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Anatomy of the Mass: Montaigne's "Cannibals" Author(s): George Hoffmann Source: PMLA, Vol. 117, No. 2

Anatomy of the Mass: Montaigne's "Cannibals" Author(s): George Hoffmann Source: PMLA, Vol. 117, No. 2 (Mar., 2002), pp. 207-221 Published by: Modern Language Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/823269 Accessed: 11-07-2018 13:59 UTC

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117.2 ]

Anatomy of the Mass: Montaigne's "Cannibals'

GEORGE HOFFMANN

EARLY EVERYONE WHO HAS PICKED UP "OF CANNIBALS"

("Des cannibales") has been told that Montaigne intended it to

condemn a peculiarly European form of barbarity, practiced on

the "pretext of piety" (155), that had grown prevalent during the struggles

of the Reformation.' Yet this hardly explains the essay's originality, since

similar accusations had in the preceding decades become common fare

among Protestant writers, who frequently charged their Catholic fellow

citizens with "barbarism."2 Adapting recent calls among historians to put

"religion back into the Wars of Religion" (Holt), one might suggest that

"Of Cannibals" is more concerned with the religious dimension of that

conflict than is implied in existing criticism, largely devoted to finding a

place for the essay in subsequent political and anthropological thought.

The outlines of such a reading begin to appear as soon as one appre-

ciates how odd it is that this essay should have become Montaigne's

most famous. Only by its last page does "Of Cannibals" come to seem

GEORGE HOFFMANN is associate profes-

the classic that one recognizes in anthologies. Forgetting his first mus-

sor of French in the Department of Ro-

ings over fabled Atlantis or the golden age of old, Montaigne finally dis-

mance Languages and Literatures at

closes his direct contact with three Brazilian natives in order that the

the University of Michigan. With the

help of a National Endowment for the

reader may hear them share their views on Renaissance France, creat-

Humanities Fellowship at the Newberry

ing-however briefly-the reversal of perspective that Montesquieu

Library, he is studying forms of reli-

would exploit nearly a century and a half later in the Lettres persanes.

gious doubt in the Renaissance that lie

With the celebrated ending pirouette, "All this is not too bad-but what's

outside the tradition of philosophical

the use? They don't wear breeches" ("Tout cela ne vas pas trop mal:

skepticism. His book, Montaigne's Ca-

mais quoy, ils ne portent point de haut de chausses"; 159; 1.31.214a),

reer (Clarendon, 1998), won the Mod-

ern Language Association's Aldo and

Montaigne seems to anticipate the sarcasm of Swift in returning to a Eu-

Jeanne Scaglione Prize for French and

Francophone Studies in 1999.

ropean perspective only to parody its parochial views on natives' nudity.3

The undeniable beauty of this arc from myth to eyewitness account and

? 2002 BY THE MODERN LANGUAGE ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA

207

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208 Anatomy of the Mass: Montaigne's "Cannibals"

from satire to parody, however, cannot hide trou-

bling inconsistencies in the body of the essay.

First, how can one not be disappointed that

Montaigne feels the need, even if only at the out-

set, to argue over whether the New World is At-

lantis rediscovered, thereby dulling the effect of

the essay's provocative title? Following comes

the most famous page of the essay, in which he

exalts the "original naturalness" of the natives:

"The very words that signify lying, treachery,

dissimulation, avarice, envy, belittling, pardon-

unheard of" ("Les paroles mesmes qui signifient

le mensonge, la trahison, la dissimulation, l'ava-

rice, l'envie, la detraction, le pardon, inouies";

153; 1.31.206-07a). But although this utopian

description would eventually inspire Rousseau's

creation of the noble savage and, more immedi-

ately, serve as the target of irony in the second act

of Shakespeare's Tempest, it runs directly counter

to the rest of the essay, in which Montaigne takes

great pains to demonstrate that the natives have

evolved a highly complex civilization. Are Mon-

taigne's natives primitive or not? This ambiguity

has troubled much of the discussion on this essay

(Lestringant, "Le cannibalisme" [11-12] 34-38;

Touron, La glose 217-21).

Finally, if "Of Cannibals" seems to begin

too slowly, it certainly must end too quickly, for

Montaigne truncates the most interesting part of

the essay, when three Brazilians in Rouen give

their opinion of France. In what one critic re-

cently called an act of "exhibitionistic forget-

ting" (Freccero 78), he claims to have lost an important part of their answer-"They men-

tioned three things, of which I have forgotten

the third, and I am very sorry for it," adding,

with redundancy that nearly seems to blush on

the page, "but I still remember two of them"

("ils respondirent trois choses, d'ou j'ay perdu

la troisiesme, et en suis bien marry; mais j'en ay

encore deux en memoire"; 159; 1.31.213a). Thus,

Montaigne's most famous essay begins with re-

membering, ends with forgetting, and deliber-

ately frustrates his reader, who is left to wonder

what was the natives' third response.

PMLA

Montaigne's ideal reader, an active partner

who accepts the work's invitation to skeptical

engagement, does not dismiss the difficulties of

the essay but views its irregularities as stress

lines that indicate another intention at work, per-

haps even as the deliberate traces of a purpose

half-concealed so as to better tease its audience

out of what Montaigne calls the role of the "inat-

tentive reader" ("C'est l'indiligent lecteur qui

pert mon subject, non pas moy"; 761; 3.9.994c).

Such an engagement might take its cue from

Andre Touron, who asks of the natives' missing

reply, "Can it be about anything else but reli-

gion?" ("s'agirait-il d'autre chose que de la re-

ligion?"; La glose 219). Indeed, can it be about

anything else, when nearly every attempt by the

Renaissance to come to terms with the inhabi-

tants of the New World advanced along theolog-

ical lines of thought? Structural and historical

factors lead one to suspect that Montaigne re-

members more about Rouen than he is telling us.

Montaigne organizes the essay in sequences

involving food, war, and religion, evidently pat-

terned on the three orders into which contempo-

raries divided their society: commoners, nobility,

and the clergy. Following this traditional distinc-

tion among producer, priest, and warrior, the dis-

cussion of the cannibals moves from their eating habits to their religious beliefs and then to their

practice of war. Similarly, Montaigne defines big-

otry as the propensity to believe that one's home-

land possesses "the perfect religion, the perfect

government, the perfect and accomplished man-

ners in all things" ("La est tousjours la parfaicte

religion, la parfaicte police, perfect et accomply

usage de toutes choses"; 152; 1.31.205a). More

striking still, when he reflects on "Of Cannibals"

in the later essay "Of Coaches" ("Des coches"),

he has a group of Peruvians respond to the con-

quistadors according to the same three catego-

As

ries: "As for their king [

].

