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Cor ne edito
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MLN, 108.4 (1993) 696-709

Et sicit per gustum in Adam omnes mortui
sumus, ita per gustum in Christo omnes uitam
recuperemus, 'ut unde mors oriebatur, inde uita

--Jacques de Vitry, De Sacramentis

Jamais géline n'aima chapon.


Cor ne edito: Pythagoras' absolute prohibition lies at the center of a number of cultural representations that, at least up until the major neoplatonists, named and defined the heart as the locus and paradigmatic organ embodying the intellectual foundation for dietary, cultural, and religious practices. It also identifies a violent and sacrificial narrative at the origin of those practices and representations. The story is well known but also worth retelling. The Titans, the first creatures of the Earth, kidnap the child Dionysus. Before they can sacrifice the young god, they have to get him to produce a visible sign of consent, a necessary gesture in the Greek sacrificial code. They give him food and toys but to no avail. Finally, they hand him a foggy mirror. Unable to recognize himself in the vague and distorted reflection produced by the mirror, he nods his head in a vain search for his own image and identity. This quest, in its telling motions and gestures, is interpreted by the Titans as his consent to be sacrificed. They kill and dismember him, then they proceed to boil and broil his flesh. After which they feast. But before they can consume his heart, Athena informs Zeus of their sacrilege and he destroys the Titans with lightning and returns them to the Earth. The god is regenerated and reborn from his uneaten heart.

This central episode in the Orphic and Pythagorean Dionysian corpus links violent death, sacrifice, dismemberment, and rebirth to the misrecognition and loss of identity and the consequent diversity and multiplicity such a loss and misrecognition produce. It locates the emergence and confirmation of identity with a prior state of loss or confusion and distortion and the ensuing necessary fragmentation and dispersal of the body. Between the dismembered body and the identity inhabiting it, the ties are reinforced by the violence. Indeed, it seems that at least in the case Dionysus, the constituent identity is generated by the violent dismemberment of the body. It is this intimate relation between violence, dismemberment, and identity put into relief by the story of Dionysus's sacrifice and rebirth that the medieval narratives relating the legend of the eaten heart explore and exploit.

Two very different and exemplary texts inaugurate and institute the legend of the eaten heart in medieval literature. The Lai d'Ignauré tells its tragic story in the confined space of a castle inhabited by twelve knights and their ladies. Ignauré seduces all the ladies and is ultimately discovered and killed by the knights. In their revenge, they secretly feed his heart and phallus to their ladies, thus reproducing, in its final scene, a communal meal closely resembling the feast of the Titans. Our ladies, however, consume only the heart and the sexual organ of their lover and not his body disguised as food. This inversion is central to all the narratives of the legend of the eaten heart. Furthermore, this last scene mimics and parodies another great founding scene of eating, the Last Supper. The revelation of Ignauré's seduction of the ladies starts with an innocent game played by the Ladies. One of them is chosen to play the role of a priest to whom all the others will confess their secret love with Ignauré. Thus, the parody of the Last Supper is doubly inscribed in the narrative. First through the exploitation of the simulation of confession and second thanks to the last meal of the Ladies. But in this instance, it is twelve ladies who feast on the desired organs of the body of their lover. The offering, however, is secret and disguised but it nevertheless reproduces a literal, physical union between the ladies and their dead lover. The Hoc est corpus meum becomes the literal offering of an other under the guise and the disguise of food.

The Roman du châtelain de Couci et de la dame de Fayel, on the other hand, tells its story across distant...

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