Anthropophage

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Not to be confused with Anthropophagy (disambiguation).

An anthropophage or anthropophagus (from Greek: anthrōpophagos, "people-eater", plural anthropophagi) was a member of a mythical race of cannibals described first by Herodotus in his Histories as androphagi ("man-eaters"), and later by other authors, including the playwright William Shakespeare. The word first appears in English around 1552.

In popular culture, the anthropophagus is sometimes depicted as a being without a head, but instead have their faces on the torso. This may be a misinterpretation based on Shakespeare's writings in Othello, where the anthropophagi are mistaken to be described by the immediate following line, "and men whose heads do grow beneath their shoulders." In reality, the line actually refers to a separate, different race of mythical beings known as the Blemmyes, who are indeed said to have no head, and have their facial features on the chest.

Accounts[edit]

People spell this creature's name in several different ways, 'anthropophagi' or 'anthropophage' being two examples. Herodotus first wrote of andropophagi in his Histories, where he described them as one of several tribes near Scythia. An extra note indicates that the andropophagi are cannibals, as reflected in their name:

The manners of the Anthropophagi are more savage than those of any other race. They neither observe justice, nor are governed, by any laws. They are nomads, and their dress is Scythian; but the language which they speak is peculiar to themselves. Unlike any other nation in these parts, they are cannibals.
 
Histories, Book 4 (Melpomene), trans. George Rawlinson, 1858-1860

Pliny the Elder later wrote in his Naturalis Historia that the same cannibals near Scythia wore the scalps of men on their chest.

The Anthropophagi, whom we have previously mentioned as dwelling ten days' journey beyond the Borysthenes, according to the account of Isigonus of Nicæa, were in the habit of drinking out of human skulls, and placing the scalps, with the hair attached, upon their breasts, like so many napkins.
 
Naturalis Historia Book 7, Chapter 2, trans. John Bostock and Henry Thomas Riley, 1855

In literature[edit]

It is likely that the ancient Greek account influenced later writers. The most famous usage appears in William Shakespeare's Othello:

And of the Cannibals that each other eat,
The Anthropophagi, and men whose heads
Do grow beneath their shoulders.
 
Othello, Act 1. Scene III

Shakespeare makes yet another reference to the cannibalist anthropophagus in the Merry Wives of Windsor:

Go knock and call; hell speak like an Anthropophaginian
unto thee: knock, I say.
 
Merry Wives of Windsor, Act 4. Scene V

American novelist Rick Yancey incorporates the myths of the Anthropophagi in his 2010 release The Monstrumologist.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Oxford English Dictionary