Manage episode 259813503 series 2659594
Have you ever been so drunk you’ve started eating people? This episode, Carmella tells the absurd true story behind Géricault’s famous painting of ‘The Raft of the Medusa’.
Written, hosted and produced by Alix Penn and Carmella Lowkis.
Theme music by Daniel Wackett. Find him on Twitter @ds_wack and Soundcloud as Daniel Wackett.
Logo by Riley. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @tallestfriend.
Casting Lots is part of the Morbid Audio Podcast Network. Network sting by Mikaela Moody. Find her on Bandcamp as mikaelamoody1.
- Corréard, A. and H. Savigny. (1821). Naufrage de la frégate ‘La Méduse’, faisant partie de l’expédition du Sénégal, en 1816 (5th edition). Paris: Corréard. Available at: https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k1036098.texteImage
- Géricault, T. (1819). Le Radeau de la Méduse [Oil on canvas]. Louvre, Paris. Available at: https://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/raft-medusa
- Journal des débats politiques et littéraires. (1816). ‘Naufrage de la Méduse’, Journal des débats politiques et littéraires, 13 September, pp. 2-4. Available at: https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k421756q/f2.image
- Riding, C. (2003). ‘The fatal raft’, History Today, 53(2), pp. 38-44.
- Shaw, M. (2012). ‘The Doctor and the cannibals’, The Dickensian, 108(487), pp. 117-125. Available at: https://search.proquest.com/openview/d26548f821f01e3d29bef995e47fbc0e
Alix: Have you ever been really, really hungry?
Carmella: You’re listening to Casting Lots: A Survival Cannibalism Podcast.
A: I’m Alix.
C: I’m Carmella.
A: And now let’s tuck into the gruesome history of this ultimate taboo…
[Intro Music – Daniel Wackett]
C: Welcome to Episode Six, where we’re going to be talking about the Raft of the Medusa.
[Intro music continues.]
C: Alix, would you like to hear about the Raft of the Medusa?
A: Oui. [Laughs.] I didn’t do French.
C: So, as you might have guessed, this is a French one. Just to begin with, most of the information here is taken from a primary source that I read in French. Now, my French is decent, but I realised very quickly that I didn’t necessarily know all the nautical terms. So, if there are any errors, I take full responsibility; that’s my bad.
A: I can do about the fact that mer – the sea.
C: The mer is the sea, correct.
A: That’s what I can do.
C: So, the raft of the Medusa. The reason I knew about this was ‘cause of the big painting in the Louvre, which I assume is what you knew as well.
A: I knew it was a big painting and I knew there was cannibalism.
C: Yeah! As it turns out, the cannibalism is just the conclusion to a wild story.
A: Wild ride.
C: Yeah, so we’re in for a treat with this one. The background: following on from the post-Napoleonic War treaties between England and France over the division of the African west coast, the French Minister of the Marine sends a four-ship convoy to Saint-Louis in Senegal to re-establish their colony there. Napoleonic warfare, there’s a lot of territory changing hands, so it’s settled down now – the French got Senegal back, and they want to go back and reclaim it. One of the ships in this convoy is our very own Méduse, or the Medusa in English. I’ll call it the Medusa; I won’t do things in an obnoxious French accent too often.
A: Too often.
C: Too often. I will do that, but– So she’s a 44-gun frigate.
A: It just sounds rude, doesn’t it?
C: It does.
C: She’s captained by a fellow called Chaumareys.
A: With a name like that, I assume he’s French?
C: I think they’re all French. So she’s big: she’s carrying 400 crew and passengers. I mean, they’re gonna reestablish a colony, I guess they need a lot of people.
A: Yeah. Some of them are probably women as well.
C: There are women onboard.
A: Oh my gosh.
A: Well, that’s the problem isn’t it?
C: Oh yeah, definitely.
C: I think the actual problem may be Chaumareys. He’s an interesting choice to say the least. The Minister of the Marine has made the selection based not so much on skill and experience as on political convenience.
A: That has never happened before in the history of politics, admiralty, officials, Brexit.
C: Nope, not once. This is the first time. Basically, the Minister of the Marine wants to exclude officers who served under Napoleon, to show that he’s onboard with the new regime. Which are, of course, Bourbons. Chaumareys is an aristocrat; he’s recently returned from exile, and he’s been exiled because of his pro-Bourbon sympathies. So he’s on the right team, as it happens.
