In the early sixteenth century, Leonardo Da Vinci sketched many anatomical drawings and wrote many notes concerning the human heart.
Nature has made the cords on the back side of the fleshy membrane of the three gates with which the gateway of the right ventricle is shut; and she has not made them on the front because these cusps feel more strain when they draw in blood than when they push it out.
Dissecting as many as thirty human cadavers, Da Vinci explored a world central to our construction of a human being–what is heart felt, the heart of the matter, speak your heart–yet, not well understood nor mapped. For Dante, at the end of the thirteenth century, the heart is a conceit of love and passion and life. And it is spiritual food. Let’s hear Hannibal recite Dante’s sonnet of love.
As Hannibal states, Dante’s friend Guido Cavalcanti was fascinated by the first sonnet in Dante’s Vita Nuova, and offers a reading of its lines in his own sonnet–Vedesti al mio parere ogni valore, especially noting the heart–
“Di voi lo core ne portò, veggendo / che vostra donna alla morte cadea,” which Ezra Pound translates as “Love bore away they heart, because in his sight / Was Death grown clamorous for one thou lovest.”
Hannibal himself is quite fascinated by the image of the heart, and fashions flesh, meat and bones of Antony Dimmond, a betrayer, a Judas, into a “heart” left in the Norman Chapel in Palermo for Will Graham–Hannibal’s true love.
Not far from the heart, Death looks up from the floor as a reminder of mortality for those who visit.
So, on our dinner table we have Dante’s poem of beatific vision where his beloved is fed his heart, Cavalcanti’s interpretation that this “food” is to avert Death, and a heart shaped from a broken man to represent betrayal which rests near a daily reminder of passing to the other side. All which bring us, of course, to one of Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s most famous quotes from his The Physiology of Taste:
It appears that taste has two principal uses:
- It invites us, by means of pleasure, to make good the losses which we suffer through the action of life.
- It helps us choose, from the various substances offered to us by Nature, those which are suitable as food. (37)
Quite an appealing and emotional idea, that pleasure exists as an anodyne, and taste, our ability to access pleasure through the senses and elevate it to an action of the intellect, affords us a way to measure out a compensation for grief. Certainly, this is quite a suitable food.
Carlo Petrini in his manifesto Slow Food Nation, offer this definition of taste:
Taste is both flavor and knowledge, sapore and sapere in Italian: the alliteration of the two terms says a lot about the close connection that exists between the perceptual and cultural spheres. Taste changes according to whether you are rich or poor, whether there is an abundance or famine, whether you live in a forest or in a metropolis. But for everyone, taste is the right to transform their own daily sustenance into pleasure. (99)
Hannibal seeks to make up for rudeness he suffers by eating those who have offended him, in exact dishes, of course. Over the course of dinners with and serving Abel Gideon, Hannibal defines the eating of a human being through enunciating how we view food, how we observe a careful and sacred recipe which allows nothing to go to waste.
Futamono, episode six of the second season, means a lidded dish in a multicourse Japanese dinner, often served as vegetables simmered in a broth matched with meat or fish or tofu, also cooked in a broth. The food stylist for Hannibal, Janice Poon, writes on her blog for Hannibal and American Gods,
Futamono is the mid-meal course in Kaiseki of a small but robust soup or stew served in a lidded bowl. We are mid-meal in the story of Season 2 and now everyone is hiding something in this tempest of tiny pots. One by one, the lids will soon blow off!
Cannibalism may be defined as eating one’s equal, and certainly Dr. Hannibal Lecter does not consider Dr. Abel Gideon an equal, and as they discuss, everyone gets eaten, “be he fat or be he lean.” In this sense, Hannibal’s sense, he is not a cannibal, he’s just eating meat further down on the food chain.
Season Three begins with a journey to France and Italy and a memory of dining back home in Baltimore with again Dr. Gideon and his leg. As Abel notes, his leg has been smoked in thyme, and time required to cook and serve, to properly entertain dinner guests has sacred status in Hannibal. A fine culinary example of the use of time is the matter of snails, also in Antipasto.
GIDEON When I’m not eating myself, you wish me to be eating oysters. Drinking sweet wines, snacking on acorns. All to make me tastier?
HANNIBAL Oh yes. (re: the snails) And you are making them tastier.
GIDEON And I you. Imagine what you must taste like. Won’t be long before someone takes a bite out of you. Hannibal notes Gideon’s tone.
HANNIBAL When agitated, sea snails produce a purple dye. Its color won’t fade. Becomes brighter with weathering. (then) You’re becoming brighter, Abel. Dying hasn’t dulled you one bit.
GIDEON The snails are certainly having a lovely experience, fattened on me in a red-wine marinade. They have no idea they’re going to be eaten. (then) We do.
