Contact theSOPAbout theSOPSupport theSOPWritersEditorsManaging Editors
theSOP logo
Published:August 1st, 2009 20:10 EST
Waterboarding is a Holy Art

Waterboarding is a Holy Art

By SOP newswire2

Waterboarding in the Renaissance 

This woodcarving, dated ca.1560, in the middle of the Wars of Religion in France between Catholics and Protestants, shows some members of the Catholic judiciary using the technique of water boarding during the interrogation of a prisoner who is obviously a Protestant leader, member of the French nobility (notice his attire and the sword propped up against the wall). The Church approved of torture in judicial proceedings.1

On March 20, 1581, while Montaigne visited Rome, a papal city in those days, the Church authorities reprimanded him for having stated in writing that such judiciary interrogation techniques, which he called torments " constituted torture and amounted to cruelty, pure and simple (Journal de voyage). The sentence that drew the papal disapproval is this: All that exceeds a simple death appears to me absolute cruelty " (II-11, 431). He had written that Christian judges should not condone such harsh interrogation methods. The Pope, the supreme authority in those days, approved of these interrogation techniques. In his Essays (1580), Montaigne included an essay titled Cowardice, the mother of cruelty " (II-27).

The mnemonic analysis of the Essays shows that this chapter (II-27) falls under Vulcan, a cowardly character who is unfit for military service.

His essay (II-27) begins thus: I have often heard it said that cowardice is the mother of cruelty. " Montaigne illustrated throughout his Essays how to behave like a gentleman. He often praised war heroes who adhere to the code of chivalry shunning the murdering of defeated enemies. He wrote that the murders in victories are commonly performed by the rascals and hangers-on of an army who cause unheard of cruelties " (II-27).

Significantly, Don Quixote, the quintessential knight, was always against cruel punishment, notably when he freed Andrés, a young man who was being whipped tied to a tree (I-4). In another episode, Don Quixote freed a chained gang of prisoners who had been sentenced to years of hard labor on the king`s galleys (I-22).

A brief quiz: Name the hero. He served in the Navy. He has been against torture of any kind. He was wounded in battle. He spent five years in an enemy prison in what may be called the East and was liberated after a long process of negotiations.

His name? No, not John McCain. That answer is too obvious and easy. The correct answer, given our Renaissance context, is the author of the immortal Don Quijote de la Mancha, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra who spent five years in prison in Algiers as a prisoner of war. 

From a forthcoming book titled MEMORY CHARGING by Daniel Martin, Hestia Press. 


For a larger photo please click here:

Born in Madrid, Spain, Daniel Martin was educated in French Schools from ages six through nineteen. In the US, he received his BA from the University of Illinois and his Ph.D. in Romance Languages and Literatures from Yale University in 1974. He taught French at the University of Massachusetts for thirty years and retired a few years ago. He is the author of various books and articles in French, English, and Spanish. He is now living in Mexico.