A: Does he have any real experience with driving a ship?
C: He has served on French ships before. The last time was 20 years ago.
A: Ah, technology changes, you see. The sea’s a fickle mistress.
C: The ensuing disaster – spoilers – is largely blamed on his reckless command by our narrators. Savigny and Corréard.
A: I’m not even gonna try and pronounce their names.
C: That might not be how they’re pronounced. That’s my guess. So these guys are two survivors of the ultimate disaster, and-
A: Either that or they’re zombies.
C: Or ghosts.
A: Or gho- Well, if they need to write it down, they need to be able to hold pens.
C: They could possess someone.
A: They could possess someone, that is true.
C: They largely seem to blame it on the captain in their account. The party leaves France in June 1816. The party as in the party of ships, rather than.
C: “We’re going to Senegal!”
A: Party ship, party boat.
C: Well, Chaumareys is on the party boat, because he just wants to speed along. He leaves behind two of his accompanying ships because they can’t keep the pace, and if necessary he intends to sail the Medusa solo to Senegal. Which is very much against his orders.
A: Yeah, they don’t want you to do that. You stay together for a reason.
C: He feels the need for speed. Now we’re down to two ships: we’ve got the Medusa and her companion, the Echo.
C: Which is quite a poetic- Like her shadow coming behind her. That’s quite nice.
A: I mean, there’s- All of these names seem very Ancient Greek mythology. Obviously Echo is. You have Medusa – I love me a gorgon, so, you know, very excited to see how this comes in.
C: We’ve got the Argus. The other one is called the Loire. Which I don’t think is a… Ancient Greek thing. No, we’ve got three Greeks and just a random French supply ship coming with them.
A: I’m not sure where I was going with the Ancient Greek thing; but it’s quite nice to note.
C: The Medusa and the Echo safely reach Madeira, where they stop for supplies. There’s a nice long, chapter-length, how beautiful Madeira is and all the fun they had there, so I-
A: Party ship!
C: Party ship! I assume that they are sampling the local Madeira wine, because they have a lot of wine onboard – as we will find out later. Then they continue on. They don’t actually wait up for the other two to catch up. They must be very far ahead – they seemed to stay a while in Madeira. And as they continue round the coast of Africa, the Medusa is sailing quite close to the coast. There are known perils in the area: you’ve got sandbars and reefs.
A: Those sea monsters that jump out from the map and eat ships.
C: Yeah, those ones. They’re sailing close to the coast because it’s faster somehow. Apparently. I’m trying to imagine the geography of it.
A: [Makes a speedy ship noise.]
C: But anyway.
A: The noise helps. That’s actually what the captain’s doing, standing there just going [repeats the noise].
C: [In a silly voice:] “Chaumareys!” Saying his own name.
C: On the night of the 1st of July, the captain is informed that Cap Blanc has been sighted. However, what’s been sighted is actually a bank of clouds, meaning that they’re now very much mistaken about the ship’s position.
A: What a good sailor.
C: In his defense, it’s the captain who’s sighted it. Someone else has told him that that bank of clouds is Cap Blanc.
A: And he’s just like, “Yep. That looks like Cap Blanc. That doesn’t at all look like a child’s drawing of a thunderstorm. Let’s keep going.”
C: It sounds like some crew members realise the error and try to warn the captain, but he and his navigator Richefort make what they think are corrections to the route based on the clouds being Cap Blanc, and change their course. So they think they’re further along than they are.
A: Do the clouds not move? Or rain.
C: That’s a good question.
A: Or change- I mean, this is night? I feel like you can only really justify that at night.
C: Yeah, it’s night. It’s quite late at night.
A: Ok, I’m assuming what happens next is going to happen quite soon?
A: Ok, that’s slightly more justifiable. But also…clouds.
C: The Echo realises the error and tries to warn them. They ignore her, so she gives up and sails further out to sea, to safety, because she knows that there are sandbanks in the area and such. And is like, “Well, if you won’t listen, I’m getting out!” Actually, it sounds like she sails quite far away and actually disappears over the horizon, and is no longer in sight of them. Which I think is a bit harsh of the crew of the Echo.
A: She’s just behind the clouds.
C: [Laughs.] So on the 2nd of July, in the morning, the quartermaster-
A: Ok, no, no excuse; if it’s morning, they can see that those are clouds!
