The day is hot and muggy and everyone in attendance is sweating but the perspiration is not from the heat so much as it is from the anticipation of what they are about to witness. The scene is unfolding at the edge of a bog, a mucky patch of still water that stinks when it sits in the hot afternoon sun. There are faintly buzzing insects in the air which only makes the anticipation worse.
The spectators are told that the crime committed was truly heinous and the punishment is to be equally heinous.
Along the shore are two row boats and two large clay jars. The boats have been heavily modified. There are semicircles cut out of the hulls so when one is placed on top of the other, they create holes.
The condemned is told to lie down in the one boat. His arms and legs are tied into position and placed jutting out through the circular cutouts. Then the second boat is placed atop the first so that the person’s head, feet and arms are all protruding from the contraption but the rest of his body is covered by the boats.
The jars are opened and milk and honey are brought forth. The executioner pours the liquids into the condemned man’s mouth until he gags and tries to vomit. Then the rest is poured on his exposed skin. His face, feet, and arms are lathered in the sweet liquids.
Then the man is pushed off the shore and allowed to bob out on the bog. He will remain here until he dies, either from exposure, insect bites or from aspirating his own vomit.
Every day, the executioner will check on the victim and do their best to prolong the man’s life. He will be given water, honey and milk and be lathered again until he is dead. Whether that takes a few hours or a few days, it makes no difference.
This scene evokes a sense of horror and dread like few others. The idea of swarms of insects or crows picking your flesh clean while you are still alive is disturbing. The idea of being hopelessly trapped as you float in the hot sun surrounded by pests, nauseous and covered in sticky disgusting curdled milk and honey is truly awful.
This is the punishment of scaphism. The boats.