Thursday, January 20, 2011

Strange Deaths: Draco

The word “draconian” means severe, unusually cruel or harsh, as in rules, punishments and governments, and comes from the name of Draco. Not Draco Malfoyle, the mongrel blonde kid in the Harry Potter books and movies. Not Draco the last dragon, voiced by Sean Connery in Dragonheart. Not the big Russian that Rocky Balboa fights in Rocky IV. Oops, sorry, that last one is Drago.

No, this Draco is Draco the Lawgiver, as he is commonly rfeferred to, a politician who lived in Athens in the 7th century. In 621 BC Draco was given the task of codifying and organising the laws of Athens, the first time that the laws had been written down. Once codified, they were displayed publicly on "steles", three-sided pyramids which could be pivoted for reading. The laws were impartial but incredibly harsh, with death being the punishment for most offences, even such trivial ones such as idleness. Hence the origin of “draconian”.

The point of this post, however, is not Draco's life but his death.

Funnily enough, notwithstanding the harshness of his laws, Draco was a popular man in his home town, so much so that in 590 BC, the good citizens of Athens decided to hold a testimonial for him in the theatre of Aegina, an island 17 kilometres away.

Even more funnily, there was a custom in those days of  honouring someone who was popular and revered by throwing  hats and cloaks at the person, much like the public throwing hats and roses into the ring to honour bullfighters in Mexico and Spain.

As Draco entered the theatre, thousands of people threw their hats and cloaks at him. The pile of cloaks and hats grew but still more came. Eventually so many were thrown that he suffocated to death.

After he was extracted from the mountain of clothing, he was buried in the same theatre.

But, was it genuine adulation or a homicide disguised as adulation?

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