I was at the grocery store today. As I whipped through there picking up stuff to make dinner, I came upon a display of Halloween decorations. The sight brought me to an abrupt halt. It wasn't the usual coffins or skeletons (though a skeleton was involved). There was nothing cartoonish about it at all, actually.
It was a gibbet with a skeleton inside. To be more accurate, it was the box that hung off of a gibbet when a prisoner was hung in chains. They were at times locked into these cages that were just large enough for their body to be in alive, left to die of dehydration, exposure, and from wild animals gnawing upon them. At other times, the corpse of a person who had been hung or similarly executed was placed within the cage and affixed to is so that they remained upright as the limbs eventually rotted off. Gibbeting is a method of execution that serves two purposes. One is to prolong the agony of the one who is placed in their confinement alive. Two is to remind the living about the steep penalty for the crimes that the condemned was convicted of committing.
I thought about buying one. I seriously considered it. As I thought about this, it struck me that would there be ethical discussion about such a grisly mode of execution between the religious communities of the Seven Kingdoms? What of the people who were confined and had nourishment and aid smuggled to them in the dark of night? How long would they hang in chains? What became of the bodies when the period ended.
I have done some reading about the topic and how it was handled in history. Some of the details are rather repulsive. Others, while fascinating, are disturbing because it shows that we are neither as genteel as we wish to present ourselves or as humane. Contemplating methods of execution is not a pleasant thing, to be perfectly honest, and it reveals some of the worst elements of human ingenuity. As much as I find myself repulsed by it, however, I recognize that there are things that we shouldn't turn away from.
Some authors feel that their writing is to entertain. Others feel that their writing is a vehicle to discuss and consider the human condition. There are a great many writers who do both. Of the three, I have to say I find the final group to be the most compelling. I try to write to that goal. Socrates is reputed to have said during his trial (the charges were corrupting the youth of Athens) 'the unexamined life is not worth living.' Perhaps we should amend this to say 'the unexamined life is not worth writing' and take on the mantle of studying what it means to be human and what makes us so through our work?
This is what came to mind as I considered the gibbet cages I saw in the grocery store.