NEAR ELEUSIS, in Attica, there lurked a bandit named Damastes, called Procrustes, or "The Stretcher." He had an iron bed on which travelers who fell into his hands were compelled to spend the night. His humor was to stretch the ones who were too short until they died, or, if they were too tall, to cut off as much of their limbs as would make them short enough. None could resist him, and the surrounding countryside became a desert.

Damastes continued in his wicked ways until slain by Theseus, son of Æthra and the Athenian king Ægeus. Theseus was worshipped as a hero after his death. His bones were brought to Athens at the bidding of the Delphic Oracle, and a splendid temple which served specially as an asylum for escaped slaves was erected over them.

Saving the evil memory, no trace whatever remains of the monster Damastes, and his name has survived him as a byword for cruelty. I don't know why this story brings to mind myrmidons of the Internal Revenue Service. Must be my classical education. Sleep tight.

April 15, 1994


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