Unsavory Sights: Cannibalism in Greek Art

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Scenes involving the breaking or outright inversion of culinary and (com)mensal norms are frequent in Greek art of the Archaic and Classical periods. The most discussed group of such images involves the uncivilized act of binge drinking unmixed wine and, as a result, losing control of one’s mind and body. Far less studied from an iconographic perspective are scenes of cannibalism, the most extreme and unsettling of all Greek culinary taboos. This paper seeks to define the iconography and meaning of cannibalism in Greek art through an exploration of the individual and shared compositional features of anthropophagic scenes and their visual relationship to normative images of meat consumption. Analytical attention will also be given to the objects on which these scenes appear and the relationship between the scenes and any other decorative content. Of particular interest is the way in which the iconography reflects cannibalism’s association with other serious normative violations, for example, infanticide (e.g., Prokne slaying her son Itys) and inhospitality (e.g., the Egyptian pharaoh Bousiris attempting to sacrifice his guest-friend Herakles). [The manuscript is currently being developed into an article to be submitted for publication consideration, probably in winter 2021.]


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