Saturday, January 10, 2009

Custom of the sea

The so-called "custom of the sea" was the understanding that, in dire circumstances, sailors would be forgiven for resorting to survivor cannibalism. There were several true accounts for Edgar Allan Poe to draw on for his fictional novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, first published in magazine form in 1837. His story describes the desperation of three castaways who reach the point of drawing straws to see who would be sacrificed to save the others from starvation. Ship's mate Richard Parker draws the short straw. Fifty years later, in 1884, fact mirrored fiction. Two survivors of the yacht Mignonette were brought up on charges, and eventually sentenced to death, for killing and cannibalizing their shipmate. The case, Regina v. Dudley and Stephens, was intended to set an example and put an end to this barbarous tradition. The name of the cannibalized shipmate: Richard Parker.

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