C: The quartermaster and a few of the other men do begin to realise a mistake has been made and they’re in very shallow water.
C: However, the captain ignores their warnings, and it’s only when a sounding of 18 fathoms is taken – that’s quite shallow for a big ship – that the captain finally realises the error and orders the ship to be turned into the wind to sail away. But he’s left it too late, and just past 3pm that day, the ship gets stuck on the bank.
A: [Sad trombone noise.]
C: Who saw that coming? It’s almost like he was warned by many many people. Even worse: this occurs during the spring high tide, which means the water is as high as it’s ever gonna be – and is only gonna go down as time proceeds.
A: And ships are famously round.
C: Ships famously need to be in the water to move. Already, the blame is being pointed – quite rightly – at the captain. One of the men says-
A: Please do it in a French accent.
C: Go on then. [In a bad French accent:] “See, Captain, where your stubbornness has driven us; I warned you!”
C: Of course, he says it in French. That’s my translation. Various attempts are made to lighten the load of the ship, but none are successful. When I say ‘attempts are made’, I don’t know whether they fully commit to it. So, for example, they don’t throw a single cannon overboard.
C: They’ve got 44 cannons and they don’t throw any of them overboard.
A: Men like their toys.
C: If you get rid of the cannons, what happens if you get attacked?
A: You eat them!
C: So they decide that they need a way to transport passengers and equipment safely to shore. They’re assuming at this point that the Echo or one of their other friends is gonna come rescue them, so they’re not too worried about abandoning ship. But in case they do need to, they’re making plans for that. They only have six small launches on the ship to evacuate people, which isn’t gonna work for 400 people.
A: I know some things about lifeboats.
C: Tell me.
A: This is mostly from British maritime law, and not from French, but you can assume they’re mostly similar. Around this time, 16th up to around the 19th/20th Century, if you get into trouble at sea, you are dead. There’s not a lot of point having lifeboats that can take everyone, because you’re dead. The stories that we talk about are happening, so lifeboats are really sort of there to get people to and from ship to another ship.
A: So you don’t need large numbers, because that’s not what they’re there for.
C: They’re not for a full-scale evacuation.
C: Because they do need to do a full-scale evacuation, though, they decide that they’re gonna build a big raft as well, and they can use that to carry heavy equipment, or they can carry people if they do need to get everyone off all at once. So-
A: Would this be ‘the raft of the Medusa’?
C: This would be ‘the raft of the Medusa’!
A: Name drop.
C: They construct it out of scavenged bits of the ship; they take down some of the masts to build it, rightly thinking that they’re not gonna get off the sandbank with the wind. So the raft is 66 by 23 feet. I can’t really visualise that. How tall are you, are you nearly six foot?
A: Five eight and a half, I think.
C: So, like, ten or eleven of you.
A: Ten of- Ten of me.
C: So for the listeners who can’t see Alix – you’ll have to imagine a person who is about that tall.
C: That gives us a rough idea of, if a person is that- If that’s how tall a human person is, then that’s how many human persons you could fit lying down on this raft.
A: It’s given me even less of an idea of how big the raft of the Medusa is, to be perfectly honest.
C: Well, it’s designed to carry 100 people.
A: Sorry, how many people are on the ship?
C: 400, but they’re hoping to fit the rest of them in the launches.
A: How many launches are there?
A: It’s not gonna work.
C: The maths does work out – very crowded.
A: But they could have just made a bigger raft, and then it would have been less crowded. Or two rafts.
C: Maybe they ran out of wood?
A: They’ve got an entire ship!
C: Yeah, but if you start deconstructing the ship around you, you’ve gotta construct the raft pretty quickly!
A: Ok, ok, maybe there’s a point to be made there.
C: Like I said, they’re not actually thinking about abandoning ship right now. However, in the early hours of the morning on the 5th of July, it starts to storm, and the frame gets damaged, and the ship starts to take on water faster than they can pump it out. So, at daybreak the decision is made to actually abandon ship. Just as a side-note, I said 400 people – 17 men elect to stay about the Medusa, either because they’re too scared of the leaky crafts and they think that they’ll sink because there are too many people on them, but also some of them are just too drunk to move! So everyone else is evacuated on the launches and the raft. The high-ranking officials, of course, take the boats.
A: Of course.
C: According to the maths of our narrators – Savigny and Corréard – they’ve got plenty of space to stretch their legs. For example, the boat taken by the governor and family can fit 50 people, and takes 35.
