two notes towards “in the penal colony”

“Let no one praise Perillus, crueler than the tyrant Phalaris, for whom he built a bull, promising him that a man locked inside it would bellow when a fire was lit beneath it, and who was the first to test on himself this torture as the fruit of a cruelty more just than his. To such an extent had he distorted a most noble art, destined to represent gods and men. Thus many of his workers had labored to build an instrument of torture! Actually, his works are preserved for only one reason: so that whoever sees them will hate the hands of their creators.”

(Pliny, Natural History, 37.89, quoted in Primo Levi, “Hatching the Cobra,” p. 172 in The Mirror Maker, trans. Raymond Rosenthal.)


“Catherine [the Great] made this point, as only she could, in a conversation with Denis Diderot, the editor of the Encyclopédie and the Enlightenment’s most original and radical thinker. ‘While you write on unfeeling paper,’ she told the philosophe, ‘I write on human skin, which is sensitive to the slightest touch.’ ”

(Robert Zaretsky, “ ‘I Write on Human Skin’: Catherine the Great and the Rule of Law,”

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