Visiting Peregrinus Proteus in Jail

face of a prisoner

About 1850 years ago, Peregrinus Proteus, a philosopher and publicity-seeker, was thrown into jail. This event “set him up for his future career: now he had standing, a magic aura, and the public notice he was so passionately in love with.” Followers and friends, some traveling from far way, visited him in jail and offered him advice and consolation. They brought him full-course dinners, spent nights in jail with him, and “money poured in from them; he picked up a very nice income this way.” Apparently concerned that punishment only served Peregrinus’ interests, a government official with appreciation for philosophy put an end to his imprisonment:

Peregrinus was released from jail by the governor of Syria. The governor had a penchant for philosophy and, fully aware that Peregrinus was enough of a lunatic to welcome death that would give him a martyr’s acclaim, set him free without considering him worth even the customary flogging.^

Proteus then found other forms to attract attention: shocking use of his own body, insulting the emperor, and giving elaborate speeches. Finally, after extensive, ostentatious preparations, Peregrinus Proteus immolated himself just outside the great sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia, shortly after the Olympic games. His death brought him the enduring notoriety that liberation from imprisonment had denied him.

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