A: See? This is the point I’m making. It’s not gonna work, is it?
C: Not gonna work if you’re too selfish to let other people on your boat. When some extra sailors do try to climb aboard, they’re even threatened away with blades. So it’s not just a case of them thinking there’s no space, it’s they’re actively keeping other people from joining them.
C: Mmhmm. And with the choppy seas and the high winds, the launch passengers don’t want to risk the extra weight, and it’s every person for themselves – not every man for himself, because there are women.
A: Are there children?
C: Ooh. They’re families, so there might be children.
C: It doesn’t say specifically. Overall, 233 people do escape in the boats, but that leaves 152 to the raft.
A: Yeah, that’s not 400. It’s over capacity.
C: It’s very over capacity.
A: And underwater.
C: Mostly, it’s lower-ranked sailors and soldiers. There is one woman on the raft – fun fact. Amazingly, despite all the panic, and there are several people falling into the water as they try to evacuate, there are no serious injuries. So everyone makes it onto the launches safely.
A: Ok, so that’s-
C: Doing alright so far. The raft has no sails or means of steerage, so it’s relying on tow-lines to the launches, and the launches are gonna tow it back to land.
A: Sure they are.
C: Sure they are. It is supposed to have maps and navigational equipment onboard. Later, it will be discovered that, although these were promised, they’re missing. But for now, they think that they have them.
A: Do they not have a single officer? You would think that they’d put an officer on the raft to lead it.
C: They do have some officers.
A: Oh, ok.
C: And they do have an elected commanding officer of the raft.
C: He has injured his leg and isn’t in the best of shape, and his leadership declines significantly quite quickly. But there is one there. And also, they have been promised by the guys on the launches that they’re also commanding the raft.
A: That’s not how it works.
C: Mm. In fact, they do ask that, they call out to them, [in a bad French accent:] ‘Oh, who is in command?’ and get told ‘oh, I am, even though I’m on a launch, but it’s cool – I’ll come over if there’s any problems, and I’ll come and help you.’ Is what they’re told.
C: Mm. Also, because they’ve been preparing this raft for a while, ample provisions of biscuits, wine, and water are put aside for the raft and launches, but in the panic to leave, most of them are forgotten and left onboard the ship.
A: Guys, that’s an obvious thing.
C: The raft has some flour, six barrels of wine, and only two small containers of water. However, the flour has to be thrown overboard to make more room for the men, and – as our narrators lament – they don’t think to just, like, tie the barrels of flour onto the side of the ship and get them back out the water later, so they just float away.
A: Are our narrators on the raft?
C: Yes, our narrators are on the raft. One guy does bring over a 25 pound bag of biscuits – as in ship’s biscuits, not something exciting.
A: I genuinely thought you were gonna say that they brought a 25 pound cannon. I really thought you were gonna say cannon.
C: No: biscuit! It gets soaked as he does that, and becomes a sort of nasty, salty mush. He keeps it, just in case, which turns out to be a good idea, but it is – ugh – a bit gross.
A: Ugh, I can- I can picture it.
C: Yeah, like this mulched up, salty-
A: Ugh. Sort of papier mache type.
C: Yeah, like a glue.
C: Like salt dough. The passengers on the raft persist in trying to get aboard the launches. Some of them even try to draw them closer with the tow-lines, which obviously upsets the people on the launches. They fire some warning shots and, when that doesn’t work, the launches- They just cut the two-lines. They’re like, ‘No! That’s it! Raft, you’re out – goodbye.”
A: Oh, so that lasted long, that ‘we’re gonna help.’
C: Yeah, they don’t get very far at all actually. They get far enough away from the ship that they can no longer just go back to the ship, but they’re not near the coast. So this improves the speed of the launches remarkably, and they speed off.
A: Who’d of thought?
C: Who’d of thought? They ignore the pleas to God from the raft, and the raft is left drifting in the open sea, with no means of moving itself. Or navigating. Or anything.
C: Cool. At first, the people on the raft hope that perhaps the launches abandoned them because they spotted a sail in the distance and are speeding off to go and get help.
A: Oh, that’s optimistic.
C: Yeah, wishful thinking. It soon becomes clear to the survivors that they have been sacrificed for the greater good.
A: Ooh, that’s tough.
C: So now they have a quick search of the raft and find that the promised navigational equipment is missing.