As for food [

].

for one single God [

]

witness my Cannibals"

("Quand a leur Roy [

].

Quant aux vivres [

].

Quant a un seul Dieu [

.] tesmoing mes Can-

nibales"; 695-96; 3.6.911b). Elsewhere he re-

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117 2

George Hoffmann 209

one moment of the service that no one wished to

verses the French maxim une loi, unefoi, un roi

to describe the Brazilians as "without miss, law, the Elevation with- of the Host. According to all

out king, without religion of any kind" ("sans

accounts, it was the most important point of the

loy, sans roy, sans relligion quelconque"; 362;

Mass and the time-perhaps the only time-

2.12.49 1c). Thus, when the cannibals when comment the normally on boisterous parishioners of the

what they have seen in Rouen, they sixteenth successively century turned their undivided atten-

examine two of France's three orders,4 as Touron

tion to the altar. Popular legend held that if one

suggests, expressing their surprise that the Swiss

of the royal guard obey a child king and that the

could catch a glance of the consecrated bread,

one would not die that day; reports tell of some

poor do not revolt against the rich. The first estate

entering the church only for the Elevation, while

of French society, the ecclesiastical others order, ran is from con- service to service to see as many

spicuously absent from the cannibals' criticism.

elevations as possible. A hand bell was rung to

To discover what aspect of Christianity

alert the congregation, and many parishes rang

they might have criticized, we need to return

the steeple bells as well so that those confined to

to Rouen of October 1562.5 On Monday the

home might at least turn toward the church at the

twenty-sixth, after three months of siege, the

royal army took the city to reduce on a the Protestant shoulders of their neighbors, and if the

right moment; incense was lit, believers climbed

coup. In the mixture of looting, pacification, and

priest did not raise the Host to the crowd's satis-

tourism that ensued during the following days, a

faction, someone might cry out, "higher, higher,

high point for the boy king Charles IX and mem-

lift it a bit higher" ("plus haut, elevez-la un peu

bers of court in attendance would have been the

chance to meet several New World natives-a

plus haut"; "Elevation"; see also Bossy, Chris-

tianity 67-69). So, as all eyes turned toward

traditional feature of the municipality's wel-

the raised Host in Rouen, we might imagine our

coming committees since the days of Henri Brazilians II, asking for an explanation of the Eu-

thanks to its heavy trade in the South American

charist's significance and, on learning that it was

dyestuffs cochineal and brazilwood.6 Then came

Christ's body, expressing their astonishment that

Sunday. One would expect France's rex christia-

nissimus, "Roi tres-chretien" (although Protes-

tants preferred to call him a "tue-chretien," or

the French should eat their God.

A fanciful scenario, but had the three natives

received any instruction in the catechism (as had

Christian killer; Discours du massacre a4v), other to Brazilians brought to France; Lery, His-

have celebrated his victory over the Huguenots toire 42 and History 179), they could not have

by attending a public Mass. But this Sunday in

missed the irony of the Europeans' condemning

1562 happened to fall on All Saints' Day, the

cannibalism yet practicing theophagy. That the

celebration of the "Church triumphant," one of

parallel between the rites occurred to Montaigne

the four obligatory feast days and a peculiarly

as he wrote his essay has been suggested in pass-

Catholic one that Protestants vigorously re-

ing but bears closer consideration.7 First, the

jected. The service, under the circumstances,

French outpost in the bay of Rio de Janeiro from

would have appeared laden with significance.

which these natives most likely came, named

Let us entertain, for a moment, the possibil-

Fort Coligny after the Protestant admiral, had

ity that the three Brazilian natives accompanied

collapsed only two years earlier because of dis-

the court from the abbey of Saint Ouen, where

putes between Catholic and Huguenot colo-

the king had taken up quarters, to the cathedral in

nists over the presence reelle (real presence) of

the center of the old city. The natives would, like

Christ in the Eucharist. Close in tone, if not

us today, have been struck by the noisiness spirit, and to "Of Cannibals" were widely circulated

distraction of the church crowd, but there was

Protestant pamphlets that linked the Huguenots'

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210 Anatomy of the Mass: Montaigne's "Cannibals"

PMLA

persecution to a Catholic predisposition to eating human flesh: "anthropophagi," cries Theodore de

Beze at the Catholics for "roasting" Protestants,

"yet worse, theophagites, / That as a last resort /

You eat God to strengthen yourselves" ("Chresti-

ens bouillis, roustis [

il y a, o Theophages, / Que pour vostre dernier

renfort / Vous mangez dieu comme un refort";

Satyres, poem 5, lines 1601-04).8 Pierre Viret

criticized priests who claimed to eat Christ "as

the Scythians ate their relatives and friends" ("Or

ne puis-je entendre en quelle maniere il y a pu

etre enseveli [en le corps des pretres], s'ils ne

l'ont mange comme les Scythiens mangeaient

leurs parents et amis"; L'alcumie 78); Henri

Estienne wondered if such theophages were not

worse than anthropophages (14); Innocent Gen-

tillet compared Catholics to the man-eating

Polyphemus (172-74); and Montaigne's old

schoolteacher, George Buchanan, hinted darkly

at "sights more disgraceful / Than the bloody

feast of the Cyclops" ("Portenta conspexit Cy-

clopum / Sanguinea dape foediora"; 62; on this,

see Ford). Finally, a satirical topography of the

Roman liturgy holds a special piquancy when

placed beside Montaigne's essay, since it serves

to compare priests consuming the Host to "cer-

tain peoples of Brazil named the Cannibals who

eat human flesh"; Catholic pastors surpass even

the most carnivorous of beasts in that they de-

vour "chunks as large as entire quarters, and of

the whole body," a precise allusion to the Fractio,

during which the consecrated bread was torn in

four by the priest, along lines stamped on it in

the shape of the cross to recall Christ's mutila-

tion.9 Protestant authors like this one generally

considered the Roman Mass not to commemo-

] Anthropophages. / Pis

vos fagots pour vous brusle

mesmes"; 10).10 The language

positions of the Roman Rite-

Body and Blood of Christ [

the priest, broken and crushed

faithful" ("Corpus et sangui

] [

non solum sacramento sed

bus sacredotum tractari, frang

tibus atteri"; Crehan)-reinfor

suspicion that the Mass moved a

than toward, the sacramental

began, in their eyes, to resembl

holocausts than the convivial table around which

the apostles gathered to share a last supper, and

the priest appeared more like those high priests

who conspired to execute the savior than like Je-

sus. Thus, the Roman Rite, in the hands of Prot-

estant polemicists, came to represent a desire to

perpetuate violence on the body of Christ, a

bloodthirstiness that seemed to offer a privileged

window onto the general Catholic temperament.

