Friday, August 3, 2012
The guillotine is a device used for carrying out executions by decapitation. It consists of a tall upright frame from which an angled blade is suspended. This blade is raised with a rope, and the condemned's neck is positioned beneath it. The blade then falls rapidly, severing the head from the body. The device is noted for long being the main method of execution in France and, more particularly, for its use during the French Revolution, when it "became a part of popular culture, celebrated as the people's avenger by supporters of the Revolution and vilified as the pre-eminent symbol of the Reign of Terror by opponents." In spite of being primarily associated with the French Revolution, the guillotine continued to be used long after the French Revolution in several countries, including France, where it was the standard method of execution until the abolition of capital punishment by President François Mitterrand in 1981. In Germany, it saw rapid and prolific use during the Third Reich and was used as late as 1966 (in the German Democratic Republic) and in France in 1977, for the execution of Hamida Djandoubi.
The following report was written by a Dr. Beaurieux, who experimented with the head of a condemned prisoner by the name of Henri Languille, on 28 June 1905:
Here, then, is what I was able to note immediately after the decapitation: the eyelids and lips of the guillotined man worked in irregularly rhythmic contractions for about five or six seconds. This phenomenon has been remarked by all those finding themselves in the same conditions as myself for observing what happens after the severing of the neck ...
I waited for several seconds. The spasmodic movements ceased. It was then that I called in a strong, sharp voice: "Languille!" I saw the eyelids slowly lift up, without any spasmodic contractions – I insist advisedly on this peculiarity – but with an even movement, quite distinct and normal, such as happens in everyday life, with people awakened or torn from their thoughts.
Next Languille's eyes very definitely fixed themselves on mine and the pupils focused themselves. I was not, then, dealing with the sort of vague dull look without any expression, that can be observed any day in dying people to whom one speaks: I was dealing with undeniably living eyes which were looking at me. After several seconds, the eyelids closed again.
It was at that point that I called out again and, once more, without any spasm, slowly, the eyelids lifted and undeniably living eyes fixed themselves on mine with perhaps even more penetration than the first time. Then there was a further closing of the eyelids, but now less complete. I attempted the effect of a third call; there was no further movement – and the eyes took on the glazed look which they have in the dead. (read more)