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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Charlotte Corday and La Chapelle Expiatoire

Guillotined at the Place de la Concorde on 12 July, 1794, for assassinating Marat, Charlotte's body was dumped into a mass grave near the Madeleine Church. In the early 19th century, those remains were eventually exhumed and placed into niches in Chapelle Expiatoire, dedicated to the memory of those guillotined during the terror.


On the other side of Paris, near what is now the Place Republique, one of the great poets of the late 18th century and an ardent revolutionist, Andre Chenier, was himself guillotined and his body dumped in the mass grave at Picpus. Among his more notable works, Chenier had written an "Ode to Charlotte Corday."

Le noir serpent, sorti de sa caverne impure,
A donc vu rompre enfin sous ta main ferme et sûre
le venimeux tissu de ses jours abhorrés!
Aux entrailles du tigre, à ses dents homicides,
Tu vins demander et les membres livides
Et le sang des humains qu'il avait dévorés!

La vertu seule est libre. Honneur de notre histoire,
Notre immortel opprobre y vit avec ta gloire.
Seule tu fus un homme, et vengea les humains.
Et nous, eunuques vils, troupeau lâche et sans âme,
Nous savons répéter quelques plaintes de femme,
Mais le fer pèserait à nos débiles mains.

Un scélérat de moins rampe dans cette fange.
La Vertu t'applaudit. De sa mâle louange
Entends, bell héroïne, entends l'auguste voix.
O Vertu, le poignard, seul espoir de la terre,
Est ton arme sacrée, alors que le tonnerre
Laisse régner le crime, et te vend à ses lois.

The black serpent, leaving his filthy cave,
Has finally suffered by your hand so sure and brave
The end of its venomous existence so despised!
From the tiger's guts, from his homicidal teeth
You came and drew what he'd devoured from beneath:
The blood and livid members of his victims sacrificed.)

(Virtue alone is free. Honor of our history,
Our immortal shame we live beside your glory.
Only you were a man, your knife did vengeance wreak;
And we, vile eunuchs, cowardly and soul-less cattle.
We can at best complain like women prattle,
But to wield a sword our hands would be too weak

In that mud crawls one scoundrel less.
Hear, lovely heroine, hear Virtue bless,
Hear the august voice of its virile praise.
Oh virtue, the dagger that hope will raise,
Is your sacred arm, when Heaven holds its thunder
And lets crime rule, while laws are cut asunder.

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