Raw, Cooked, Rotten, Sweet: The Pleasures and Politics of Meat in Archaic Hexameter Poetry
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Raw, Cooked, Rotten, Sweet: The Pleasures and Politics of Meat in Archaic Hexameter Poetry


In this project, I use textual analysis in combination with theoretical frameworks drawn from anthropology, animal studies, and food studies to analyze the poetic significance of meat and cannibalism in Homer, Hesiod, and the Homeric Hymns. Each chapter examines a different combination of consumer and food in order to challenge the neat opposition between divine self-sufficiency and human hunger proposed by Vernant. In the first two chapters, I investigate the gods’ relationship to animal meat. The first is a reading of the sacrifice at Mecone in Hesiod’s Theogony. On the basis of verbal echoes of Hesiod’s account of the castration of Ouranos, I argue that Prometheus’ deception of Zeus functions as a quasi-castration, and that impotence, rather than self-sufficiency, is the implied result of the contest. It leaves the gods unable to consume meat, but does not preclude their craving it. Then, in the second chapter, I explore divine hunger for meat in a post-Mecone world in the Homeric Hymns to Apollo and Hermes. In their quests to gain full acceptance as Olympian gods, both gods commit bewildering acts of violence, always seeming disappointed with the results; these actions make more sense, however, when we read them as frustrated attempts to satisfy their longings for both meat and rebellion against a paternal authority figure—longings that are impossible to satisfy under Zeus’ rule. In the third and fourth chapters, I explore the Odyssey’s Cattle of Helios episode as a case study of human hunger for meat, applying two different heuristics. The third chapter reads the episode from an animal studies perspective: when Odysseus’ crew eat the cattle of Helios, it is because their understanding of the hierarchy of animals, humans, and gods has undergone a gradual dissolution. Their unsettling experiences in the otherworld lead to a disastrous abandonment of alimentary codes with cosmic consequences. Then, in the fourth chapter, I reread the episode in terms of power relationships between humans, applying Maurice Bloch’s theory of consumed vitality and rebounding violence and Pierre Bourdieu’s ideas about the economics of eating. By analyzing Odysseus’ and Eurylochus’ persuasive speeches to the crew about why they should or should not land on Thrinacia or eat the cattle, and by comparing them with other Homeric passages that touch on the class politics of meat, I propose that the crew’s decision to eat the cattle may not be a mistake at all, but an attempted rebellion against aristocratic privilege. In my fifth and sixth chapters, I consider the moments in hexameter when men and gods become meat for each other and for other beings. The Iliad and the Odyssey contain many instances of almost-cannibalism—wishes, threats, and similes about cannibalism, or humans being eaten by animals or monsters—but no literal instances of humans eating each other, even in starvation situations. In the fifth chapter, employing anthropological theories of cannibalism from Arens, Harris, and Nyamnjoh, I attempt to explain the absent presence of cannibalism in Homer, finding that warriors and heroes long for the dominant position of the cannibal because their own lives are metaphorically cannibalized by the wars in which they fight and their precarious position in the world. In the sixth chapter, I investigate stories of gods consuming each other or being consumed, mapping patterns of violence in Hesiod’s Theogony to show how the order of Zeus is founded on his invention of cannibalism, a markedly exploitative form of violence, through the synthesis of more primitive kinds of violence.

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