Procrustes

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In Greek mythology Procrustes (Προκρούστης) or "the stretcher [who hammers out the metal]", also known as Prokoptas or Damastes (Δαμαστής) "subduer", was a rogue smith and bandit from Attica who physically attacked people, stretching them, or cutting off their legs so as to make them fit an iron bed's size. In general, when something is Procrustean different lengths or sizes or properties are fitted to an arbitrary standard.

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Original Greek mythology

In the Greek myth, Procrustes was a son of Poseidon with a stronghold on Mount Korydallos, on the sacred way between Athens and Eleusis. There, he had an iron bed in which he invited every passer-by to spend the night, and where he set to work on them with his smith's hammer, to stretch them to fit. In later tellings, if the guest proved too tall, Procrustes would amputate the excess length; nobody ever fit the bed exactly because secretly Procrustes had two beds.[1] Procrustes continued his reign of terror until he was captured by Theseus, travelling to Athens along the sacred way, who "fitted" Procrustes to his own bed:

"He killed Damastes, surnamed Procrustes, by compelling him to make his own body fit his bed, as he had been wont to do with those of strangers. And he did this in imitation of Heracles. For that hero punished those who offered him violence in the manner in which they had plotted to serve him."[2]

Killing Procrustes was the last adventure of Theseus on his journey from Troezen to Athens.

Contemporary usage

A Procrustean bed is an arbitrary standard to which exact conformity is forced. In Edgar Allan Poe's The Purloined Letter, the private detective Dupin uses the metaphor of a Procrustean bed to describe the Parisian police's overly rigid method of looking for clues. Jacques Derrida, in "The Purveyor of Truth," his response to Jacques Lacan's "Seminar on The Purloined Letter", applies the metaphor to the structural analysis of texts: "By framing in this violent way, by cutting the narrated figure itself from a fourth side in order to see only triangles, one evades perhaps a certain complication."[3] This is one of deconstruction's central critiques of structural (and formal) literary analysis.

Procrustes analysis is the process of performing a shape-preserving Euclidean transformation to a set of shapes. This removes variations in translation, rotation and scaling across the dataset in order to move them into a common frame of reference. This is generally the precursor to further statistical analysis. A related problem in linear algebra is the orthogonal Procrustes problem of finding the closest orthogonal matrix to any given matrix.

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