Further on in the same episode, we watch the result of such careful preparation, such discipline applied to what Dr. Gideon eats, and what the snails eat through his arm and the red wine poured across, and with all this transference of taste and pleasure, does this not also make the cook delicious?
GIDEON Eating me without my knowledge? I find knowing to be much more powerful than not knowing. Why do you think I’m allowing this?
HANNIBAL Why do you think I’m allowing this?
GIDEON Snails aren’t the only creatures who prefer to eat in company. I’m fascinated to know how you will feel when all this… happens to you.
Taste and knowledge dance back and forth without a grounding, a central pole called morality. We eat animals because we do define a difference between them and ourselves, though we are also defined as animals, in this we act as other carnivores like bears and wolves. Hannibal draws this difference of superiority out to other humans who violate certain codes of civilization, as he defines them. He views it as a crime to waste meat that could be turned into art. Hannibal uses the kitchen as a place of transformation, of alchemy in order to bring human flesh to a higher definition, a higher aesthetic experience. And besides his ideas of beauty and pleasure, he also views himself as an ethical butcher who avoids cruelty. As in Michael Pollan’s perfect meal in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, he carefully and exactly supplies the meat that’s on the table.
- Everything on the menu must have been hunted, gathered, or grown by me.
- The menu should feature at least one representative of each edible kingdom.
- Everything served must be in season and fresh.
- No money may be spent on the meal, though already purchased items in the pantry could be deployed as needed.
- The guest list is limited to those people who helped me in my foraging, and their significant others,
- I would cook the meal myself. (392)
Alexandre-(Balthazard)-Laurent Grimod de La Reynière writes in The Gourmand’s Almanac,
“I think the world of people who give dinners,” a lady butcher at the market said one day to the author of this work, whom she took for a caterer. Men of Letters, and especially courtiers in the old days, would say the same about Farmers General [tax collector], whose table they would populate regularly. A successful man who desires disciples; a poet of merit in search of admirers; the ambitious sort looking for protectors; the rich man who wants to make an impression; the doctor who wishes to be forgiven his wealth; and finally the minister who would like to be seen as a great man of State, have no surer means of reaching their goal than to give dinners. The table is a hub around which all reputations are formed; it is a theater where there never is a flop; and without a doubt, plays would never fail if, on opening night, their authors could give a dinner in the orchestra.
We may include the cannibal who covers his shopping with the mask of a serial killer and has a love of the theatrical. The act of cooking, the act of entertaining all comes together with Hannibal. Throughout the series, a modest proposal is made. If Dante sees his heart nourishing Beatrice, if Cavalcanti sees this same human heart consumed as an avoidance of death, if Da Vinci opens a human body to draw a human heart, if Hannibal uses his knowledge of carving meat to shape a heart made out of a human, if artistry whether it be poetry or cooking transforms and elevates the animal used, if being a butcher who carefully chooses and then slaughters his own meat, then all are brought together at the dinner table–Da Vinci, Dante, Cavalcanti, Hannibal and Pollan, along with Jonathan Swift who writes in 1729,
I HAVE been assured by a very knowing American of my Acquaintance in London; that a young healthy Child, well nursed, is, at a Year old, a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome Food; whether Stewed, Roasted, Baked, or Boiled; and, I make no doubt, that it will equally serve in a Fricasie, or Ragoust.
Of course, this is the famous A Modest Proposal, and of course Swift’s satiric argument highlights how the British over centuries have treated the Irish peasantry, how they viewed the Irish overall as sub-human and no really any better as animals, and in many cases, worse. As with Hannibal, Swift’s voice points out that to do anything else would only to be commit and provide waste, though Hannibal is not the only killer who uses every part of a human he kills–in the first episode of Season One, Will Graham makes his observation of the serial killer they’re chasing and the copy cat, Hannibal of course, who has shown up on the scene.
Our cannibal loves women. He doesn’t want to destroy them. He wants to consume them. Keep some part of them inside. This girl’s killer thought she was a pig.
This killer, one Garret Jacob Hobbs, emphasizes honoring a slain deer or human girl–all must be used. Hannibal eats the humans he feel himself superior to, though in transforming their parts through his culinary skill, he elevates them to a higher state, to art. Swift already sees the butchery taking place in the Irish countryside, and uses a taboo and transgression in order to alert the occupiers to what they have become, that cannibalism would be better to their atrocities and that rational thought has no bounds in working out another atrocity– in a world of such bloodshed, where is the moral ground? Pollan calls upon us to become ethical, to avoid what we are doing to ourselves, the planet, and other creatures who share the great, big blue ball with us; he does this by proposing a meal that is utopian, that he can only rarely live up to. Along the way, Dante and Cavalcanti view love as a sacred consumption, at Death as what feeds along with Love on us. From all views, maybe a modern, industrial chicken farm is the clear horror and travesty. Bon Appétit!