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Forum LockedCannibalism in Beowulf and other Old English Texts

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote bod Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09-May-2009 at 19:14
Originally posted by King John King John wrote:

Beowulf places them as the progeny of Cain–a man, so yes I think you can say they are human.  Grendel's mother is called a sea-wolf (brimwylf in multiple places (lns. 1506 and 1599), she is also able to walk and live on land, what seamonsters do we know that can do this?  I think one can make the argument that these other groups of Cain's kindred are human, however, whether they are human or not is irrelevant for this discussion since the giants, elves, and nicors are not described in Beowulf as eating humans.  We must limit ourselves to discussing the beings that are explicitly said to eat human flesh.


I'm afraid I did not state my argument very clearly (I will improveEmbarrassed). I meant to say that Grendel was part of this race of seamonsters and giants who may or may not be human. If you think that these monsters are human then I guess the Grendels must be too. 

At the end of the day Beowulf is fiction and your own interpretation is what matters, it is not like we can give them a DNA test like a Neanderthal. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote bod Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09-May-2009 at 19:54
Other tales (not old English) such as hansel and Gretal and Jack and the Beanstalk also use cannibals that are almost human like Grendal, maybe Witches and Giants eating people is a little easier to understand.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09-May-2009 at 20:00
Nicely put.
 
I think however that King John's interest is in the interpretation placed on cannibalism by the various authors and readers, and their reactions to it.
 
I can throw in another category of cannibalism: the involuntary sort, such as occurs in Shakespeare's Titus Anndronicus.  
Quote
TITUS. Why, there they are, both baked in this pie,
    Whereof their mother daintily hath fed,
    Eating the flesh that she herself hath bred.
    'Tis true, 'tis true: witness my knife's sharp point.
 
Here Titus inflicts cannibalism on the object of his revenge.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote bod Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09-May-2009 at 20:38
Originally posted by gcle2003 gcle2003 wrote:

 
I can throw in another category of cannibalism: the involuntary sort, such as occurs in Shakespeare's Titus Anndronicus.  
Quote
TITUS. Why, there they are, both baked in this pie,
    Whereof their mother daintily hath fed,
    Eating the flesh that she herself hath bred.
    'Tis true, 'tis true: witness my knife's sharp point.
 
Here Titus inflicts cannibalism on the object of his revenge.


Yuck!!!

A bit like Sweeny Tod

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Cyrus Shahmiri Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10-May-2009 at 13:48
Originally posted by gcle2003 gcle2003 wrote:

Originally posted by Cyrus Shahmiri Cyrus Shahmiri wrote:

Originally posted by gcle2003 gcle2003 wrote:

Dogs are cannibals when they eat dogs, not when they eat people.
I know what you mean, but a cow that eats flesh, however is still similar to a cow, but can not be called a cow,
You just called it one.
Quote
of course in some tragic events like the famine, there were people who had to eat other people but we don't call them cannibals, about Azhidahak we see he had really a body of a human but if he didn't eat the humans, in spite of the fact that there were many things that he, like the humans, could eat, then he would have to eat his own body, it shows he was not a human in essence or better to say he was originally a human who was changed to a cannibal.
The definition of a cannibal is a member of a species who/which eats other members of the same species, or parts of them.
 
Follow the logic of 'a cow that eats flesh (of a cow) cannot be a cow' and cannibalism would then never exist.
I am talking about changing, a cannibal is a noun, not an adjective, that is not a cannibal-man, when we say dew-worm, silk-worm, bag-worm, ... it is clear that we are talking about worms but this is different when we say butterfly, however that is originally a worm too.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10-May-2009 at 14:04
Dew-worms are worms, and they stay worms. Bagworms and silkworms aren't worms, they are caterpillars, members of species that change form in their lifetime, just as a fertilised human ovum becomes a foetus, a foetus becomes a baby and a baby becomes an adult, though the change of form in the last process isn't as drastic in a mammal.
 
Simple rule: caterpillars have legs; worms don't.
 
And butterflies aren't ever worms either. They're butterflies as larvae, just as bagworms and silkworms are the larvae of moths.
 