A: I mean, they should have done that first.
C: They should have. Luckily, one of the hands has a tiny compass that’s no bigger than a coin.
C: Aww. They know which way north is.
A: But they can’t get there.
C: They can’t get there. They share out the mushed up, salty biscuit. It’s only enough for one meal each – it’s not something they can ration. That’s it, it’s gone now. And they all have a ration of wine.
A: Well, at least they’ve got wine.
C: According to the narrators, the survivors are also nourished by their “desire for vengeance”.
A: Ok, I like that.
C: It’s quite a good turn of phrase. They construct a makeshift sail. They didn’t think to bring rope, so they don’t have proper rigging for it. It’s quite a pathetic- It doesn’t do much at all.
C: It’s sort of just on the back of the raft. They have some powder and shot, so they fire signals into the air, hoping to get attention, but that doesn’t work. So all they can really do now is pray and hope their companions will return.
A: Wouldn’t that be nice?
C: It’s a very stormy night. They’re all completely terrified, and in the morning they find about 20 men have been lost to the waves. Our narrators estimate that it might actually have been more than that who were lost, because they take the count based on how many rations of wine are taken at breakfast, and they think that perhaps some people might have taken some extra rations and pretended to be multiple people.
A: Going round again with a mustache and a hat on.
C: Well, you have got a- Like, a 130 now on board, so… I guess it’s hard to keep track of everyone.
A: Yeah, no, fair enough.
C: Throughout the day, a few other men just jump overboard, preferring that to the long death that they see in their future. And already some survivors are beginning to hallucinate land and ships.
A: That’s quick.
C: It’s probably ‘cause they’re really drunk.
A: Yeah, I was just about to be like ‘oh yeah’.
C: Some do choose to just drink all of their rations at once and just be completely drunk. As they’re all drunk and hallucinating, the raft becomes more and more disordered. People are shoving to get to the middle, people get crushed to death, fall off. The vessel tilts back and forth in the waves; it’s a complete horrorshow. And that means that skirmishes begin to break out. We get, I think, two chapters of just this long, very impressive, fantastic battle scenes with tactical maneuvers and these heroic acts, and… They’re on a tiny raft. I think there’s some embellishment here, because I can’t believe everything that happens. But-
A: They’re also really drunk.
C: They are.
A: Have you seen a fight taking place outside a nightclub?
C: I think it’s something like that. The reason it starts is because a faction decides that they should just destroy the raft. So one man tries to hack it apart with an axe and, you know, someone tries to stop him – that’s when the bloodshed begins.
A: Sorry, they’ve got an axe, but no one thought to check whether they had navigational equipment or food?
C: Well, they thought they had food.
A: No they didn’t; they forgot it!
C: They did forget it. They had biscuits. So just imagine, if you will, these skirmishes. I won’t go through all of the heroic acts and dastardly acts. Of course, our narrators are on the correct side – which is the side that doesn’t want to sink the raft. I will, in this case, take their side. I’ll say they are correct there. Multiple people go overboard. Some of them are fished back out and then thrown back again. Someone tries to take out an officer’s eye with a penknife. The one woman goes overboard, but thankfully her pitiful womanly cries are heard and a brave man rescues her and her husband. Phew.
A: Oh, I’m so glad.
A: [Imitating a feeble woman:] “Help me, help me, I’m just a lady! I’m a poor lady in the water!”
C: Well, you see, the scene is actually so touching that it puts a brief end to the fighting, and the responsible soldiers fall to their knees and weep in penance for what they’ve done. Hmmm, some embellishment here, I think.
A: I think there might be something to say here about how women are being perceived. I’m not sure. It’s not quite clear, but there might be a point to make here?
C: You say women. “Woman.”
A: Well, yes.
C: There’s one.
A: There’s more than one woman in the entirety of France.
C: That doesn’t sound historically accurate, Alix. I think that you’re just putting, you know, modern notions of political correctness on history right now.
C: Their penance doesn’t last long, and soon the fighting starts up again. More and more men are starting to hallucinate. They see the officials who have abandoned them, and wanna go for them and kill them – but of course they’re not actually there. They see bread and chicken. They see the Medusa sailing by, and – as a direct quote – [in a bad French accent:] “Everything seemed to us infinitely more frightening.” The next day, so day three-
A: Oh God! Ok, ok.
