Myths can also have a validity beyond that of literal truth. Consider, for example, the Greek myth of Procrustes. According to the story, he lived in a house by the road, sometimes seen as an inn, where, in the guise of offering hospitality, he compelled travelers to lie upon a bed. If they were too short for the bed, he stretched them on a rack to fit it. If they were too tall he chopped their legs off where they hung over the edge. Procrustes was one of a number of villains haunting the road between Athens and Sparta. On his way from Troezen in the Peloponnesian peninsula to Athens to make himself known to his father Aegeus, the hero Theseus cleared the road of these bandits, serving Procrustes as he had served his victims. We can look at this story from many levels. First, taking it at face value, we can see the bed of Procrustes as a metaphor for brutally enforced conformity, wherein all who do not fit an arbitrarily denned role are broken of their individuality and coerced to acquiesce to the norm. We should also look at the myth critically, however. What is the point of this bizarre torture? If he is a mere robber, wouldn't Procrustes simply waylay people and kill them? The rigmarole of fitting them to the bed has a ritualistic feel to it. Robert Graves writes of the myth (vol 1, p. 332):
...Procrustes seems to be a fictional character, invented to account for a familiar icon:
the heir of the old king—Samson, Pterelaus..., Nisus..., Curoi, Llew Llaw, or whatever
he may have been called—is tied to the bedpost by his treacherous bride, while his
rival advances, ax in hand, to destroy him.
Graves saw Theseus as overthrowing ancient ritual by abolishing the killing of the
sacred king. Regardless of whether Graves was right in his interpretation—which he may
not be, given his obsession with the motif of the sacrifice of the sacred king—the fact
remains that, like the story of Samson and Delilah, the surface tale does not make sense
if examined. Procrustes seems to be involved in some sort of sacrifice, and his "bed"
would seem to be an altar upon which it is performed.