FLESH AND BLOOD: A History of the Cannibal Complex by Reay Tannahill

FLESH AND BLOOD: A History of the Cannibal Complex

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A year ago Tannahill published a fascinating history of food -- how it was hunted, skinned, cooked, baked and harvested since Neolithic times. Her subject hasn't really changed here, it's just a bit more grisly: the delicate morsels are human beings, slain and devoured for ritual or revenge, to fulfill a covenant with the gods or simply to satisfy hunger. Tannahill begins at the beginning with Peking man, a known cannibal, and tells you right off that famine has always been the dominant reason for people-eating. But there was also the honorific consumption of one's kin (endophagy) or one's enemies (exophagy) -- a sacred ceremonial whereby the victim's magical or martial powers were absorbed into the body of the diner. From time immemorial flesh and blood were believed to contain a mysterious ail-powerful life essence which guaranteed strength, fertility, longevity, renewal. Tannahill draws her material from an amazing plethora of sources: Babylonian creation myths, the Old Testament, missionary reports from Fiji, the wholesale human sacrifices of the Aztecs and the endemic famines of the Middle Ages. She notes that, far from being ""a universal taboo,"" Jews and Christians alone abhorred cannibalism and considered it worse than murder. Yet in a sense Christians were uniquely obsessed with human sacrifice and blood, projecting their terrors onto Jews and witches who were regularly charged with roasting babies, drinking blood and the like. Tannahill doesn't attempt a rigid theoretical framework for this eclectic anthropological and historical study which goes right through to modern times covering the horrors of the Ukrainian famine of 1947 and the story of the Andes survivors of 1972 as well as the careers of assorted German manufacturers of human sausage meat. Some of this material may be repellent, but there's no denying its potency.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1975
Publisher: Stein & Day