19. Rat torture, a staple of modern film, television, and literature, was a historic method that forced trapped rats in a heated container to eat through adjacent human flesh.
Appearing repeatedly throughout modern popular film, television, and literature, rat torture is an especially cruel method of punishment. Using a heated vessel to contain the vermin close to the human, the rodent, growing increasingly desperate to escape its own suffering, is compelled to burrow into the flesh of the victim. The use of rats in this manner is believed to have originated in Europe, with two variants of the practice emerging concurrently. The former, stemming from Elizabethan England, is based on claims the Tower of London contained a “Rats Dungeon” wherein “a cell blow high-water mark” would “draw in rats from the River Thames” and victims would have “flesh…torn from the arms and legs”.
Similarly, and more in line with modern representations, occurred during the Dutch Revolt (1568-1648). Diederik Sonoy, an ally of the revolt’s leader, William of Orange, allegedly used pottery bowls filled with rats to enact the torture and elicit information. Heating the bowls with charcoal, the rats would “gnaw into the very bowels of the victim”. The method was reborn during the modern age across Latin America, with its use recorded under the military dictatorships of Brazil, Chile, and Argentina. The most recent confirmed case occurred in New Jersey in 2010, when David Wax threatened a kidnap victim with rat torture.