This article argues that Erich Auerbach's Mimesis depicts figural thinking as inextricable from ritual violence perpetuated against vulnerable, minority populations. To an extent that has been underappreciated, Mimesis also reflects on Auerbach's own complicity with anti‐Semitic Western ethnocentrism. The article uncovers an unexpected intertext for the book's second chapter, “Fortunata,” which narrates the birth of figural thinking. It reads this chapter in conjunction with earlier versions of the ending of Mimesis preserved in Auerbach's Istanbul lectures. The unexpected intertext of “Fortunata” is a then‐recent bestseller about Nero's persecution of the Christian, Quo Vadis? (1896), by the Nobel Prize winner Henryk Sienkiewicz, in which Peter and Petronius feature as major characters and as each other's doubles. Reading Mimesis through this lens helps one see that it constructs, around such spectacles of violence, a Viconian account of Western culture's foundational, recurrent brutality.

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