November 14, 2002
Advantages Of A Classical Education

Tim Blair tells tells us of a new book out in Australia about

Katherine Knight, a cheery-looking lady who once worked in a meat processing plant.

One day she brought her work home with her, in a manner of speaking. Her husband was professionally carved up by sweet Katherine and served as a meal for the children. His head formed a delightful centrepiece, surrounded by vegetables.

I wonder if she had ever read Seneca's tragedy Thyestes. Towards the end, the title character is served the cooked bodies of his own children, with some excessively red wine to wash them down. His brother Atreus finishes the feast by bringing in a platter, whipping off the lid, and showing Thyestes the cooked heads and hands of his sons. He had already eaten the less recognizable parts. Of course sweet Katherine fed the father to the children rather than the other way around, but I still wonder if she had classical inspiration. Perhaps some horror movie had already borrowed this bit of plot, but if so I probably would have heard about it on the internet Classics list.

The book, by Tim's friend Sandra Lee, is called Beyond Bad. I suppose Bad to the Bone would have been too obvious.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at November 14, 2002 07:05 PM

I haven't read it, but... doesn't much the same thing happen in Titus Andronicus? And they made a movie of that a couple of years ago...

Posted by: Andrew S. on November 14, 2002 07:31 PM

Yes, as I remember Titus Andronicus, the sequence was: two thuggish brothers rape Titus' daughter, then cut off her hands and cut out her tongue so that she can't accuse them; she manages anyway, by taking a stick in her mouth and guiding it with her stumps to trace words in the dirt; her father waylays the rapists and kills them, then, um, asks their mother over for dinner. There's a reason this one doesn't get performed too often.

Posted by: Michelle Dulak on November 14, 2002 08:15 PM

I was thinking Titus as I read your post. Excellent movie, brilliantly acted and highly recommended. That scene is one that stayed with me for a long time.

Posted by: michele on November 14, 2002 09:08 PM

Thanks. I'd stupidly forgotten all about Titus Andronicus. That makes indirect classical influence all the more likely, since the murderous Australian would not have to have read Seneca, just read Shakespeare, or even seen the movie. (Assuming the movie came before the murder, and gave an accurate rendering of the cannibal feast.) I have the impression that Shakespeare took the plot device straight from Seneca.

Posted by: Dr. Weevil on November 14, 2002 10:02 PM

Heh...come on guys... pedocannibalism is all over the classical world. It was one of their big psychological obsessions.

There's Tantalus (although he didn't eat his son, just cooked and served him to others). There's also at least a couple instances of a father unwittingly eating his children in Herodotus.

The one I remember best was of the servant Hapargus, who failed to carry out some important orders of the Median king (Astagayes? Astyages? Astagyes? something like that... I can never get those Asiatic names straight), orders which, incidentally, had to do with killing the king's son, whom the king feared would usurp his throne.

Anyway, the king, upon learning of Hapargus' inability to follow instructions, pretended to forgive his servant and then asked Hapargus to send his own son to the king's court. Astyages butchered and cooked the boy, all except for his hands, feet and head, which he gathered and placed on a covered platter. He invited Hapargus to a banquet. I'm sure by now you can guess the main course.

After Hapargus was stuffed, the king brought out the covered platter and asked him to uncover it.

Creepy story. I'm sure there's another similar children-eating episode in there somewhere but I can't remember it at the moment.

Bottom line: intrafamilial cannibalism was all the rage back then!

Posted by: Russell on November 14, 2002 10:38 PM

Well I just had to look it up... and it actually wasn't an interfamilial episode, but it was pedocannibalism... some pissed off Scythians who were acting as mentors to some young boys got pissed off at their host king and decided to pay him back by cooking one of the boys and serving him to the king.

Boy: it's the other white meat...

Posted by: Russell on November 14, 2002 10:41 PM

Wow. This must be the first blog message ever which contains both references to classical masterworks and George Thorogood...

Something similar happend in the Thidrekssaga, in the tales about Wieland the smith. After being hamstrung by the king he kills the two little princes and makes cups out of their heads and promptly gives them to the king.

BTW, does anyone have a good recommendation for books linking norse and greek stories? Wieland later pulls a Daidalos, which can't be coincidence...

Posted by: Michael Dingler on November 15, 2002 05:40 AM

That Titus movie is freaking WEIRD! I remember flipping through the channels one day and landing on the Independent Film Channel (or maybe the Sundance Channel) and seeing some of that movie. It gave me nightmares.

Posted by: amy on November 15, 2002 09:36 AM

During the Irish famine wasn't there a famous article by an English writer suggesting, tongue in cheek of course, that Irish babies be eaten?

Posted by: Bob and Weevil on November 15, 2002 04:43 PM

A Modest Proposal - by Jonathan Swift.

Posted by: Robin Roberts on November 15, 2002 05:33 PM

I wonder if there's an entry for that perticular dish in the Larousse Gastronomic?

Posted by: Sean Kirby on November 15, 2002 09:43 PM

Not exactly the same thing, but what about the Joanna/Sweeney thing at the end of Sweeney Todd (with shades of Oedipus for the failure to identify a fellow family member in time)?

By the way, the though it's in no way familial, the end of The Cook, the Thief, his Wife, her Lover could certainly inspire those whose gastronomical interests included humans. Of course there are countless horror movies where humans get mixed in with sides of beef in run-down packing plants, etc. Watch late night TBS for a month and you'll find one of them.

Posted by: Geoffrey Barto on November 16, 2002 05:02 AM

Now you've hit my era:

A Modest Proposal wasn't written during the Famine, but a century earlier, to protest the Penal Laws.

Posted by: Jane Galt on November 16, 2002 08:11 AM

Hey guys, as far as interfamilial cannibalism goes, let's not forget the South Park episode "Scott Tenorman Must Die," where a kid is tricked into eating his own parents who have been ground up and mixed into chili.

That's the only SP episode where I thought they had crossed the line, at least in the sense that I could not laugh at it, being too horrified.

Posted by: Russell on November 16, 2002 01:50 PM

Don't forget the undertaker sketch on Monty Python. "Look, we'll eat your mum. Then, if you feel a bit guilty about it afterwards, we can dig a grave and you can throw up into it!"

Posted by: Andrew S. on November 16, 2002 02:00 PM

..."Alright then."

Posted by: Russell on November 16, 2002 08:26 PM

Duh-uuuuh. My speed is Rocky Horror Picture Show.

In the Australian case, I gather, the children never actually ate their father. The woman just served him up before they got home, then apparently tried to kill herself by drug overdose, but survived.

Googling around lead to several slightly different versions of the case---that is, they all had slightly different gruesome details. I was unable to find out who came upon the scene first---whether it was the children, how old they were, etc.

I couldn't figure out how that incident had managed to slip completely passed me (since I lived in Sydney at the time).

Posted by: Angie Schultz on November 16, 2002 10:21 PM

And of course, there is that great classic film, Eating Raoul.

Posted by: Andrea Harris on November 18, 2002 12:46 AM