Hannibal Lecter is perhaps one of the best examples of man being a wolf to man – if the wolf was concerned with food. The anthropophagus is a recurring figure in teratology, the science of monsters, because it returns man to his primordial condition of fragile prey, without fangs or claws, before he prides himself on being the supreme predator. Manticore, werewolf, cynocephalus: all these terrors of ancient and medieval mythology are hybrids between man and animal. The serial killer of Silence of the lambs, he hides in himself his monstrosity, characterized by a total absence of emotions and by his pronounced taste for human flesh, the ultimate taboo of civilized man. Yet he offers the indisputable digest of what civilization claims to be the best, in short, good taste: brilliant orator, artist and music lover, fascinated by feminine beauty, he is also a gourmet.
When he first appeared in the books of Thomas Harris, he dozed in his cell, the Large cooking dictionary by Alexandre Dumas posed on his stomach. Himself author of “Numerous articles in culinary magazines”, he eats of his victims only the pieces of choice: pancreas, thymus, heart … We see the American magazine in his cell Enjoy your meal, just before he planted his fangs in the cheek of the policeman who had come to bring him his meal – a rare steak.
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For him who kills only those he despises or hates (the murderers of his sister, his doctor and tormentor at the psychiatric asylum), the fact of simmering his victims with refinement allows, in a way, to civilize the bestiality of its own congeners. Like Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent of Aztec mythology, who swallows men to transcend them in its immortal essence, the cannibal transforms their ugliness into art.
Thus, dressed like a butler in a Parisian palace, he serves a corrupt and vulgar FBI officer, trepanned alive by him, a slice of his own brain, blazing with capers and truffles, under the terrified gaze and fascinated – an ambivalence peculiar to monsters – of agent Clarice Starling, who ends up giving herself to him, starting by… breast-feeding him.
Tomorrow: touch and the Thing