Procrustes: The First Serial Killer

In Greek mythology we meet the first serial killer in popular culture. Procrustes, also known as "the stretcher,” is a legendary killer from Attica that kept a house by the side of a busy road where he offered hospitality to passing strangers.

He usually invited travelers in for a comforting meal and a night's rest in his very “special” iron bed. If a victim was shorter than the bed, he stretched him by hammering or racking the body to fit. Alternatively, if the victim was longer than the bed, he cut off the legs to make the body fit the bed’s length. As you probably understand, in both cases the victim died.

A modern representation of ‘Procrusean Bed’ Caricature from 19th century German satirical magazine (Public Domain)

A modern representation of ‘Procrusean Bed’ Caricature from 19th century German satirical magazine (Public Domain)

Fortunately, Procrustes was destroyed by his own method by the younger and stronger Theseus, who would later murder the Minotaur of Crete as well. Procrustes is still discussed today thanks to his “Procrustean bed,” which has become proverbial for arbitrarily—and violently—forcing someone or something to fit into an unnatural scheme or pattern.

Theseus fighting Prokrustes. Surround of the tondo of an Attic red-figured kylix, ca. 440-430 BC. Said to be from Vulci.

Theseus fighting Prokrustes. Surround of the tondo of an Attic red-figured kylix, ca. 440-430 BC. Said to be from Vulci.