C: Yeah. It’s found that during the fighting, all the fresh water and most of the wine has been thrown overboard.
A: Well, that wasn’t the best decis- Day three!
C: Day three! We’re down to 60 people, and only one cask of wine between them.
A: I mean, they weren’t making the best decisions anyway, and I suppose you can see something with the people who want to destroy the raft turning into people destroying supplies. That is something that happens – people do have this sort of reaction where ‘If I can’t survive, no one can survive’. But… Day three.
A Day three… Is this day three after they’ve been cut loose, or is this day three after they leave the Medusa?
C: Same thing.
A: Oh- They don’t even last a day before being cut loose?
C: By this point – it’s a bit uncertain between sources whether we’re on day three or day four now – but by day four, the survivors begin to eat the corpses of the dead. Again, that is quite early. But they’re all very drunk.
A: Well, that’s what happens. I mean, I’ve- I’ve had some wild nights. Granted, I’ve never been on a four-day bender on a boat, but it’s still not occurred to me straight away to go to cannibalism. I do suppose, with the circumstance, and the lack of order on the raft… And it doesn’t sound like anyone’s been murdered for food.
A: Definitely, like, people have been murdered.
C: There’s been a lot of murder. But not for food.
A: So that’s fine then.
C: Yep. Not everyone’s eating the dead just yet, but some of them are. And the ones who won’t eat the dead – it’s actually more of a culinary thing. They’re like [in a half-hearted French accent:] “Oh, that does not look nice to eat.” So-
A: Direct quote.
C: Direct quote. What they do is, they lay strips of flesh over the raft to salt it, because then it will be more palatable. And, indeed, once it’s salted and looks like just any other salt meat, they do eat it. Men also attempt to eat their sword harnesses and cartridge boxes. One sailor tries to eat excrement, but – to quote – “he could not succeed”.
C: Yeah. On either the fourth day or the fifth day – so the day after they begin eating people – they’re able to catch some fish. Which they attempt to cook with a fire… On a wooden raft, full of soaking-wet wood. And somehow they manage!
A: Well the other alternative would be they burn the raft down around them, so I’m gonna give them this. They need something.
C: So they have a nice meal of some cooked fish.
A: And probably cooked people as well.
C: Probably. There’s- Yeah, more bloodshed that night, which reduces their number to 30.
A: Are they just bored?
C: Well, I will tell you what happens that night. There is… Some suspicious circumstances, where what totally absolutely happens, is a coalition of the Spanish, Italian, and Black African survivors, totally start plotting to throw the Frenchmen overboard. So have to be thrown overboard themselves by the Frenchmen. Definitely they started it. Absolutely. Nothing suspicious there.
A: Nothing at all. Sorry, sorry, can I just check something? What’s the nationality of our narrators?
C: They’re French.
C: Yes. Carrying on a bit. They’ve got some fish to eat for a little bit, they’ve got some bodies. By day eight, the fittest decide to throw the injured overboard so that their remaining rations of wine and fish will last a little longer.
A: They could just eat them!
C: Ah, well, well, they’ve got plenty to eat.
A: No they don’t!
C: They’ve killed like 120 people; there’s probably corpses bobbing all round the water. They’ve got-
A: Oh yeah, they’re not really moving, are they?
C: No, they’ve got- They’re fine. So, one of the people who’s jettisoned is the sole woman. That leaves just fifteen on the raft. We have lost nine out of ten of our survivors. It’s very Lord of the Flies, isn’t it? Band together, and maybe more of you could survive.
C: And instead we get this drunk in-fighting and strange factions.
A: People are just the worst, aren’t they? And the thing is, this really does contrast with some of our other stories, where there’s, like, humanity and decisions.
C: Like Uruguay.
A: Like Uruguay. But, yeah, it just seems to be the fact that they’re all pissed.
C: And can we remember that this is an account written by two survivors of the raft, who want to make themselves look good?
A: Oh yeah.
C: And this is the best they can come up with. I mean, how much worse might it actually have been?
A: Oh, I don’t wanna think about that.
C: On the ninth day, they spot a single white butterfly. For some, that is a sign from God that they are soon to be delivered, and for others it’s a sign that at least they’re getting close to land.
A: That does make sense, I can say in both directions. It’s also a sign that they’re having a joint hallucination, perhaps?
A: Also, sorry, how have our two narrators managed to survive?
C: They’re French.