The three natives' omitted views on Chris-

tianity, Montaigne's explicit condemnation of

his coreligionists' ferocity, and popular Protes-

tant opinion converge in the implication that the

true cannibals might be France's Catholics.

Once the reader is alerted to similar ironic un-

dercurrents at work in "Of Cannibals," the essay

begins to take on a different cast. For example,

we may now better understand why Montaigne's

opening move seeks to sever all historical ties

between the New World and the Old, be they

through a lost Carthaginian colony or the myth

of Atlantis. His references to Plato and Aristotle

have distracted modern readers from what was

most crucial to his readers at the time: biblical accounts of Creation and the Flood. It is difficult

rate Christ's sacrifice so much as to repeat it,

to imagine the extent to which the discovery of

thus aggravating the first sacrilege; the crucifix-

the New World threatened Christian views of

ion neither "can nor should ever be reiterated"

history. History, rather than geography, for an

("lequel sacrifice ne peut, et ne doit jamais estre educated public had no trouble accepting the ex-

reitere"; Viret, Conclusion 3), and noting the

istence of a new landmass (such as had been hy-

Roman Missal's recommendation to burn Holy pothesized since antiquity). Europeans were ill

Bread that had been defiled, Viret jeers, "Light prepared, however, to learn of a new people ra-

your fires and roast yourselves" ("Allumes donc

cially distinct from the three known groups (Af-

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117.2 ]

George Hoffmann 211

rican, Asian, and European) descended from

fore concluding that it must be from Ham.12 The

Noah's three sons, Ham, Shem, and Japheth.11 If

travel between the African-Eurasian continents

and the Americas had only just become possible,

thanks to the invention of modern navigational

devices (antiquity did not know of magnetism

and thus never developed the compass), it ap-

peared improbable to some that Amerindians

could be descended from Adam and Eve.

Two solutions emerged, and both bear on

Montaigne's essay. First, a vaguely scientific premonition that the landmasses of the two

hemispheres should be equal in size was pressed

into the service of alleviating doctrinal anxiety

as support for a hypothesis of a land bridge be-

tween the continents. This explains why almost

every sixteenth-century map portrays the Amer-

icas joined to Asia, or very nearly so, by a huge

terre australe to the south and an arctic land-

detroit d'Anian. Montaigne acknowledges these

speculations: the American continent "is not an

island, but a mainland connected with the east

Indies on one side, and elsewhere with the lands

under the two poles; or, if it is separated from

them, it does not deserve to be called an island

on that account" ("les navigations des modernes

ont des-ja presque descouvert que ce n'est point une isle, ains terre ferme et continente avec

l'Inde orientale d'un coste, et avec les terres qui

sont soubs les deux poles d'autre part; ou si elle

en est separee, que c'est d'un si petit destroit et

intervalle qu'elle ne merite pas d'estre nommee

isle pour cela"; 151; 1.31.204a). But in the light

of his deeply skeptical attitude toward the geo-

graphic knowledge of his time, does this "al-

most revealed" ("presque descouvert") land

bridge rest on any firmer ground than the theo-

ries that he proceeds to dismiss as mere "inter-

pretation" by topographers (151-52; 1.31.204a)?

The second solution to the origin of the

Amerindians brings us even closer to his purpose.

"From whom are these savages descended?" asks

Jean de Lery ("d'ou peuvent estre descendus ces sauvages"; History 150; Histoire 419), be-

relation of genealogical explanations to "Of Can-

nibals" receives startling, if retrospective, illu-

mination from a conversation that took place

outside Paris in the late summer of 1586. At the

German ambassador's residence in Saint-Cloud,

an unknown nobleman identified only as "un

homme de qualite" caused a stir with the follow-

ing argument: "In the New World, we have found

people, some savage, some not; no one ever trav-

eled there before those who recently discovered

it; therefore, these peoples were born there by

themselves and are not descended from Adam,

as our religion would have us believe, namely

that all people are descended from this first

man wrought by the hand of God" ("Aux terres

neufves on a trouve des hommes, les un sau-

vages, les autres non: personne n'y ajamais passe

auparavant ces deriers qui nous l'ont appris, ils

mass to the north, separated only by the narrow y sont donc naiz d'eux-mesmes et ne sont Enfans

d'Adam, comme veut nostre creance, que tous les

hommes soyent nez de ce premier homme ou-

vrage de la main de Dieu"; Laval 12v).13

What little one can learn about this conver-

sation comes from Antoine Mathe de Laval, not

present at Saint-Cloud but immediately con-

sulted in his capacity of royal geographer by the

ambassador. Laval's indignant response, aimed

at those "presumptuous Naturalists" who "doubt

without reason" ("presomptueux Naturalistes";

"douter sans raison"; 13r, 12v), gives a fairly ac-

curate picture, I believe, of the kind of thinking

Montaigne implicitly challenges in "Of Canni-

bals." Laval proceeds to identify the New World

with Atlantis while at the same time tracing

the Amerindians' ancestry to Elishah, Japheth's

grandson and Noah's great-grandson, who, hav-

ing taken a liking to navigation thanks to his

family's experience in the Ark, would have

landed in the Americas after the Great Flood.