When an animal eats its own species it doesn't even change shape, let alone change species.  
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote King John Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10-May-2009 at 18:02
Originally posted by Cyrus Shahmiri Cyrus Shahmiri wrote:

Originally posted by gcle2003 gcle2003 wrote:

Originally posted by Cyrus Shahmiri Cyrus Shahmiri wrote:

Originally posted by gcle2003 gcle2003 wrote:

Dogs are cannibals when they eat dogs, not when they eat people.
I know what you mean, but a cow that eats flesh, however is still similar to a cow, but can not be called a cow,
You just called it one.
Quote
of course in some tragic events like the famine, there were people who had to eat other people but we don't call them cannibals, about Azhidahak we see he had really a body of a human but if he didn't eat the humans, in spite of the fact that there were many things that he, like the humans, could eat, then he would have to eat his own body, it shows he was not a human in essence or better to say he was originally a human who was changed to a cannibal.
The definition of a cannibal is a member of a species who/which eats other members of the same species, or parts of them.
 
Follow the logic of 'a cow that eats flesh (of a cow) cannot be a cow' and cannibalism would then never exist.
I am talking about changing, a cannibal is a noun, not an adjective, that is not a cannibal-man, when we say dew-worm, silk-worm, bag-worm, ... it is clear that we are talking about worms but this is different when we say butterfly, however that is originally a worm too.
Cyrus, a cannibal is defined as:

Originally posted by Merriam-Webster Merriam-Webster wrote:

 one that eats the flesh of its own kind
 As you can see a cannibal is still a member of the species.  So if a person eats the flesh of another person that person is still human.  Great white sharks, snakes, and other animals eat members of their own species, that doesn't make them no longer sharks, snakes, et al.  There is no change that takes place, a shark is a shark no matter what it eats, just like a human is a human no matter what he eats.  There is no change, the fact of the matter is that the noun cannibal is just a categorization of an actor and that actor's behavior.  If the actor is a human and is described as a cannibal, he by definition has to be a human; there is no change that occurs, there is only a change in behavior that behavior doesn't make a cannibal no longer human (or a member of a given species).


Edited by King John - 10-May-2009 at 18:17
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Cyrus Shahmiri Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11-May-2009 at 17:24
A person who just eats the flesh of another person is not called a cannibal, we don't call people who had to do it in the famine period and other tragic events, cannibals, do we? Cannibals especially in the Indo-European cultures have also other characteristics, they couldn't be good persons, is it even possible that someone who kills another person to eats his flesh, is considered as a good person? A cannibal was not only a man-eater but also a cruel, tyrant, destroyer, ... so he couldn't be a regular human being.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote King John Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11-May-2009 at 19:00
Originally posted by Cyrus Shahmiri Cyrus Shahmiri wrote:

A person who just eats the flesh of another person is not called a cannibal, we don't call people who had to do it in the famine period and other tragic events, cannibals, do we?
Actually yes we do say they were cannibals.  More rightly we say they reverted to cannibalism to survive; meaning that we qualify the cannibalism with the situation.  A person who just eats the flesh of another person is by definition a cannibal and is called such.  Could you provide an instance where a person, who because of a tragic turn of events, eats the flesh of another person and is not referred to as either resorting to cannibalism or being a cannibal?
Quote Cannibals especially in the Indo-European cultures have also other characteristics, they couldn't be good persons, is it even possible that someone who kills another person to eats his flesh, is considered as a good person?
I can give you instances, such as the Donner party, where people resorted to cannibalism and were still good people.  So yes a cannibal can be considered a good person.  
Quote A cannibal was not only a man-eater but also a cruel, tyrant, destroyer, ... so he couldn't be a regular human being.
He most certainly could be a regular human being.  Being a bad, cruel person doesn't mean that the person is no longer a person.  Even if he wasn't a "regular human being" he was still a human being otherwise he couldn't be a cannibal.  How is this hard to understand?  Again, I draw your attention to the Mermedonians of the poem Andreas, they are described as inhabitants of the land where men eat each other.  The cannibalism of this population is not confined to the aristocratic parts of the population but is a characteristic of the whole population.  As you can see they are described as men with the qualification that they practice cannibalism.  While their behavior might not be very "human" from the point of view of the Anglo-Saxon audience, that doesn't make them not human.  Their practicing of cannibalism makes them a population to be feared and makes the work of Saint Andrew that much more heroic.  It also defines the Mermedonians as a population apart from the rest of the Christian world, the "Other" if you will.

