. In Dr. Firestein’s view, every answer can and should cre­ate a whole new set of ques­tions, an opin­ion pre­vi­ous­ly voiced by play­wright George Bernard Shaw and philoso­pher Immanuel Kant.

A more apt metaphor might be an end­less cycle of chick­ens and eggs. Or, as Dr. Firestein posits in his high­ly enter­tain­ing, 18-minute TED talk above, a chal­lenge on par with find­ing a black cat in a dark room that may con­tain no cats what­so­ev­er.

Accord­ing to Firestein, by the time we reach adult­hood, 90% of us will have lost our inter­est in sci­ence. Young chil­dren are like­ly to expe­ri­ence the sub­ject as some­thing jol­ly, hands-on, and adven­tur­ous. As we grow old­er, a del­uge of facts often ends up trump­ing the fun. Prin­ci­ples of Neur­al Sci­ence, a required text for Firestein’s under­grad­u­ate Cel­lu­lar and Mol­e­c­u­lar Neu­ro­science course weighs twice as much as the aver­age human brain.

The major­i­ty of the gen­er­al pub­lic may feel sci­ence is best left to the experts, but Firestein is quick to point out that when he and his col­leagues are relax­ing with post-work beers, the con­ver­sa­tion is fueled by the stuff that they don’t know.

Hence the “pur­suit of igno­rance,” the title of his talk.

Giv­en the edu­ca­tion­al con­text, his choice of word­ing could cause a knee-jerk response. He takes it to mean nei­ther stu­pid­i­ty, nor “cal­low indif­fer­ence,” but rather the “thor­ough­ly con­scious” igno­rance that James Clerk Maxwell, the father of mod­ern physics, dubbed the pre­lude to all sci­en­tif­ic advance­ment.

I bet the 19th-cen­tu­ry physi­cist would have shared Firestein’s dis­may at the test-based approach so preva­lent in today’s schools.

The igno­rance-embrac­ing reboot he pro­pos­es at the end of his talk is as rad­i­cal as it is fun­ny.

For more of Stu­art Firestein’s thoughts on igno­rance check out the descrip­tion for his Colum­bia course on Igno­rance and his book, Igno­rance: How It Dri­ves Sci­ence.

Relat­ed Con­tent:


Orson Welles Explains Why Igno­rance Was His Major “Gift” to Cit­i­zen Kane

Noam Chom­sky Explains Where Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence Went Wrong

Steven Pinker Explains the Neu­ro­science of Swear­ing (NSFW)

Ayun Hal­l­i­day recent­ly direct­ed 16 home­school­ers in Yeast Nation, the world’s first bio-his­tor­i­cal musi­cal.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Watch Charlie Chaplin Demand 342 Takes of One Scene from City Lights

The Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion has put out a new edi­tion of Char­lie Chap­lin’s City Lights, and on the disc they’ve includ­ed the rare footage above of Chap­lin direct­ing that most famous of his pic­tures. We see him giv­ing instruc­tions to young Vir­ginia Cher­rill, who appeared in the film as a blind flower girl for whom Chap­lin’s Tramp falls head over heels. Chap­lin’s char­ac­ter approved of Cher­rill much more hearti­ly than Chap­lin him­self did. The direc­tor con­sid­ered the actress an “ama­teur” and remem­bered her often “doing some­thing which wasn’t right. Lines. A line. A con­tour hurts me if it’s not right.” That remark, orig­i­nal­ly made in an inter­view con­duct­ed in 1968, 37 years after City Lights, comes quot­ed in David Robinson’s new book, Chap­lin: His Life and His Art. The New York­er’s Richard Brody also uses it in his post on City Lights and Chap­lin’s direc­tion of Cher­rill, of whom he, for one sequence, demand­ed as many as 342 takes.

Does that send Chap­lin straight to the canon of per­fec­tion­ist film­mak­ers? You may say yes, but Brody, whose pow­ers of cin­e­mat­ic obser­va­tion at times make me want to scrap every­thing and ded­i­cate my life to film crit­i­cism, has a more inter­est­ing response. “It’s tempt­ing to ascribe Chaplin’s obses­sion­al direc­tion,” he argues, “but I think that the episode reveals an even more pow­er­ful strain of Chaplin’s art, a sort of imper­fec­tion­ism.

Chap­lin didn’t have a men­tal tem­plate that he want­ed Cher­rill to match; he approach­es the scene not quite know­ing what he want­ed.” Chap­lin, so it seems, sim­ply worked this way, seek­ing per­fec­tion, but an unusu­al “per­fec­tion of results, not of con­for­mi­ty to a pre­con­ceived schema. He sought what pro­voked, in him, the per­fect emo­tion, the per­fect aes­thet­ic response—but he wouldn’t know it until he saw it. He start­ed to shoot in the con­fi­dence that the thing—whatever it was—would hap­pen.” And now you can watch 65 of the fruits of Chap­lin’s quest for this imper­fec­tion­is­tic per­fec­tion for free on our very own col­lec­tion of Chap­lin films on the web.

via The New York­er

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Three Great Films Star­ring Char­lie Chap­lin, the True Icon of Silent Com­e­dy

The Pow­er of Silent Movies, with The Artist Direc­tor Michel Haz­anavi­cius

Hol­ly­wood, Epic Doc­u­men­tary Chron­i­cles the Ear­ly His­to­ry of Cin­e­ma

535 Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, etc.

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, Asia, film, lit­er­a­ture, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­lesA Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on his brand new Face­book page.

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