A: Of the fifteen. I sort of had this, ‘oh, they’re just our objective narrators’. No; they’re there; they’re doing this as well. Hmm.
A: In a very positive light.
C: So, on day thirteen, or 17th of July, they’re rescued by the Argus. Which is one of the ships that was sailing with them to begin with. It’s actually a mistake – the Argus weren’t looking-
C: The Argus weren’t looking for them, they just stumble across them and go “Ah!”
C: [In some kind of accent:] “It’s you guys, huh?” That wasn’t French. [In a slightly more French accent:] “It is you guys, huh?” So, all fifteen make it onboard, although only ten survive in the long term. So-
A: Well, technically none of them survive in the long term.
C: No, surprisingly-
A: They’re all dead now.
C: That- Yeah, it is like that. Just a little word on what happens to our narrators afterwards. So, Savigny submits a report to the French authorities – a briefer version of what I’ve just recounted – and it gets leaked to the anti-Bourbon press.
A: Ohh, that’s a good one!
C: Yeah, so it becomes a real, ‘Napoleon is great, the King is awful’ kind of thing.
A: I mean, technically, not really the King or Napoleon’s fault. But I’ll give a good PR stunt that – it does work.
C: Yeah, it was all planned, this PR stunt.
C: Yeah, it becomes a national scandal. Everyone’s very quick to point fingers, avoid taking any blame. Chaumareys, our captain, is court martialed, but he-
C: He receives a very lenient sentence of about three years. So, he could be put to death for this, but he’s not. Does ‘cover up’ maybe come into it?
C: Could be.
A: Do all six of the launches make it back to safety?
C: Yeah, they’re all find.
A: And they’re just like, “Oh, we thought they were right behind us.”
C: Yeah, pretty much. So, the narrative that I have been using as a primary source is published shortly after. It becomes a bestseller, multiple reprintings, different languages.
A: And yet you could only find it in French?
C: Yes… I don’t think it’s been reprinted recently. And, inspired by their account, the artist Géricault – he created the famous painting that is the reason that we still remember the story today.
A: ‘The Raft of the Medusa’. Very dramatic.
C: Yes, we’ll put a link in the show notes in case you want to have a look at the painting.
A: Wasn’t that the painting where, in order to accurately depict what happened, he was just, like, hanging out with dead bodies?
C: Was it?!
A: Yeah, I think he borrowed some executed criminals to see how they were dead, and I think he visited various asylums to look at how people ‘wracked by torment’ looked.
C: To be fair, a lot of artists hang out with dead bodies and stuff, that’s a common thing in art history.
A: I mean, yes.
C: Why do life drawing when you can do death drawing? But don’t get your hopes up about the painting, because he’s actually pretty coy about the cannibalism. It’s not vivid in the painting.
A: It’s implied if you know what to look for.
C: Yeah, like the one weeping over the corpse but maybe he’s having a nibble. So thank you, that’s the story of the Raft of the Medusa, which – I would say the cannibalism is possibly the least wild part of what happens to them there.
A: Three days!
A: Three days… How long have we been doing these recording sessions now?
[Outro Music – Daniel Wackett]
A: Thank you for listening to our episode on the Medusa. Now that was quite a story, I think I might need a drink. I might avoid wine.
C: Join us next time for the story of the whaleship Essex, where Alix finally gets to talk about her favourite whaling disaster.
[Outro music continues]
C: All the fresh water and most of the wine has been thrown overboard.
A: There’s a little giggle in your voice, but we can work with it!
C: I think that’s allowed!
A: Casting Lots Podcast can be found on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr as @CastingLotsPod, and on Facebook as Casting Lots Podcast.
C: If you enjoyed this episode and want to hear more, don’t forget to subscribe to us on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts, and please rate, review and share to bring more people to the table.
A: Casting Lots: A Survival Cannibalism Podcast, is researched, written and recorded by Alix and Carmella, with post-production and editing also by Carmella and Alix. Art and logo design by Riley – @Tallestfriend on Twitter and Instagram – with audio and music by Daniel Wackett – Daniel Wackett on SoundCloud and @ds_wack on Twitter. Casting Lots is part of the Morbid Audio Podcast Network – search #MorbidAudio on Twitter – and the network’s music is provided by Mikaela Moody – mikaelamoody1 on Bandcamp.
[Morbid Audio Sting – Mikaela Moody]