As if this were not enough, Laval then argues

that the peoples of the New World are de-

scended from Carthaginian colonists, conclud-

ing that in every respect they reveal the "traits of

our forebears Adam and Noah" ("marques de

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212 Anatomy of the Mass: Montaigne's "Cannibals"

nos premiers Parens Adam et Noe"; 18v).14

Montaigne borrows from Urbain Chauveton

(41-45) a reply to these orthodox affirmations

that now rings clear: "it would be an incredible

result of a flood to have forced [the New World]

away as far as it is, more than twelve hundred

leagues," thus arguing against the connection to

the Old World that his contemporaries claimed

through Atlantis, before brushing aside their

second hypothesis, of a colony from Carthage,

originating in the pseudo-Aristotelian Proble-

mata, as not fitting "our new lands any better

than the other" ("ce seroit un effect incroyable

d'inundation de l'en avoir reculee, comme elle

est, de plus de douze cens lieues [

ration d'Aristote n'a non plus d'accord avec nos

terres neufves"; 151; 1.31.204a).15

Montaigne mentions the "deluge" twice, and

] cette nar-

the Great Flood's role in instigating God's le-

niency toward humanity, known as the First Cov-

enant, appears to lie close to the heart of this essay.

The possibility, for example, that Amerindians are not descended from Adam and Eve would hold

enormous implications for the doctrine of original

sin, and this seems the point made by the essay's

second anomaly, the oddly utopian description of

the natives. In a study that traces how conjectures

about the New World's ancestry led to the first

racial theories and then to the beginnings of mod-

em ethnology and anthropology, Giuliano Gliozzi

has established the existence in the Renaissance

of a polygenetic theory of human evolution in the

writings of Paracelsus, Cardano, Cesalpino, and

Bruno.16 Although Gliozzi did not know of the

conversation at Saint-Cloud, given general specu-

lation about a non-Adamite origin of the New

World inhabitants, Montaigne's praise of his can-

nibals' "original naturalness," their "state of pu-

rity" that "surpasses [

their "naturalness so pure and simple" seems pe-

culiarly disingenuous ("naifvete originelle"; "en

]

the golden age," and

telle purete"; "surpasse

] 1'age dore"; "un

nayfvete si pure et simple"; 153; 1.31.206a).

Elsewhere, Montaigne alludes without com-

mentary to indigenous myths of a "man and

PMLA

woman" who populated the New World some-

time in the seventh century of the Common Era

("un homme et une femme qui refeirent l'hu-

maine race [

]

il y a huict cens tant d'ans";

698; 3.6.914b); a quotation that calls the natives

"[m]en fresh sprung from the gods" ("viri a diis

recentes"; 153; 1.31.207c), added later to "Of

Cannibals," veers even closer to making plain

the essay's implication. If the New World na-

tives are born outside original sin, then it is clear

why they do not need a word for "pardon," as he

notes at the close of this passage, since they do

not appear to have experienced the Fall and thus

still inhabit their paradise. Or, rather, their "fall"

figuratively and literally comes from contact

with Christians of the Old World, an event that

Montaigne portrays in "Of Coaches" through the

unforgettable image of Pizarro pulling the last

of the Inca kings from his litter to the ground. In

any event, the Amerindians stand to gain little

from the Christian missions, launched in earnest

at the time Montaigne wrote this essay. Finally,

and perhaps most important, the natives do not

need to build a redemptive eschatology on the

paradoxical self-sacrifice of their god, along the

lines of the so-called Second Covenant of Je-

sus's crucifixion. As Montaigne points out else-

where with what starts to sound like slyness,

their Jesus was able to leave the world without

suffering a "natural death" ("qui disparut du

monde sans mort naturelle"; 432; 2.12.574b).

Thus, the entire essay begins to appear a

ludic inversion of the High Mass, a transposition

of eucharistic rites onto cannibalistic ritual to

radically defamiliarize the paradoxical sacrifice

of god, rather than to god, that lies at the heart of

Christian belief. The natives make "no use of

wine or wheat" ("nul usage de vin ou de bled";

153; 1.31.206-07a)? They nevertheless enjoy a

drink that is "made of some root, and is of the

color of our claret wines. [ .] In place of bread

they use a certain white substance like preserved

coriander" ("Leur breuvage est faict de quelque racine, et est de la couleur de nos vins clairets.

] [

Au lieu du pain, ils usent d'une certaine

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117.2

George Hoffmann 213

matiere blanche, comme du coriandre confit";

cette cher et ces veines, ce sont les vostres, pau-

154; 1.31.207a), which recalls how Calvin, Beze,

vres fols que vous estes; vous ne recognoissez

and Lery had discussed substituting pas que la substance des native membres sta- de vos ances-

ples so that Communion tres could s'y tient be encore: celebrated savourez les bien, in vous y

the absence of bread and trouverez wine.17 le goust Yet de vostre more propre sig- chair"; 158;

nificant, consider that in noting, "In place of

1.31.212a; cf. Lery, History 123 and Histoire

bread they use a certain white substance like

preserved coriander. I have tried it; it tastes

356-57, and Thevet 161), words found in none

of the descriptions available to Montaigne but

sweet and a little flat" ("J'en ay taste: le goust en

that sound suspiciously similar to those of the

est doux et un peu fade"; 154; 1.31.207a), Mon-

Qui Pridie spoken at the Consecration: "Take,

taigne is quoting Exodus 16.31, all of you, and wherein eat of this, manna, this is my body [

commonly seen as a prefiguration Drink, for this is of my the blood" ("Accipite, Eucha- et man-

rist, is described as quasi semen coriandri, "like

].

ducate ex hoc omnes: Hoc EST CORPUS MEUM

coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like

[

]

HIC EST ENIM SANGUIS MEUS"; Crehan).20

wafers made with honey."'1 The essay's underly-

This flesh, these veins: my body, my blood. No

ing language of eating and digestion ("eyes big-

wonder that Montaigne can exclaim that the

ger than our stomachs" ["yeux prisoner's words plus "do not grands smack of barbarity" que

le ventre"], "the mouth of the Strait of Gibraltar"

("Invention qui ne sent aucunement la barbarie";

["la bouche du destroit de Gibraltar"], "swal-

158; 1.31.212a): they constitute the key exhorta-

lowed up by the Flood" ["engloutis par le del-

uge"], "sands that the sea spews Furthermore, [vomits] the prisoner's forth" rejoinder that

tion of the Christian rite.21

["les sables que la mer vomit devant elle"], and

Montaigne judges so astute and that he also, ap-

"our corrupted taste" ["nostre goust corrompu";

parently, invented himself-"You do not recog-

150-52; 1.31.203a-205a]) anticipates the scene

nize that the substance of your ancestors' limbs is

still contained in [this flesh and these veins].

