The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, October 16, 1834, by Joseph Mallord William Turner, c. 1835. © The Philadelphia Museum of Art/Art Resource.


Volume IX, Number 2 | spring 2016


According to sixth-century-BC Greek poet Hipponax of Colophon, in times of drought, famine, or plague an ugly or deformed person was chosen by the community to be pharmakós, or scapegoat. After being fed figs, barley cake, and cheese, he would be struck on the genitals with the bulbs and twigs of wild plants, led on a procession accompanied by flute, and burned on a pyre. His ashes were thrown into the sea. It is believed that Hipponax, whom Pliny the Elder once called “notoriously ugly,” may have been exaggerating the ritual.


To hide and feel guilty would be the beginning of defeat.

—Milan Kundera, 1978