Choke pear

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The choke pear (or pear of anguish) is the modern name for a type of instrument displayed in some museums, consisting of a metal body (usually pear-shaped) divided into spoon-like segments that could be spread apart by turning a screw. The museum descriptions and some recent sources assert that the devices were used either as a gag, to prevent people from speaking, or as an instrument of torture. The instrument was inserted into the victim's mouth, and then slowly spread apart as the screw was turned.

Origins

Pear of agony.jpg

There is no contemporary first-hand account of those devices or their use. An early mention is in F. de Calvi's L'Inventaire général de l'histoire des larrons ("General inventory of the history of thieves"), written in 1639, which attributes the invention to a robber named Capitaine Gaucherou de Palioly in the days of Henry of Navarre. Palioly would have used a mechanical gag to subdue a wealthy Parisian while he and his accomplices robbed the victim's home.1,2

Further mentions of the device appear in the 19th century. They are also mentioned in Francis Grose's Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811) as "Choak Pears," and described as being "formerly used in Holland."3

They were also discussed in a book by Eldridge and Watts, superintendent of police and chief inspector of the detective bureau in Boston, Massachusetts (1897). While accepting that ordinary pear-shaped gags exist, they observed that contemporary robbers used no such device as Palioly's Pear and cast doubt upon its very existence in the first place, saying that "fortunately for us this 'diabolical invention' appears to be one of the lost arts, if, indeed, it ever existed outside of de Calvi's head. There is no doubt, however, of the fashioning of a pear-shaped gag which has been largely used in former days by robbers in Europe, and may still be employed to some extent. This is also known as the 'choke-pear', though it is far less marvellous and dangerous than the pear of Palioly."4

Another mention is found in Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1898), which claims that "Robbers in Holland at one time made use of a piece of iron in the shape of a pear, which they forced into the mouth of their victim. On turning a key, a number of springs thrust forth points of iron in all directions, so that the instrument of torture could never be taken out except by means of the key."5

Museum pieces

Spikeless Pear, Museum der Festung Salzburg, Österreich

Though there is little or no evidence of its being used by bandits, there are a number of extant examples of ornate and elaborate, pear-shaped devices with three or four leaves or lobes, driven by turning a key that rotates the central screw thread, which spreads the leaves. These are generally held in museums devoted to the subject of torture, and are described as instruments of torture by distension or evisceration. Some, but not all, have small spikes of uncertain purpose at the bottom of each leaf. However, these devices do not seem to match the descriptions given by Calvi or the 19th century sources.

This version of the pear has also been referred to as the "Pear of Confession", the "Pope's Pear" (these due to reports that such devices were used during the Inquisition); the "oral pear", "vaginal pear", or "anal pear"; and just "The Pear".

Background and history

A choke pear or chocky-pear is an astringent fruit. It is (the fruit of) any variety of pear that has an astringent taste and that is difficult to swallow. Similarly named trees with astringent fruits include the choke cherry (the common name for several species of cherry tree that grow in North America and whose fruits are small and bitter tasting: Prunus Virginiana, Prunus demissa, and Prunus serotina) and the choke plum.

One variety of choke pear is Poire d'Angoisse, a variety of pear that was grown in Angoisse, a commune in the Arrondissement of Nontron in Dordogne, in the Middle Ages, which was hard, bad tasting, and almost impossible to eat raw, without cooking it. In the words of L'Académie française, the pear is "si àpre et si revéche au goût qu'on a de la peine à l'avaler". Dalechamps has identified this with the species of pear that Pliny the Elder listed as "ampullaceum" in his Naturalis Historia.

A choke pear (and indeed a poire d'angoisse in French) is thus, metaphorically, anything that is difficult to swallow, or that stops up the mouth. It is anything that silences reply, or an argument that cannot be answered. Both "choke pear" in English and "poire d'angoisse" in French are thus colloquialisms for pear-shaped gags, such as used by criminals to silence their victims.

In the 16th century, the idea developed that a "choke pear" or "poire d'angoisse" was more than just a simple gag in the shape of a pear. Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable describes this more complex device as follows: "Robbers in Holland at one time made use of a piece of iron in the shape of a pear, which they forced into the mouth of their victim. On turning a key, a number of springs thrust forth points of iron in all directions, so that the instrument of torture could never be taken out except by means of the key."

More detailed versions of this story state that it was invented by a robber named Capitaine Gaucherou de Palioly in the days of Henry of Navarre, tracing this description to F. de Calvi's L'Inventaire général de l'histoire des larrons written in 1639, and state that the robbers were actually in Paris, not Holland. However, Eldridge and Watts, superintendent of police and chief inspector of the detective bureau in Boston, Massachusetts, writing in the 19th century, whilst accepting that ordinary pear-shaped gags exist, observed that contemporary robbers used no such device as Palioly's Pear and cast doubt upon its very existence in the first place, saying that "[f]ortunately for us this 'diabolical invention' appears to be one of the lost arts, if, indeed, it ever existed outside of de Calvi's head. There is no doubt, however, of the fashioning of a pear-shaped gag which has been largely used in former days by robbers in Europe, and may still be employed to some extent. This is also known as the 'choke-pear', though it is far less marvellous and dangerous than the pear of Palioly."

See also

References


1. "La redoutable poire d'angoisse"
Une expédition du voleur Palioli From the Journal La France pittoresque Issue 21 - Winter 2006–2007 (in French)
2. "Dictionnaire des superstitions, erreurs, préjugés et traditions populaires"
by Le Mrquis de Adolphe Chesnel (1856) Publisher: Migne, Paris - Pages: 915–916 (in French)
-
3. "Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811)
a.k.a. Lexicon Balatronicum, A Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit and Pickpocket Eloquence" by Francis Grose Publisher: Pall-Mall, London
4. "Our Rival, the Rascal: A Faithful Portrayal of the Conflict Between the Criminals of This Age and The Police" (1897)
by Benjamin P. Eldridge and William B. Watts Pages 285–286 < ISBN:1-4179-5952-5 > Buy it from Amazon.com Kessinger Publishing
5. "Dictionary of Phrase and Fable" (1898)
Robbers in Holland at one time made use of a piece of iron in the shape of a pear, which they forced into the mouth of their victim. On turning a key, a number of springs thrust forth points of iron in all directions, so that the instrument of torture could never be taken out except by means of the key.


More information on this topic is available at [ Wikipedia:Choke_pear_(torture) ]


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