DANTE’S PILLS: 2. Phalaris’ Bull

From Ovid’s Tristia, we learn that the tyrant of Agrigento (town in Sicily, region once called Magna Graecia –Big Greece-) Phalaris commissioned to the Athenian Perillos the handcrafting of a big bronze -or copper- bull (Inf. XXVII) where he would lock up his enemies and kill them horribly, making them roast slowly while trapped inside it. Today this manufacture is known as the “brazen bull”, “bronze bull”, or “Sicilian bull”.

It had to be built in such a way that, after lighting a fire under the belly of the statue, by virtue of a particular acoustics, the screams of the damned trapped inside it escape from the muzzle of the unanimated animal, becoming much like the bellows of a real and angry live bull, or, as Dante says, a bull pierced by scorching pain.

When it was developed, the first to be killed in it was the very manufacturer. Once he climbed inside the statue to give evidence of how to use it, Phalaris did not let him out, but in fact ordered the fire lit to have a demonstration of how it sounded too. So, that infamous builder of horrors died horribly as he deserved. And that was right and just, says Dante.

Later on, it is said that even the tyrant perished in it when Telemachus toppled him from the throne and assumed the command of the town.

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