Where does the phrase “Procrustean bed” come from and What does it mean?

In Greek legend, Procrustes was a notorious robber, living on the roadside near Eleusis.

Unsuspecting weary travelers who stopped at his home for an overnight rest were always accommodated. But Procrustes had two beds, one that was overly long and one that was unusually short.

A tall traveler would be given the short bed, whereas a short traveler would be shown to the long bed. But to overcome these discrepancies, the inhumane bandit merely chopped off the legs of his tall guest or stretched the bones of the short one.

In either case the victim died, but Procrustes had fitted his guests to his beds.

Thus, in figurative use, we speak of a Procrustean bed, or bed of Procrustes, when we must use violent or arbitrary measures in an attempt to fit something to a condition with which it does not readily conform.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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