Hegesistratus of Elis

Since I'm in an icky gruesome phase, here's a quote from Herodotus. Not much I can add to this.

Hegesistratus of Elis had once been arrested by the Spartans on the charge of doing them a number of injuries of a very serious nature. Flung into prison and condemned to death, Hegesistratus, realizing, in his desperate situation, not only that his life was at stake, but that he would be tortured before his execution, dared a deed which one cannot find words adequate to tell.

He was lying with one foot in the stocks--which were made of wood reinforced with iron--and somehow managed to get hold of a knife, which was smuggled into the prison. No sooner was the knife in his hands than he contrived the means to escape--and how he did it was the bravest action of all those we know: he cut off a piece of his foot, having nicely judged how much to leave in order to pull it free. Then, as the prison was guarded, he worked a hole through the wall and escaped to Tegea, travelling at night and lying up during the day in the woods. The Spartans went out in force to try to find him, but he got clear and reached Tegea on the third night. They were astonished at the man's daring when they saw half his foot lying by the stocks and yet were unable to find him.

I'd love to know what Hegesistratus did to annoy the Spartans. Whatever, it must have been spectacular.

Herodotus say Hegesistratus got himself a wooden foot made. He later went over to the Persians during the wars and became one of their seers.




9 comments:

Carrie said...

I think in that situation, I might do the same thing. A foot for your life? Sure.

Gary Corby said...

Your logic is excellent Carrie, but the nerve endings might not feel the same way when you start self-amputating perfectly healthy living flesh!

Also no anesthetic, and there were guards outside so he had to do it silently.

H Niyazi said...

Given the impetus of impending death, I'd be hoping a huge dose of adrenalin would kick in at some point before I started cutting!

I'd also hassle the guards for some alcohol beforehand, nothing wrong with a little liquid anaesthetic and disinfectant!

H

Gary Corby said...

The liquid anesthetic is a great idea!

Sadly they had no idea about disinfectant. I'm astonished he didn't die of infection after walking on half a foot for three nights.

Amalia T. said...

"the bravest action of all those we know"

I think this is an application of the word bravery we have lost over time. Not to make him sound less than he is, because I'm sure I would not have been able to slice off part of my own foot with calculated precision under the same circumstances, but it seems to me that "bravery" is not QUITE the word I would have used to describe such an action-- maybe if he had done it to run off and warn his people of an invasion, or to somehow save someone else, I would call it brave. It is, however, pretty much the epitome of manliness in a Chuck Norris kind of way.

Nicole MacDonald said...

heroic... not so sure...

http://damselinadirtydress.blogspot.com

Gary Corby said...

Ahh, but this is one of those points where ancient Greek world view differs a lot from us. The Greeks would praise any extraordinary action, even if it was directed against them. The important thing was to display great individual quality. To a remarkable degree IMHO it was a lot like how we'd view the heroes in epic fantasy.

Sean said...

After my experience with the nearly severed thumb, I'd say that this required remarkable self control and tolerance of pain. The pain I experienced nearly caused me to faint involuntarily. How he managed to hack off half his foot in silence?

Julie said...

I just have one name to give you : Aron Ralston. He had to cut off his own arm in 2003 because it was trapped after an 800 pound boulder fell on him. And he survived. Quite an incredible story.