of cannibalism that creatively restages the

Canon of the Mass in which the Host is conse-

crated. First, Montaigne departs from his

sources, every one of which depicts the prisoner

tied at the waist with "his arms free" ("on luy

laisse les deux bras a delivre"; Lery, History 122

and Histoire 355) to gesture insults or throw

rocks at his captors.19 Montaigne omits the rock

throwing, and he is the only writer to have the

natives' chief "tie [

oner's arms, by the end of which he holds him, a

]

a rope to one of the pris-

few steps away

] and he gives his dearest

friend the other arm to hold in the same way"

("il attache une corde a l'un des bras du prison-

nier, par le bout de laquelle il le tient, esloigne

] et donne au plus cher de

ses amis l'autre bras a tenir de mesme"; 155;

1.31.209ac). His arms thus outstretched in a cru-

ciform pose, Montaigne's prisoner proceeds to

say, "This flesh and these veins are your own

de quelques pas

]. [

Savor them well" ("Ces muscles, dit-il,

Savor them well, you will find in them the taste of

your own flesh"-recalls the original meaning of

the term communion. For, as crown of the sacra-

ments, the Eucharist was considered by Protes-

tants and Catholics to effect the ideal of an

eglise-from ecclesia, or community-by join-

ing believers into one body. Eating the flesh of a

former cannibal (at least according to the bellig-

erent prisoner), like partaking in Jesus's flesh, re-

sults in an anacrasis similar to that celebrated by

the Salve Salutaris Hostia as the desire "to be in-

corporated into Your Body that I may become one

of Your members" ("Quaesumus, omnipotens

Deus, ut inter Eius membra numeremur cuius

corpori communicamus et sanguini"; Crehan).22

Montaigne seems to play variously on this

foundational notion of social union, which Bar-

bara Diefendorf describes as "the body social,

the body politic, and the body of Christ [

.

.] so

closely intertwined as to be inseparable" (48,

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214 Anatomy of the Mass: Montaigne's "Cannibals"

PMLA

31-32; cf. 1 Cor. 10.17). Hence, among Mon-

taigne's cannibals, the victor gathers an "assem-

bly of his acquaintances" ("assemblee de ses

cognoissans"; 155; 1.31.209a), and, as during the

Communion (the "common union"), all share

"en commun" the prisoner's flesh. On the one

hand, the sacrifice of the prisoner acts to bring

the tribe together; on the other, the ceremony is

predicated on war and extreme divisiveness be-

tween various groups of natives, a division in the

larger social body that is figured in the rending

of the prisoner's body. In other words, the ritual's net effect proves

mixed, and in this it rather resembles the role

that Communion played in Europe, bringing lo-

cal parishes together and at the same time fur-

nishing the single greatest cause of doctrinal

contention (the reason, notably, that Luther and

Zwingli separated at the Marburg Colloquy and

why the Colloquy at Poissy failed to locate any

common ground on which Huguenots could be

reconciled with French Catholics). "How many

quarrels, and how important," Montaigne memo-

rably exclaims, "have been produced in the

world by doubt of the meaning of that syllable

Hoc!" ("Combien de querelles et combien im-

portantes a produit au monde le doubte du sens

de cette syllabe, Hoc!"; 392; 2.12.527a). The

very term religion (religio) comes from religare,

to tie or bind together-an etymology Mon-

taigne learned from Lucretius, who condemns

religion for "binding" human freedom in a pas-

sage that Montaigne highlighted in his copy of

De rerum natura ("religionum animum nodis

exsolvere pergo"; Screech 326). Seemingly in-

spired by Lucretius's pun, he returns religion to

its literal meaning in the image of the sacrificial

prisoner tied up by rope-an emblem of sorts, if

sense of its immanence as to make parishioners

turn and forgive one another's past offenses. The

act of cannibalism, on the contrary, serves, as

Montaigne underscores, "to betoken an extreme

revenge" ("representer une extreme vengeance";

155; 1.31.206a; cf. Bossy, "Social History").

In this light, he seems to allude to the sec-

ond effect procured by the Host, namely peace,

enacted at the Pax by the Holy Kiss ("so that

there be no dissension within the body"; 1 Cor.

12.25), an allusion saturated with irony given

how Montaigne devotes the entire essay to

war-from the opening invasion of Italy to the

closing siege at Rouen. Nonetheless, the natives'

idiosyncratic manner of referring to each other

as their other "halves" ("moitiez"; 159; 214a)

suggests they still practice greater social solidar-

ity than the French, riven by economic dispari-

ties, divided estates, and engraved distinctions of

status (Defaux). If the cannibals appear tainted

by the second sin, human violence against fel-

low humans, initiated by Cain's killing of Abel,

this might be because, never having learned for-

giveness as a consequence of committing the

first fault, they now find themselves with little

recourse in face of fratricidal impulses (Quint

76; Schaefer 180-82, 187, 197).

Finally, we come to the only other words

from the New World that Montaigne gives in di-

rect discourse, the native love song, "Adder,

stay; stay, adder, that from the pattern of your

coloring my sister may draw the fashion and the

workmanship of a rich girdle that I may give to

my love; so that your beauty and your pattern be

forever preferred to all other serpents" ("Cou-

leuvre, arreste toy; arreste toy, couleuvre, afin

que ma sceur tire sur le patron de ta peinture la

faSon et l'ouvrage d'un riche cordon que je

one were needed, of the failed unitarian ideal of puisse donner a m'amie: ainsi soit en tout temps

ta beaute et ta disposition preferee a tous les au-

tres serpens"; 158; 1.31.213a). Hardly an effec-

tive illustration of indigenous poetry, let alone of

the highly regarded Anacreontic sort (no won-

der Flaubert would speak mockingly of "hymns

of barbarians, odes of cannibals" ["hymnes de

the church.23 Thus, the most striking irony that emerges from the parallels that Montaigne draws

between the two ceremonies can be found in jux-

taposing their purpose. The view of the Host was supposed to inspire in sixteenth-century congre-

gations such a strong desire for absolution and

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117.2 2

George Hoffmann 215

barbares, odes de cannibales"; 555]), this exam-

atheists say this sort of thing" ("I1 se fust bien

ple exhibits a manifestly unpoetic quality that passe d'y mesler la Religion, car elle a d'autres

