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Blemmyae / Anthropophagi

12 October 2012

Author : maxadmin

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

Othello Act 1, Scene 3

In Act 1 of Shakespeare’s Othello, reference is made to a strange race of people, who were said to grow heads inverted into their bodies; and thus possessing faces in their chests. Due to the structuring of the passage in question (lines 134-135), the race in question is often credited as the Anthropophagi (literally meaning, “human-eaters”), who were infact a completely separate mythical race of cannibals.

The race being described were known as Blemmyes or Blemmyae; an acephalous race, spoken about by Herodotus, Sir Walter Raleigh and Pliny the Elder (taking the latters’ known ability to distort the truth, makes his records somewhat questionable…)

There are some rather confusing elements, in that firstly the Blemmyes were not only a quasi-fictitious group of head-less beings, but also an actual real tribe (of normal humans), who resided in Nubia. As well as this, the quasi-fictious headless Blemmyes are described as being cannibals themselves and often referenced as ‘Anthropophagi’, so all in all the two races in question are tied in within documented and historical references indefinitely.

Illustration of Blemmyes from a German edition of Sir Walter Raleigh’s “Discovery of Guiana”





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