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Culture and Sacrifice


  • Page extent: 326 pages
  • Size: 247 x 174 mm
  • Weight: 0.81 kg

Library of Congress

  • Dewey number: 810.9/353
  • Dewey version: 22
  • LC Classification: PN56.H82 H84 2007
  • LC Subject headings:
    • Human sacrifice in literature
    • Human sacrifice in art

Library of Congress Record

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 (ISBN-13: 9780521867337)

  • Also available in Paperback
  • Published October 2007

Available, despatch within 3-4 weeks

US $103.00
Singapore price US $110.21 (inclusive of GST)

Human sacrifice has fascinated Western writers since the beginnings of European literature. It is prominent in Greek epic and tragedy, and returned to haunt writers after the discovery of the Aztec mass sacrifices. It has been treated by some of the greatest creative geniuses, including Shakespeare and Wagner, and was a major topic in the works of many Modernists, such as D. H. Lawrence and Stravinsky. In literature, human sacrifice is often used to express a writer's reaction to the residue of barbarism in his own culture. The meaning attached to the theme therefore changes profoundly from one period to another, yet it remains as timely an image of cultural collapse as it did over two thousand years ago. Drawing on sources from literature and music, in this 2007 book Derek Hughes examines the representation of human sacrifice in Western culture from The Iliad to the invasion of Iraq.

• A study of the cultural meanings and representation of sacrifice from ancient times • Perspectives on literature, especially tragedy, and opera • Features close analyses of sacrifice from Shakespeare to Atwood and from Homer to Wagner


1. Human sacrifice, ancient and modern; 2. Greece; 3. Virgil to Augustine; 4. The discovery of America; 5. Shakespeare and the economics of sacrifice; 6. Britain and America: Dryden, Behn, and Defoe; 7. Lieto Fine: Baroque and Enlightenment sacrifice; 8. The French Revolution to Napoleon; 9. The secularization of sacrifice; 10. Gothic sacrifice; 11. Wagner; 12. The second coming of Dionysius; 13. Pentheus 1913; 14. Sparagmos; 15. Hitler and after; Bibliography.


Review of the hardback: 'Culture and Sacrifice is an astonishing book. What is most striking is the certainty of the author's scholarship and the ease with which he commands great areas of knowledge … the material is fascinating and it is presented with great authority by a scholar who writes with extraordinary force and clarity. Few will doubt the scope of this achievement. It is a long time since I myself read so impressive, and so fascinating, a work of scholarship.' Sir Frank Kermode

Review of the hardback: 'Culture and Sacrifice is a marvellous work of scholarship: ambitious, disquieting and profound in its historical and philosophical ramifications. Like a sort of postmodern Sir James Frazer, Hughes explores ritualized human sacrifice across an astonishingly diverse array of literary, artistic and musical works, taking in everyone from the Greeks and Goethe to Wagner and Thomas Mann. The story he tells is a disturbing, even appalling one - a veritable feast at the House of Atreus. But you cannot finish the book without a new and vastly deepened understanding of sacrifice's primal, ferocious, strangely productive role in human art and culture.' Terry Castle, Stanford University

Review of the hardback: 'Culture and Sacrifice raises the theme-and-image study to a fierce level; the carbon-steel style cuts to the heart of the most complex insights, impressive and relentless.' Opera

Review of the hardback: 'Culture and Sacrifice, by Derek Hughes, Professor of English at the University of Aberdeen, is a masterly account of human sacrifice as a literary and dramatic idea from Homer down to our own times …' HERO

Review of the hardback: '… an expedition of veritably epic proportions through the entire history of Western literature - no shortage of ambition marks this project. … Hughes is to be commended for handling so deftly an enormous corpus that testifies to the unending fascination the subject has exerted on writers.' Philological Quarterly

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