Wednesday, November 22nd 2017    |   


Procrustes

Sunday, May 25, 2008   |   Literature
Procrustes (the stretcher), also known as Damastes (subduer) and Polypemon (harming much), is a figure from Greek mythology (and possibly the world's first plastic surgeon). He was a bandit from Attica, with a stronghold in the hills outside Eleusis. There, he had an iron bed into which he invited every passerby to lie down. If the guest proved too tall, he would amputate the excess length; victims who were too short were stretched on the rack until they were long enough. Nobody ever fit in the bed because it was secretly adjustable: Procrustes would stretch or shrink it upon sizing his victims from afar. Procrustes continued his reign of terror until he was captured by Theseus, who "fitted" Procrustes to his own bed and cut off his head and feet (since Theseus was a stout fellow, the bed had been set on the short position). Killing Procrustes was the last adventure of Theseus on his journey from Troezen to Athens.

A Procrustean bed is an arbitrary standard to which exact conformity is forced. Sometimes the term is applied to the pan and scan process of cropping motion pictures for television and home video. It is also a term popular with classics undergraduates at university, when lamenting essays of a fixed page length.