This essay analyzes two variations on the theme of dismemberment. In Egyptian myth, when Osiris is killed and dismembered by his brother, Isis reassembles his body and consecrates the places where she finds the pieces as sites of veneration. This version, clearly anticipating the veneration of saintly relics in Christianity, was secularized in the tale of Lemminkäinen in the Finnlandic epic Kalevala. In the biblical tale of the Levite of Ephraim, in contrast, the dismembered parts of the protagonist's violated spouse are sent to the tribes of Israel to unite them against a common enemy. The tale was taken up in the eighteenth century by Voltaire, Rousseau, and Bodmer as an occasion to reflect on the differences between a state of nature and civilization and on the morality of vengeance. In Kleist's Hermannsschlacht it was secularized into a purely political exhortation.
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Research Article| June 01 2017
Theodore Ziolkowski; The Dismembered Body in Myth and Literature: Isis and Osiris and the Levite of Ephraim. Comparative Literature 1 June 2017; 69 (2): 143–159. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00104124-3865373
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