published on November 4, 2016
Scott B. Noegel
Corpses, Cannibals, and Commensality
A Literary and Artistic Shaming Convention in the Ancient Near East
In this contribution, I examine several ancient Near Eastern literary texts and artistic variations on the “banquet motif” in which one finds people dining while others die. I argue that these depictions constitute a hitherto unrecognized artistic device rooted in social protocol that represents an inversion of the custom of abstinence during mourning. It thus functions to underscore the contempt of those dining for the dying by depicting their deaths as unworthy of lament. In addition, the motif characterizes the dying party as symbolically and/or physically abased, because of his or her hubris, and thus deserving of a shameful death. Inversely, it portrays the dining party as symbolically and often physically elevated, and reveling in a divine reversal of circumstance.