mschneider21 Margot Schneider

The text talks about the invention and use of the guillotine. It was originally written in Portuguese and aimed at children and adolescents, so whenever a less colloquially used term appears, a synonym is immediately placed next to it in brackets. The idea is to quickly facilitate the understanding of the sentence and enrich the children's vocabulary. The idea does not always work when the text is translated into another language. Terms that are less commonly used in everyday life in Portuguese may be widely used in another language, and vice versa. At the end of the text, there is an addendum with a fun quiz about what was seen in the text, to help memorize what was learned.

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The Guillotine

"Chance is, perhaps, the pseudonym of God, when he does not want to sign."

Théophile Gautier (5)

In the old days, the death penalty (punishment, death penalty) was applied with the aim of eliminating the delinquent (1) from society once and for all without any criticism or reflection. In the Middle Ages, sentencing people to death had become a commonplace action. If someone stole some fruit from the market, he was hanged. If someone was accused of being a heretic (contrary to what the church preaches), that person was burned alive in a public square. If a nobleman was guilty of any action against society or the state, he was beheaded (had his head cut off), if someone committed a political crime, he was quartered (cut into pieces). And even in times of horror like these, where so many were killed and most of the time unjustly, crime did not cease to occur in these places.

One day a wise Italian jurist (lawyer), philosopher (2) and economist called Cesare Bonesana, better known as Cesare Beccaria, because he was the Marquis of Beccaria, spoke out against the legal tradition and the penal legislation of his time. Beccaria criticised the torture used to obtain confessions of crime, condemned secret trials and the practice of confiscating the property of the condemned. Beccaria's ideas spread throughout Europe and were praised by several personalities of the time, such as the philosophers Voltaire, Montesquieu and Diderot (4). Cesare Beccaria wrote a book that became famous in the study of Criminal Law, "On Crimes and Punishments". The work was released in 1764. In this book, he states that the punishment of those who infringe (do not respect, transgress) the law should be inevitable, but that "it is not the severity of the penalty that brings fear, but the certainty of punishment". In this same book, Beccaria stresses that "the prevention of crimes is better than punishment".

The guillotine is a hideous device formerly used to apply the death penalty by decapitation, that is, to cut off the head of the offender (the one who breaks the law). The instrument consists of a large upright frame on which a heavy blade is suspended. This blade is raised by a rope and is held aloft until the head of the convict is fitted into a cavity that exists on a bar at the bottom of the instrument. A second bar with a cavity for the nape is placed over the head of the victim preventing him from moving. When the cord is released the sharp blade falls rapidly from a distance of 2 or 3 metres, severing the victim's neck. A basket is placed in front of the device, where the head falls.

When the guillotine was invented, long before the French Revolution in 1789, it did not have that name and instead of a diagonal blade, it had a straight blade, so the machine did not always work well. The machine fell into disuse and hanging or severing the head with an axe were the most common means of applying the death penalty.

Based on Beccaria's new ideas, the French physician Joseph-Ignace Guillotin (1738-1814) suggested the return of the use of such a device with a sharp blade for the death penalty. Guillotin was not a bad man, he was only thinking of the suffering of those condemned to death; of the agony of the victims for not having a quick death. Sometimes the hanged man was slow to die, and the axe did not always cut off his head in a single blow. Then a surgeon of the time, Doctor Louis, had the idea of reinventing the old blade device, replacing the inefficient horizontal blade with a diagonal one. The year was 1792 when Louis sketched a design on paper and asked a harp-maker to build it. The contraption (precarious machine, complicated thing) would be called "Louison" - which comes from the name Louis, but a monarchist newspaper, aware of Guillotin's suggestion, made a satire (3) of the project and made the mistake of saying that "such a torture machine should come into use and would be called the guillotine"! Poor doctor. All he wanted was to ease the pain of the condemned and instead he had his name linked to death ever since. Guillotin spent the rest of his life trying in vain to disassociate his name from the terrible killing machine.

The guillotine was widely used after the French Revolution. Just between 1792 and 1799, an estimated 15,000 people died on the guillotine. Nicolas Jacques Pelletier was the name of the first man condemned to the guillotine. He was a common thief.

Among the various famous people who lost their heads on the guillotine are Louis XVI (king of France), Marie Antoinette (queen Consort, wife of Louis XVI), Georges Danton (French lawyer and politician who was prominent at the beginning of the French Revolution), Lavoisier (French chemist, who quoted the phrase: "In nature nothing is created, nothing is lost, everything is transformed."), Maximilien de Robespierre (French lawyer and politician, was one of the most important personalities of the French Revolution).

The death penalty was abolished in France in 1981. In Brazil, officially, the death penalty is no longer applied since the proclamation of the republic in 1889.

In several countries in the world, such as China, North Korea, South Korea, United Arab Emirates, Philippines, Yemen, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kirghizstan, Laos, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mongolia, Pakistan, Singapore, Syria, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, United States of America, Turkey, etc. the death penalty is applied, but nowhere in the world is the guillotine still used.


1 - Delinquent: someone who performs any act against the law.

2 - Philosopher: someone who occupies himself with philosophy, that is, who studies the basic problems related to existence, knowledge, truth and moral values. Person whose objective is to determine the scale of values.

3 - Satire: mockery; literary composition which debauches, ridicules the customs of an epoch or of society.

4 - Diderot: was a French philosopher and writer who became famous for launching the first work that described all the knowledge produced by humanity until his time. He called this work the Encyclopédie. That is why we adopted the name "encyclopaedia" for the same type of work. Diderot's Encyclopédie took 21 years to be edited and is composed of 28 volumes.

5 - Théophile Gautier: was a French writer, poet, journalist and literary critic born in 1811 and died in 1872.

7 de Abril de 2021 a las 19:33 2 Reporte Insertar Seguir historia
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Michele Lugetti Michele Lugetti
First: Story quite interesting... It is good that death penalty is in many countries no longer applied and used. The tragedy of Mr. Guillotin is that he wanted to make human suffering less (of convicted persons) and in the end his name was connected with executing people. I knew already that the most use of the guillotine had been in the days of the French Revolution, but i did not knew about the predecessor with the straight blade and the great amount of people, who lost their lives. Bloody times. Good, that these times are over. I get goosebumps, thinking that in the 18th century „guillotizing“ had been a public spectacle and a tool or way.. around / heading from aristocratic ruling to democracy in France. Second: I like the introduction... the first sentence of Gautier. And what do u think.. Margot... the invention of the guillotine.... more chance or a God participation...
March 29, 2021, 20:40

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