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IMC 2016: Sessions

Session 1025: Eat or Be Eaten: Cannibalism and Other Monstrous Eating Habits

Wednesday 6 July 2016, 09.00-10.30

Moderator/Chair:Irina Metzler, Centre for Medieval & Early Modern Research (MEMO), Swansea University / Projekt 'Homo Debilis', Universität Bremen
Paper 1025-aCannibalism, Humanity, and the Problems of Species Definition in the Middle Ages
(Language: English)
Sarah Lambert, Department of History, Goldsmiths College, University of London
Index terms: Anthropology, Art History - General, Mentalities, Science
Paper 1025-bCannibalism as Erasure in the Ovidian Lay of Philomena
(Language: English)
Stefanie Goyette, Liberal Studies, New York University
Index terms: Gender Studies, Language and Literature - French or Occitan, Social History
Paper 1025-cCannibalism and Conquest in the Middle English Richard Coeur de Lion
(Language: English)
Katherine Hikes Terrell, Department of English, Hamilton College, New York
Index terms: Historiography - Medieval, Language and Literature - Middle English
Paper 1025-dMonster Food: Diet, Difference, and Danger in a Medieval Prodigy-Book
(Language: English)
Miguel Ayres de Campos-Tovar, Department of Medieval & Byzantine Art, Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London
Index terms: Anthropology, Language and Literature - Old English, Manuscripts and Palaeography

Paper -a:
How were the boundaries of humanity defined and policed in medieval culture? And how did transgressive behaviours such as cannibalism challenge those boundaries? If a cannibal is not a proper human being, is he still a cannibal? Such regressive questions can contribute to understanding how medieval society faced its outsiders.

Paper -b:
The lay of Philomena (attributed to Chrétien de Troyes) concerns the tragic aftermath of the princess Procné's marriage to a king named Tereus, who rapes her sister, Philomena. To cover up his crime, Tereus attempts to silence Philomena by cutting out her tongue. Philomena communicates with Procné through weaving, and the two take revenge on Tereus by cooking - and then feeding to him - his son, Ithis, whose mother is Procné herself.

I argue that the key to understanding the women's action lies in the intended result of Tereus' mutilation of Philomena: the destruction of language. The murder of Ithis and the unmaking of his very body through cannibalism functions to symbolically eradicate male speech at the site of its expression as generation. Further, through references to music, weaving, sex, cooking, and eating, the text interrogates speech and writing as distinct forms of expression created by the living body.

Paper -c:
In the Middle English romance of Richard Coeur de Lion, one of Richard's most effective strategies on crusade is to eat the Muslim enemy. After an initially inadvertent act of cannibalism, Richard quickly moves to exploit its tactical potential. This paper places Richard's cannibalism in the context of historiographical representations of crusader cannibalism - both real and staged - during the First Crusade, and in the context of the legends that accumulated around Richard's life in the later Middle Ages. It argues that the poem represents Richard's cannibalism as a metaphor for conquest and as a positive indicator of his character.

Paper -d:
Accounts of 'monstrous eating habits' are an important element for the exploration of medieval understandings of otherness. Cannibalism, in particular, can become at once a powerful index of alienness and an anchor for identification - marking a given people as especially removed and dangerous, but also signalling that it retains a measure of identification with its victims, and therefore a vestige of humanity. Departing from the evidence afforded by the 'Wonders of the East' tradition (10th-12th centuries) and contiguous sources, I will endeavour to correlate medieval accounts of monstrous diets with the theme of formal hybridity, and explore some of the ways in which differentiation and identification - notions of abomination and assimilation - can work in tandem to enhance the fascination that monstrous bodies exerted on medieval audiences.