I am reading Cleopatra and Antony: Power, Love and Politics in the Ancient World by Diana Preston (Walker, 2009).
After Cassius and Brutus, the assassins of Julius Caesar, are defeated in battle by Octavian (Augustus) and Marc Antony, they kill kill themselves (actually, Cassius jumped the gun and killed himself thinking he was completely defeated when in actuality he might not have been).
According to Plutarch, Brutus's sister Porcia (the wife of Cato's son, also named Cato, who was slain in the same battles), "determined to commit suicide when news of their deaths reached Rome. Evading friends who were keeping watch on her, she seized a glowing coal from a brazier and swallowed it."
Surely there were far easier ways to commit suicide... poison? throwing yourself off a bridge? Slitting your wrists? Hanging? But swallowing a hot coal? That seems extremely painful. Could you even get it into your mouth, let alone swallow it? And once it started going down, wouldn't your saliva and other inner juices put out the flame before it could do any lasting damage? I would think the only way you could die that way is from the infection you got later from a burned up throat. Which would not immediately kill you. And maybe even then you would survive. That sounds like an urban legend to me. Like she had a nest of spiders living in her hair or was killed by an escaped convict with a hook (Sparticus!).
WELL WELL WELL. Either Wikipedia is wrong, or Diana Preston is wrong about Porcia. Because Wikipedia says exactly the opposite: Porcia was Cato's sister (which linguistically would make more sense, i.e. Marcus Porcius Cato) and Brutus's wife. That makes Diana Preston VERY suspect in my mind.
Historians agree with my suspicion over Porcia's death. They think she most likely burned charcoal in a closed room - suffocated to death. That makes more sense. The ancients version of a a car in a closed garage.
Here is an old painting of Porcia wounding her thigh. I don't know enough about her to know why she is wounding her thigh. Neither did my good friend Wikipedia.