By the way let's also not forget the ritual cannibalism that takes place in certain Christian rights like eating the host and drinking the sacred wine.  In this part of the Catholic service the priest says that the host represents the body of Christ and the wine the blood.  How can one partake in this right and be a bad person?  This is not a perfect analogy.

I just want to point out that being a cannibal requires one to be a member of the species which you eat.  If a man eats another then that man is a cannibal, end of story.  Being described as cruel, a tyrant, or destroyer does not make a person no longer human; if so than many rulers of the modern world and the pre-modern world would no longer be human.  Keep in mind that these same rulers were not called cannibals.  These terms are not mutually exclusive with cannibalism.  The terms you use to describe cannibals are terms of perspective, if the enemy writes about a ruler and labels him cruel, a tyrant, or a destroyer, that doesn't mean that he actually was since there is certainly going to be a population that thinks his actions were neither cruel, tyrannical, or destructive.  
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Cyrus Shahmiri Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12-May-2009 at 14:27
I don't know you want to discuss about cannibal just as a word which means a person who eats the flesh of other human beings or a mythical creature in the Old English and other texts, do you think Grendel reverted to cannibalism to survive? There are certainly some differences between forced or optional behaviors, don't you think so?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12-May-2009 at 14:37
There are enforced cannibalism and optional cannibalism, of course. But they're still cannibalism.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote King John Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12-May-2009 at 16:37
Originally posted by Cyrus Shahmiri Cyrus Shahmiri wrote:

I don't know you want to discuss about cannibal just as a word which means a person who eats the flesh of other human beings or a mythical creature in the Old English and other texts, do you think Grendel reverted to cannibalism to survive? There are certainly some differences between forced or optional behaviors, don't you think so?
The goal of this thread is to discuss cannibalism not only in Beowulf but also other texts.  I do not think that the Grendels resorted to cannibalism to survive, I think their cannibalism serves a function in the story, however, their cannibalism does not make them not-human as you have argued.  Of course there are differences between forced and optional cannibalism, but as GCLE said it is still cannibalism whether forced or not.

*Edit: By the way, there is no mythical creature in Old English texts that is named cannibal, the word is used to describe certain actions (and not in the text).  Grendel is a creature that is described in many ways, some very similar to the ways in which Beowulf himself is described.  These descriptions, however, differ in one way, Grendel is described as devouring the flesh of men; a  description that is never used for Beowulf.  I'm interested in discussing cannibalism in literature, however, saying that a cannibal is no longer human (as you have said) flies in the face of the definition.  The point in defining the word was to show you that even though cannibalism carries certain traits in literature, it doesn't mean that a person exhibiting those traits is no longer human.


Edited by King John - 12-May-2009 at 16:50
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote bod Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13-May-2009 at 23:09
Originally posted by Cyrus Shahmiri Cyrus Shahmiri wrote:

I don't know you want to discuss about cannibal just as a word which means a person who eats the flesh of other human beings or a mythical creature in the Old English and other texts, do you think Grendel reverted to cannibalism to survive? There are certainly some differences between forced or optional behaviors, don't you think so?

It is described in Beowulf how Grendel cannibalises the people who sleep in the hall because he hates them they disturb his peace.

"Then the powerful Demon who abode in darkness could hardly for a while endure to hear every day the mirth, loud in the hall;"

It is allso stated that people who left the hall to sleep were safe.

"Then was it easy to find a man who sought rest for himself elsewhere....... He who afterwards kept himself farther and safer was the one who escaped the fiend!"

He does not cannibalise to feed a physical hunger, his attention is entirely focused on the hall, so is his mothers in her revenge.

The hall is the center of the Kings power, I guess Grendels attack on this building must be symbolic in some way.

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