has prompted later writers to rewrite the song,

appuys que les opinions & que la Raison mesme

from Thomas Warton, in "Stay, stay, thou lovely

ayant l'Autorite"; "ceste opinion est heretique et

fearful snake, / Nor hide thee in yon darksome

tres perilleuse"; "Cela ne se dict que par les

brake," to Goethe, in the alliterative and chiastic

Athees"; Courbet and Royer clv-vi).26

"Schlange, halte stille / Halte stille, Schlange."24

But perhaps the point of Montaigne's invented

Does this reading demonstrate, then, that

Montaigne did not believe? As he puts it,

song is not to prove anything about poetry. If the

"[C]lever people observe more things and more

Amerindians have never incurred original sin curiously, but they interpret them" ("les fines

and thus have never been seduced by a reptile in

gens remarquent bien plus curieusement et plus

the Garden, then they have no reason to see in a

de choses, mais il les glosent"; 152; 1.31.205a).

snake anything other than the shiny design on

its back, and they are free to write songs about Lestringant notes with some surprise that Mon-

such, finding themselves under no obligation to

taigne forgoes the opportunity to comment on

tread on serpents with their heels. Along this sixteenth-century controversies over cannibal-

In the recent book Une sainte horreur, Frank

line of thought, by leaving the reader to contem-

ism and communion; Montaigne, writes Lestrin-

plate the unembarrassed nudity of the natives as

gant, "dodges" ("esquive"; 245). And dodge he

the essay's final image, Montaigne once again must, if he is to avoid falling into the trap of

seems to cast doubt on whether they have inher-

ited Adam and Eve's sense of shame.25

judging Roman rites with presumption equal to

that with which the Portuguese and French did

Thus, Montaigne exploits the possibility,

Brazilian ones. Dodge he must, if he is to avoid

popularized through Protestant pamphlets, of

either unskeptical criticism or uncritical skepti-

using the conventions of Christian exegesis to cism. This essay's indirection need not princi-

effects different from those intended. Those

pally appear a rhetorical ploy intended to elude

works were polemical; Montaigne's essay was

religious censorship, but, rather, it may be the

not, at least not overtly. Their authors were re-

consequence of a coherent skeptical effort to

formed; Montaigne, at least formally, remained

avoid privileging either a viewpoint that dispar-

a Catholic. Yet they reveal the same tendency to ages Roman Christianity or one that applauds it.

treat Catholic symbolism as freely as if it were

mythological imagery taken from Ovid's Meta- teases us to think brings us but one step away

To state explicitly what "Of Cannibals"

morphoses; elsewhere, Montaigne even hints

from the kind of genially vicious derision in

that King Midas's touch is analogous to transub-

which Agrippa d'Aubigne indulged in "Against

stantiation, "his wine was gold, his bread gold"

("son vin fut or, son pain or"; 434; 2.12.576a).

Is this why the essay contains Montaigne's only

mention of his Protestant brother, Thomas de

Beauregard, sieur d'Arsac? No wonder that

Laval, who met Montaigne and later annotated a

copy of the Essays, wrote in the margin of this

chapter, "He could have spared mixing religion

into this, for religion has other foundations than

opinion," adding in brief but revealing notes to

the "Apology for Ramond Sebond," "This opin-

ion is heretical and very dangerous" and "only

the Real Presence," an outrageous but by no

means atypical example of French Protestant

satire:

And if you choose to worship a chalice

As lodging for your God, you then need To worship either a priest's stomach or his ass,

When the same God lodges or prepares to leave.

What the priest holds in his pocket, up his sleeve,

And in his codpiece is holy, so, you see,

After he has lunched on his God on Sunday You should worship his turd on Monday.

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216 Anatomy of the Mass: Montaigne's "Cannibals"

PMLA

Et si vous adorez un cyboire pour estre

Logis de vostre Dieu, vous debvez, sans mentir,

Adorer ou le ventre ou bien le cul d'un Prestre,

Quand ce Dieu mesme y loge et est prest d'en

sortir.

Tout ce que tien le Prestre en sa poche, en sa

manche,

En sa braguette est sainct et de plus je vous dy

Qu'en aiant desjeune de son Dieu le dimanche,

Vous devez adorer son estron du lundy. (345-46)27

To such scatological extrapolations, Protestant

authors gleefully added others, including ene-

mas and depictions of the priest's Latin as magi-

cal incantation. Did Christ therefore eat himself

at the Last Supper? If the Holy Bread was

Christ's body, what did priests do with the skin?

What if the consecrated bread was moldy or

crumbs dropped on the altar were eaten by mice?

or spiders? or worms? What if someone vomited

after Communion? Would the priest then be

obliged to eat the undigested bread?28 The occa-

sional, rare Catholic controversialist tried to turn

the tables, accusing such Protestant literalism as

tantamount to demanding of the Host, "[S]how

yourself in flesh and bones so that we may see

you and, in eating your flesh, enjoy the taste of a

partridge, capons, or woodcock" ("monstre toy

visible en chair et en os que nous te voyons, et

qu'en mangeant ta chair, elle nous donne le goust

d'une perdrix, chappons ou beccace"; Desire

24r). But the palm in this match clearly went to

the Calvinists, as Jeffrey Persels has brilliantly

shown in his study of how taking certain con-

sequences of Roman practice to absurd lengths

became one of the principal satiric arms of Prot-

estant propaganda ("Cooking"; see also Elwood

93-94). Maggie Kilgour has concluded that this

"Protestant fabrication of the Catholic Black

ginning to show the wear of tim

should praise or condemn him

accounts of American natives to

pose-recently described as his

of otherness" (Marchi 45; cf. Abecassis)-

seems a matter more susceptible to debate than

to demonstration and, as such, better left to the

tribunal of general consensus. Over thirty years

ago, Carlo Ginzburg showed how one might

find in a semiliterate miller the imagination and

independence of thought one usually reserves

for a writer like Montaigne (his exact contem-

porary). Today, one might propose the reverse,

reading Montaigne as if he were Menocchio and

finding in the author's attitude toward certain

points of doctrine responses as scandalously

idiosyncratic as the poor miller's cosmos of The

Cheese and the Worms.

