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Saturno Devorando a un Hijo (Saturn devouring one of his Sons)
Mural transferred to canvas (146×83 cm)

Two Women Eating

Oil on plaster mounted on canvas, 53 x 85 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

No Go the Bogeyman

Silence of the Lambs
This disconcerting painting is one of the fourteen known as the "black paintings" with which Goya decorated the dining and sitting rooms of his home, called the "Quinta del Sordo", which he bought in 1819 on the banks of Madrid’s Manzanares River. Due to their deteriorated condition seventy years after they were painted, the owner decided to have them taken down and put on canvas. A few years later he donated them to the Spanish state. Saturn Devouring One of his Sons was one of the six works decorating the dining room. It depicts a scene from mythology – the god Saturn, or Cronus – that acts as an allegorical illusion to the artist’s own day. The god devoured Cybele and his children, as time devours all that it creates: he feared that one would rise up and destroy him.

Cannibalism is a favourite subject of black humour. After about 1800, almost all Goya’s images of food or of eating were revolting.

Marina Warner demonstrates that bogeymen habitually threaten children, carry them off, and may kill and eat them. Most parents have gone down on all fours, pretended to be a lion, and threatened their three-year-old with, ‘I’ll catch you and eat you.’ We all want to incorporate those we love. But child murder and cannibalism have also been serious accusations, levelled against both witches and Jews. Witches were accused of manufacturing an ointment made from the flesh of slaughtered infants, which, when applied to their bodies, enabled them to fly and foregather at their sabbats. Jews were accused of ritually murdering Christian children in order to use their blood for the making of unleavened bread.

This aptly illustrates the fact that there is a mythological substratum to human experience in which horrific, paranoid fantasies lurk. Jung called this region ‘the collective unconscious’. The activation of such fantasies is not confined to the medieval past. Nazi propaganda terrifyingly persuaded large numbers of Germans that Jews were the embodiment of evil. Accusations of murder and cannibalism were widely credited. And murder and cannibalism are occasionally acted out in reality. Jeffrey Dahmer, the American serial killer, habitually fried and ate body parts of his fifteen victims.

In all human societies, children are generally supposed to be cherished and protected, except in special circumstances. Cannibalism is usually confined to the ritual eating of enemies after victories. The murder and eating of children violate the basic rules by which societies are governed, which is why these horrors continue to haunt the imagination, and why they will continue as archetypal fears so long as our species survives. Warner makes the interesting suggestion that paedophiles are our modern equivalent of bogeymen, and hints that too much preoccupation with protecting children from possible abuse may deflect politicians from taking steps to improve their lives in respect of education, nutrition, and health.

Anthony Storr and Prado Museum

See also: Soylent Green
and: Delicatessen

 A Mawlid Celebration in 14th Century Muslim Granada

 Conciertos Entradas