Galley slave  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

A galley slave was a slave rowing in a galley. The expression has two distinct meanings: it can refer either to a convicted criminal sentenced to work at the oar (French: forçat or galérien), or to a kind of human chattel, often a prisoner of war, assigned to his duty of rowing.

In fiction

In one of the his ill-fated adventures, Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote frees a row of prisoners sent to the galleys, including Ginés de Pasamonte. The prisoners, however, beat him.

Lew Wallace's Judah Ben-Hur is sent to the galleys as a murderer but manages to survive a shipwreck and save the fleet leader, who frees and adopts him. Both films based on the novel depict the slaves.

In Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, Jean Valjean spends nineteen years in the bagne, or prison, of Toulon, but he was never a galley slave; penal service in the galleys had been abolished in 1748, long before he began his fictional sentence. (See Bagne of Toulon.) In the same novel, Éponine Thénardier is described as having "a voice like a drunken galley slave's."

The 1947 French film Monsieur Vincent shows Saint Vincent de Paul taking the place of a weakened slave at his oar.

Errol Flynn's character Geoffrey Thorpe is sentenced to the galleys by the Court of the Inquisition in the 1940 film The Sea Hawk. The movie takes its title from a Rafael Sabatini novel but is otherwise not related to it.

Steven Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa novel Arms of Nemesis contains an appalling description of the conditions under which galley slaves lived and worked, assuming that they existed.

C. S. Forester wrote of an encounter with Spanish galleys in 'Mr Midshipman Hornblower' when the becalmed British fleet is attacked off Gibraltar by galleys. The author writes of the stench emanating from these galleys due to each carrying two hundred condemned prisoners chained permanently to the rowing benches.



Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Galley slave" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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