What are we to make of Montaigne's invita-

tion to the reader to participate in a radically sec-

ular practice of exegesis, a type of reading that

seems to require not the willing suspension of

disbelief but the willing suspension of belief?

Lucien Febvre asserted vehemently, and fa-

mously, that unbelief could not have existed in

the Renaissance-a dated conviction, retorts Mi-

chel Vovelle: "Unbelief exists" ("L'incroyance

existe"; 203). Need we limit ourselves to the

terms of this debate? Montaigne's nuanced bold-

ness argues for the need to explore approaches

to religious culture that replace past yes-no dis-

putes over whether individuals believed or did

not believe with questions about what they be-

lieved and how and why they believed it. In what

has remained the standard treatment of the sub-

ject, Mathurin Dreano lists every church Mon-

taigne visited, every contact he had with a

member of the church, and every religious book

Mass" hardly differs from how Europeans vili- he might have read or owned. Noting the fre-

fied the New World "savage" (147).

quent questions he put to reformed ministers about the Eucharist during his voyage through

If, as Virginia Krause has amusingly re-

marked, "Of Cannibals" seems these days to be Germany and Switzerland (e.g., Montaigne, Le

the essay that keeps Montaigne in the European

canon, then perhaps it is time he was released

from it and from disputes that are already be-

journal 1148; trans. in Frame 893), Dreano ad-

duces an argument for Montaigne's Catholicism

using the following logic: "One does not ask

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117.2 j

George Hoffmann 217

questions with such insistence unless one takes

from Frame's translation of the Essays. All undocumented

some interest in religious matters" ("L'on n'in-

2

translations from the French are mine.

terroge pas avec cette insistance, si l'on ne prend

Lery writes, "So let us henceforth no longer abhor so

very greatly the cruelty of the anthropophagous-that is,

pas quelque interet aux choses de la religion";

man-eating-savages. For since there are some here in our

57). Montaigne asks questions; he is interested

midst even worse, and more detestable [

]" ("Parquoy

in religion; therefore, he believes. One finds, in

qu'on n'haborre plus tant desormais la cruaut6 des sauvages

Anthropophages, c'est a dire, mangeurs d'hommes: car puis

other quarters, those who run the same logic in

qu'il y en a de tels, voire d'autant plus detestables et pires

reverse: Montaigne could not believe;29 there-

au milieu de nous"; History 132-33; Histoire 228, 230).

fore, he is not interested in religion, and he does

Similar statements can be found in Mainardo (1552) and Du

not ask questions of it. These inferences, op-

Verdier (1572), as well as in anonymous pamphlets such as

the Complainte apologetique (1561), Reveille matin (1574),

posed as images in a mirror, operate on one side

Discours du massacre (1574), and Le tocsain (1579).

of a divide, where not only has unbelief become

3 For one of the most cogent studies of the essay's over-

banal but belief is reduced to a matter of adher-

arching movement, see Duval. In general, I am indebted to

ence to doctrine and religious culture is flattened

the kind of literary-religious criticism that he pioneered in

his numerous studies on Rabelais.

into a question of denomination-a legacy, no

4 "[O]ur ways, our splendor, the aspect of a fine city"

doubt, of the wars of Reformation and the con-

("nostre fa9on, nostre pompe, la forme d'une belle ville";

sequent hardening of Counter-Reformation con-

159; 1.31.213a). If the "city" suggests the class of common-

trol over religious practice. But this was not yet

ers, then "splendor" might refer to nobility; "ways" or

Montaigne's world; he still speaks from a stand-

"facon," however, leaves vague any reference to the clergy.

See the commentary in Tournon, Les essais 597.

point in which faith left room for doubt. His ex-

5

Benedict's Rouen during the Wars of Religion is an invalu-

ploration of radical possibilities did not entail an

able source of information about the city during the conflict.

outright rejection of faith, as one might assume

6 See C'est la deduction du sumptueux ordre; Denis;

today; for between the unknown homme de

Wintroub; and Brunelle 16-17.

qualite and an Antoine de Laval, between cur-

7

Antoine Compagnon first suggested this point to me, in a

conversation in 1995. The connection had briefly been made

sory dismissal and unimaginative orthodoxy, lies

before: "the cannibals are reflected not only in tyrants, those

the possibility that Montaigne was deeply inter-

'people-eaters' (political attack), but also (religious attack) in

ested in religion and did not quite believe.

the Catholics, those who eat the living body of Christ" ("les

NOTES

This essay owes its existence to the encouragement offered

by colleagues in Boston University's Core Program, Brian

Jorgenson, Stephanie Nelson, Bill Vance, and Christopher Ricks. I thank Bill Paulson, Steve Dworkin, Karen James,

John Lyons, Mary McKinley, and Kandioura Drame for af-

fording me the invaluable opportunity to try out earlier ver-

sions of this essay at the University of Michigan, Roanoke

College, and the University of Virginia. Finally, this essay

owes much to many valuable suggestions offered by Jeff

Persels and Virginia Krause.

"Je pense qu'il y a plus de barbarie a manger un

homme vivant qu'a le manger mort [ .] sous pretexte de

piete et de religion" (1.31.209a). Unless otherwise noted,

quotations from Montaigne are taken from the Villey-

Saulnier edition of Les essais and their English versions

cannibales se refletent non seulement dans les tyrans, ces

'mange-peuples' (attaque politique), mais aussi (attaque re-

ligieuse) dans les catholiques, ceux qui mangent le corps vi-

vant du Christ"; Martin 71-72); "the Eucharistic rite, as

Montaigne might not have been ready to admit, was a subli-

mated variant [of cannibalism]" (Rawson, "Horror" 3-4; see

also Rawson, "'Indians'" 306). Stegman has more recently

begun to study the symbolic dimension of this question.

81 thank Jeffrey Persels for pointing me toward this passage.

