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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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; And Then Watch 65 Free Chaplin Films Online

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

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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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