Thursday, April 19, 2012

Breakfast Essay: Homo Homini Lupus Est

In this article in the Panama City News Herald, I have learned that Stephanie Pistey, a 19-year old, has plead "no contest" to accessory to murder charges in the brutal death of Jacob Hendershot last year, and has been sentenced to 12 years in prison.

I have been following this story because in a publicized prisonhouse interview Pistey claimed to be "part vampire, part werewolf," and thus brings herself into the very strange history I am hunting, which amounts to a thousand years of claiming lycanthropy as a legal defense against certain crimes (please click on the "werewolves" tab in the right-hand column to read more). What had intrigued me about this was that it appeared the defense still had fangs, pardon the pun, because Pistey was using this as grounds for a "diminished capacity" defense, which appeared to be working (while it did not work for her co-conspirators, the men who did the actual killing).

The new information this article conveys includes an apology that Pistey made to Hendershot's mother at her sentencing. She said "it was very wrong, and I'm sorry." Quoting from Chris Olwell's article:

Stephanie Pistey, 19, entered a plea to Judge James Fensom shortly after he declared her mental competency had been restored during her stay at a state hospital. Fensom sentenced her to three years of probation after she serves her prison term.

This is an astonishing transformation from the Pistey who, less than a year ago, lured Jacob Hendershot to his death, lied to the police about it, taunted the distraught Mrs. Hendershot on the street whenever she saw her, bragged on her facebook page about how sanguine (literally) she was about his death (giving the game away in so doing), and then gave that prison interview, all coy smiles, as if Jacob Hendershot's violent death was part of a huge joke to which only Pistey herself knew the punchline. All of this was wrapped up in a little Twilight-era quasi-supernatural self-satisfaction, which I have suggested is a horrible commercialized bastardization of Byronic heroism.

I'm not blaming Twilight. I think we postmoderns identify with the monster for the same reason the medievals who claimed to be werewolves did; it provides us with a certain amount of spiritual cover-fire, a sense that we are beyond good and evil, a step closer to becoming the Nietzschean ubermensch.  But a lot of folks identify with monsters when they are teenagers, myself included I'm afraid (as if you hadn't deduced that), and yet somehow never manage to do anything more antisocial than wearing a lot of black, writing awful self-pitying poetry, and staying up way too late listening to Bauhaus. Some of us even find ways to parlay that into productive adult projects, becoming novelists or actors or professors with monster fixations.

Of course, since the dawn of the Inquisition a lot of those folks accused of werewolfism did not confess until they had been tortured (not that it mattered much in the end). Pistey, on the other hand, disappeared into a state hospital for a few months and came out confessing not to be a werewolf, but a human being, with human moral responsibilities, which she had utterly shirked, to her now-sober regret.

Lupus est homo homini, wrote Plautus: man is a wolf to other men (it's more commonly quoted in the form of the title of this post). Werewolves, throughout history, are not always killers - some are even beneficial, like the werewolf who is recorded to have won the boxing competition in the first Olympics, or the Northumberland, PA werewolf who legendarily protected a young girl and her flock from other wolves. What all werewolf legends and trials and stories share is the transformation, of man to wolf and back to man. Whatever the case, Pistey has accomplished this. I do not believe it will profit her much.

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