People Eaters: Corpse Medicine, Cannibalism, Vampirology, and the Limits of Humanity in the Early Modern World

Griffin, C. (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


Should people eat people? In the early modern world, this was a serious question. Western European medical men recommended the use of various medicines made from human corpses, medicines that were anathamized and banned in the early seventeenth century Russian empire. Those same Western Europeans pathologised the behaviours and devalued the humanity of other peoples in the early modern global world by accusing them of cannibalism. In South Eastern Europe and the Greek Islands, local beliefs held that the returning dead nourished themselves by feeding on the bodies of the living; such beliefs fascinated Western European learned society, leading to a brief peak in the 1720s in Vampirology - study of the vampire phenomenon - in scientific academies. Often, these phenomena are discussed as to how they divided up humanity, into the eaters, the eaten, and the non-eaters. Yet such discussions also reveal something else: the bodily connection of the eaters and the eaten. Those who sought to denegrate the people eaters focused on the immorality of eating people; they do not question its utility. Indeed, the ideas of both the eaters and the non-eaters seem to coincide on one vital point: there is a special nutrional, medicinal, ritual, religious, or magical value to consuming one's own kind. People-eating does not divide humanity; rather it is fundamentally based on the unique bodily connections of one human to another.
PeriodNov 2017
Event titleHistory of Science Society Annual Meeting: null
Event typeConference
LocationToronto, Canada
Degree of RecognitionInternational