9 "[C]omme aucuns peuples du Bresil, nommez les Cani-

bales qui mangent de la chair humaine: ceux-ci doyvent estre

de la race de telles gens, et en doyvent estre descendus. Car ils

ne mangent autre chose que de la chair humaine, et sont fort

cruels, et ravisseurs comme les Canibales, lesquels prennent

cest chair, et la mettent en quatre quartiers, ou en trois, et en

mangent un quartier a chacun morceau: et souvent ils devo-

rent en un morceau toute ceste masse de chair entiere, meslee

parmi le sang, et hument le sang tout ensemble, qui fait es-

bayr tout le monde, pour ce qu'on n'ajamais veu loups, ni

ours, ne tygres, ni autre beste quelque cruelle et ravissante

qu'elle soit, qui fist de si gros morceaux que de quartiers tous

entiers, et d'un corps entier, comme font ceux-ci" (Escorche-

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218 Anatomy of the Mass: Montaigne's "Cannibals"

Messes 133); "Le Prestre rompt l'hostie (en memoire que le

corps de Jesus fut bless6 et rompu en la croix)" (Auger C4r).

For a commentary on the significance of the Fractio, see

Bossy, "The Mass" 37-51.

10 The charge of "reiterating" the sacrifice of Jesus was

already widespread by the 1530s (Berthoud 287; Lestringant,

Une sainte horreur 76-78).

1 On classical theories of a continent to the west, see

Kelly 275-76. For religious perplexity over New World in-

habitants, see Guicciardini's observation "These voyages

have made it clear that the ancients were deceived in many

]. They have

ways regarding a knowledge of the earth [

given some cause for alarm to interpreters of the Holy

Scriptures" ("Per queste navigazioni si e manifestato essersi

nella cognizione della terra ingannati in molte cose gli an-

tichi [

della scrittura sacra"; History 182; Storia 132).

]

ma dato, oltre a ci6, qualche anzieth agli interpreti

12 Montaigne's other major sources for the essay simi-

larly devote significant attention to the question (Gomara 8r,

250r-54r; Chauveton Elr-E5r).

13 For more details on this conversation, see Hoffmann,

"Rites."

14 For Laval's identification of the New World with

"l'Atlantide," see 15r-15v.

15 Laval may have followed the same source that Mon-

taigne used.

16 Gliozzi 306-21,331-47,253-61,268-77. Bodin's refu-

tation of these views at the end of his Methodus adfacilem his-

toriarum cognitionem provides a gauge of their currency, or at

least familiarity, among circles that would have been close to

Montaigne's (334-64). Gliozzi reaches the same conclusion

(334, 270). Reference to the golden age alone was often

enough to suggest such troubling hypotheses (Scaglione 65-

66). See also Guana's suggestions to the same effect (33-34).

17 Lery writes, "[If Jesus Christ] had been in the land of

the savages it is probable that he would have made mention

not only of the drink they use instead of wine, but also of the

root flour they eat instead of bread" ("[Si Jesus Christ] eust

est6 en la terre des sauvages il est vraysemblable qu'il eust

non seulement fait mention du bruvage dont ils usent au lieu

du vin, mais aussi de leur farine de racine qu'ils mangent au

lieu du pain"; History 49; Histoire 194-95). My attention

was first drawn to this by Frisch. Beze had made the same

point in a letter from 1568 ("Beze h [Dudith]") and in De

coena Domini, sec. 155. Beze and Lery appear to have in

mind a letter from Calvin to the French colonists, now lost.

18 Brian Jorgenson first drew my attention to this allu-

sion. See also John 6.41: "I am the bread that came down

from heaven" ("ego sum panis qui de caelo descendi").

Throughout this essay, English versions of biblical quota-

tions are taken from the Oxford Study Bible, and the Latin is

taken from Biblia sacra.

19 See the reproductions collected by Lestringant in his

1992 edition of Histoire d'un voyage fait en la terre de

Bresil-1557 (Lestringant, Histoire, following 150).

PMLA

20 The biblical text reads, "[A]ccipite et comedite hoc

est corpus meum [

]

bibite ex hoc omnes hic est enim san-

guis meus" (Matt. 26.26-28; cf. Mark 14.22-24 and Luke

22.19-20).

21 In a similar vein, Montaigne proceeds to recall Juve-

nal's prehistoric Gascons, who believed that by eating

human flesh, they could "renew their life" ("Produxere ani-

mas"; 155; 1.31.210b); cf. "lodging in themselves and as it

were in their marrow the bodies of their fathers and their re-

mains, bringing them to life in a way and regenerating them

by transmutation into their living flesh by means of diges-

tion" ("logeant en eux mesmes et comme en leurs moelles

les corps de leurs peres et leurs reliques, les vivifiant au-

cunement et regenerant par la transmutation en leur chair

vive au moyen de la digestion"; 438; 2.12.581a).

22 See also "to maintain all faithful Christians in one

body of friendship, peace, and harmony" ("pour conserver

tous les fideles Chrestiens en un corps d'amiti6, et de paix,

et de concorde"; Auger D2v). At least one modern observer

has claimed that the practice of cannibalism enacts a com-

munal coming together analogous to that of the Christian

eucharistic rite (Baztan). On the Eucharist, see Gerrish.

23 These points grew out of suggestions by Todd Reeser

and Virginia Krause.

24 Warton and Goethe are quoted in the Villey-Saulnier

edition of Montaigne's Les essais (1140).

251 thank Jan Miernowski for suggesting this last point.

26 Long believed lost, Laval's copy of the Essays was re-

cently rediscovered, thanks to records of its sale (at Drouot

on 19 May 1967), by Michel Simonin, who graciously

shared with me his findings. For further information on

Laval and his copy, see Hoffmann, "Croiser le fer."

27 See similar pieces in Le chansonnier huguenot-e.g.:

The God that he has made,

The mouth takes it;

The stomach digests it,

The belly pushes it back out,

To the bottom of a latrine!

Le Dieu qu'il faict faire,

La bouche le prend;

Le coeur le digere,

Le ventre le rend,

Au fond de la retrait! (153)

See also Beze, Satyres, and Estienne's scatologic

"th6ochezes," or "God-shitters" (5.1.14). For refo

of scatological imagery in general, see Perse

ened."' In "La souris," Greenblatt quotes Englis

tic satire that avails itself of scatological themes

the fifteenth century (49). No doubt the figure o

the Liturgy, for at the washing of his hands, the

nounced, "Let your Body, Lord, that I have eate

blood, that I have drunk, inhere to my entrai

tuum, domine, quod sumpsi, et Sanguis, quem

haereat visceribus meis"; Liturgies 84).

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117.2 ]

WORKS CITED

28 "If the body of Jesus comes back up and is vomited

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