13 Inventors Foiled By Their Own Inventions

Perillos of Athens

Perillos of Athens is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 13 Inventors Foiled By Their Own Inventions

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The Brazen Bull


From 570 to 554 BC, the Sicilian city of Agrigentum was ruled over by a general named Phalaris. It’s said that he strengthened the city’s walls, constructed an aqueduct to provide clean water, and improved trade with Carthage, and was a cannibal whose preferred dish was “suckling babies.” So, you know, kind of a mixed bag.


Seeking a delightfully creative new way to torture and kill people, Phalaris turned to metal-worker Perillos of Athens. (How did he get from Athens to Sicily? That, children, is a story for another list!) Perillos eventually designed for the clearly well-adjusted tyrant a bull made of either iron or bronze, depending on which somewhat-reputable website you read. (Uh, I mean, ancient primary text you personally inspect!)

It worked like this: Undesireables are placed inside the belly of the iron/bronze bull and then a fire is lit underneath the statue. This eventually roasts the victim, producing a satisfying plume of smoke out of the bull’s nose, which may or may not have been mingled with incense to really make the searing flesh smell POP, you know? Also, it’s said that the screams of the piping hot unfortunates inside resembled the bellowing of a bull. (Have you ever heard a bull bellow? Tell us your story in the comments!)


Inventing a fun and daring new torture device for a cruel cannibalistic dictator? How could THIS possibly backfire? Again, various Internet sources that Google swears are accurate and reliable differ on the details of what happened to Perillos. One story that can’t possibly be true says that the inventor happily leapt into the belly of his creation to demonstrate how accurate the bellowing would sound when Phalaris just locked him in there and lit him up. That’s just comical, over-the-top villainry. But it seems clear enough that, through some circumstance or another, Perillos did end up being the first victim of his new device.

The story has YET ANOTHER deliciously ironic twist. The final victim of the so-called Brazen Bull was apparently ol’ Phalaris himself. After ruling Agrigentum for 16 human flesh-and-incense-scented years, Phalaris was overthrown in an uprising led by the general Telemachus and thrown inside his own Easy Bake Oven. Then, everyone in Sicily gave up on inventing nasty things to just focus full-time on square pizzas.

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