Volume 6, Issue 2, 2018
Suicide, Martyrdom, and Violence
The Martys and Spectacular Death
From Homer to the Roman Arena
The notion of a martyr, or martys, has undergone a significant conceptual shift since its first attestation in the Iliad, where the martyroi are those witnesses who punish oath-violators with gruesome deaths rather than those who suffer gruesome deaths, as in later usage. This essay traces the conceptual shift of the Greek term martys from the Homeric precedent through the Book of Revelation. Then it explores the visual focus on dying in the Iliad and in ancient martyr texts, as well as some rhetorical means for conveying it. It concludes with a glance at some common ritual features between the Iliad’s oath-sacrifices and Christian martyr spectacles.