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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 November 2007

In stock

$103.00 (C)

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.


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.


"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

"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

"Cultlure 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 Magazine

"In his fine and wide-ranging book, Culture and Sacrifice, Derek Hughes is fascinated by the particular rituals of violence and the specific role of sacrifice in organizing the comprehension of the body’s destruction. It is a mark of his argument that he both wishes to maintain this close focus and yet see show sacrifice, as an image and a practice, constantly strays into other areas—marriage, accounting, gender, power relations, and so forth. This is inevitable: for Hughes, the articulation of ideas about human sacrifice is a way of a culture talking about its own boundaries and its own sense of the place of violence or the uncivilized within it; it must therefore interact with society’s deepest held views."
-Simon Goldhill, King’s College, Cambridge

"It is a bold decision even to attempt so broad a topic. Hughes runs from prehistory to Margaret Atwood, with readings of literary texts and operas in six languages across several continents and cultures. What is wonderful and what is less successful about the volume stem directly from this decision. The range itself is impressive, but more impressive still is the critical sense with which each area is broached."
-Simon Goldhill, King’s College, Cambridge

"Hughes is clear that his aim is neither to be encyclopedic nor to offer a master theory of the origins of culture."
-Simon Goldhill, King’s College, Cambridge

"Hughes’s prose fizzes with multiple ideas rather than maintaining one procrustean theory, and even where the generalizations seem strained, they are at least stimulating rather than excessively reductive. The treatment of accounting—the relation between numbers as a method of order and sacrifice as an organizing principle—and the discussion of secularizing sacrifice both seem especially productive."
-Simon Goldhill, King’s College, Cambridge

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