On this day in 1757 the unsuccessful regicide Robert-François Damiens was executed. Damiens was a simple man from Arras who attacked the French King Louis XV, inflicting a superficial wound. For this perceived heinous crime, he was sentenced to be drawn and quartered in the Place de Grève, Paris.
On the morning of his execution he said ‘la journée sera rude’ (today will be tough) and he was right. After first being tortured with red hot pincers he was then pulled apart by four horses attached to his arms and legs; his truncated body was finally burnt at the stake.
This appalling event, viewed by thousands, may have led to some of the dreadful cruelties that occurred later during the Revolution. Maximilien Robespierre, infamous for the 1793 ‘Reign of Terror’, also came from Arras. The horror of Damiens’ death is reminiscent of the grimness found sometimes in a Greek tragedy. Here is an excerpt from Aeschylus’ Oresteia, where Electra is speaking about the murder of her father, Agamemnon and revenge:
What they did to his body
They did to my spirit and heart.
They flung him out like a dead dog
To rot in the sun.
If Agamemnon’s severed head could have sobbed,
That was how I laughed.
Insane with grief.
If you want to know what grief means
Chorus: Now let your will, like your grief,
Be stronger than life.
The past is stronger than life –
Nothing can alter it.
Today I will try to face each day with courage. Some days will be tough, but not as tough as this day was for Robert-François Damiens.