Who are characters who were punished?
December 26, 2017 9:33 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to read old (pre-Industrial Revolution) stories that represent views of punishment. Can you tell me what books I should be reading, or what characters?

As some examples of what I mean, let me point to Prometheus and Sisyphus, for ancient myths of characters whose punishments we remember (who we remember for their punishments, in fact), and The Tempest for more modern reading, given that the characters of Prospero and Ariel are both made by their punishments. I'm interested in all canons, but admit I'm particularly ignorant of storied views of punishment outside of the Western canon.
posted by freyley to Media & Arts (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The Count of Monte Cristo talks about its' protagonist's punishment.
posted by bq at 9:41 PM on December 26, 2017

The Scarlet Letter is classic here, of course.
posted by forza at 9:48 PM on December 26, 2017

So, pretty much the entire Inferno?

The actual heroine (in my opinion) of Dangerous Liaisons gets punished terribly for her scheming.
posted by praemunire at 9:50 PM on December 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

There is so much punishment in Greek literature and mythology you could read about it forever. Pentheus is punished in lurid detail for his refusal to accept Dionysian rites in The Bacchae; in many versions, Arachne is turned into a spider for having had the audacity to challenge Athena in weaving; Antigone is buried alive for having buried her own brother against the decree of the king in Antigone...
posted by praemunire at 9:54 PM on December 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Depends on what you mean by "punishment," but de Sade's Justine.
posted by rhizome at 9:56 PM on December 26, 2017

Grimms' Fairy Tales and Hans Christian Anderson Fairy Tales are mostly tales of reward and punishment, and they're basically pre-industrial (written in the early 19th Century).

For non-Greek/Roman mythology you might check out The Popul Vuh, The Mahabharata, and The Ramayana.

I have no idea whether the idea of punishment comes up much in The Pillow Book but it's certainly an ancient, non-western perspective on life.

And of course the Bible (and other religious texts) are full of ancient punishments. Eve, Job, Lot's wife....
posted by mrmurbles at 10:56 PM on December 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Melville's Billy Budd, composed in the 19th century and set in 1797, is a classic story of undeserved punishment - or really, an inquiry into who Western society allows to punish, and who gets punished.

Going back a ways, and turning to divine punishment, there is always the legend of Faust. For your purposes, I would recommend you read Marlowe's dramatic interpretation, commonly referred to as Doctor Faustus.

Going back yet further, there is a lot to chew on in "The Wife of Bath's Tale," in which Queen Guinevere punishes a rapist by giving him one year to find out "what women want," or else be executed.

Edit: More Chaucer for your reading pleasure! Be sure to check out the epic poem of "Troilus and Criseyde." It all kicks off when the god of love punishes Troilus for mocking love.
posted by desert outpost at 3:09 AM on December 27, 2017

Oedipus Rex.
posted by kevinbelt at 3:16 AM on December 27, 2017

Iceland’s Bell by Halldór Laxness was written in the mid-20th century but depicts an 18th-century peasant who spends large chunks of the novel getting thrown in dungeons for one petty reason or another.
posted by matildaben at 4:31 AM on December 27, 2017

The opening of Discipline and Punish by Foucault has a famous juxtaposition between the punishment meted out to the regicide Damiens and the proposed panopticon.
posted by giraffeneckbattle at 4:49 AM on December 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Victor Hugo's Les Misérables - not just the obvious factor of Jean Valjean's repeatedly extended prison sentences (and Hugo's treatise on the machinations of the French penal system), but the punishment and self-denial Valjean inflicts upon himself in later life, Fantine's punishment of social and economic ostracism for her bearing a child out of wedlock, Javert's harsh and inflexible application of the law towards apparent miscreants (and his insistence in Montreuil-sur-Mer upon receiving punishment himself for a perceived error), the details of the self-mortification of the nuns in the Petit-Picpus convent...plus all the overarching discussion of both earthly and spiritual justice.
posted by Morfil Ffyrnig at 7:18 AM on December 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

Pretty much all of the book of genesis is stories of various punishments.
posted by SyraCarol at 7:18 AM on December 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Tess of the D'urbervilles by Thomas hardy. (Whether Tess deserved the punishment is another ask)
posted by Valancy Rachel at 8:17 AM on December 27, 2017

The story of Jezebel is a Biblical classic - thrown out of a window and eaten by stray dogs for her various transgressions.

You might find the Narakas - hells/purgatories of various sorts in Hindu and some Buddhist traditions/scriptures - a useful place to start looking.
posted by clawsoon at 9:00 AM on December 27, 2017

For his various crimes, including killing Baldur and, er, crashing a party and then rudely battle rapping the attendees of said party, Loki is punished by having one of his son's turned into a wolf and then being bound by his other son's entrails (maybe the wolf son kills the other son?). Plus the gods set up a giant snake to drip venom on him. Loki's wife, Sigyn, does her best to catch the venom in a bowl but when the bowl gets full and she has to go empty it, the venom splashes on Loki's face and it's so painful that when he thrashes around, it shakes the whole earth. And that's where earthquakes come from.
posted by mhum at 1:44 PM on December 27, 2017

The Roman poet Ovid was famously exiled by Augustus and (perhaps equally famously) attributed the exile quite vaguely to "a poem and a mistake" (carmen et error).
posted by mhum at 2:22 PM on December 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Raskolonikov in Doestoevsky's Crime and Punishment, though if you are wanting more of the external punishment than the internal punishment that may not suit. For that, you'd probably be better off with Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch.

For a less Russian take, Diana Wynne Jones's book The Homeward Bounders seems like a kid's book full of adventure and mystery and on one level it is. But with prisoner archetypes like the Flying Dutchman and (though unnamed) Prometheus, there is a strong theme of punishment in it too. I didn't link to the Wikipedia entry on it because it is full of spoilers, but there is more on the theme that gets revealed as you go.
posted by Athanassiel at 2:49 PM on December 27, 2017

Oh whoops, I forgot your pre-Industrial Revolution requirement. Sorry. But if you feel like expanding your brief, those suggestions still stand. And The Homeward Bounders is pre-industrial in a way.
posted by Athanassiel at 2:51 PM on December 27, 2017

In the Mabinogion, the classic text of Welsh mythology, there are some memorable punishments. The story "Branwen ferch Llŷr," is about a cycle of vengeance: Branwen's half-brother is offended by Branwen's new husband, the king of Ireland, and mutilates the king's horses. In retribution, the king sends Branwen to work in his kitchens, resulting in a war between Britain and Ireland.

In "Math fab Mathonwy," two brothers trick their uncle, King Math, into leaving home, and rape his maidservant while he's away. When Math finds out, he uses magic to turn the brothers into animals of opposite sexes. They mate and produce animal children once a year, and after three years, he turns them back into humans. (Math also makes the maidservant his queen, since she has been disgraced by his kin.)

Both these stories portray punishments that are carried out by individuals, not authority figures. According to the Welsh law code during this period, many crimes that are now punished by the state were family or local matters. As I understand it, this was also the case in early medieval English law.
posted by toastedcheese at 3:25 PM on December 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

And obviously, don't forget the Bible, particularly the Old Testament with its many episodes of divine and human judgment.
posted by toastedcheese at 3:28 PM on December 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

I second giraffeneckbattle in suggesting Foucault. Not for all tastes, but he has some interesting insights about the nature of punishment.
posted by ovvl at 4:15 PM on December 27, 2017

Many of the Icelandic Sagas deal with legal issues (and thus punishments) related to murder and theft.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 7:11 AM on December 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

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