What Would Aristotle Think Of Hannibal Lecter

? Essay, Research Paper

In 1990 a movie was released, that movie was called The Silence of The Lambs. It starred Anthony Hopkins in the role of Dr. Hannibal Lecter M.D. In the film Dr. Lecter was called many things. A “monster,” a “psychopath,” “Hannibal the Cannibal,” “some kind of vampire,” a “thing” and many more labels were placed on him throughout the film.

The back story behind Hannibal is that he was a renowned psychiatrist until a bad habit of his was discovered. Hannibal ate people, even his own patients became victims. Prior to his capture only one of his victims survived. At one point he killed a musical performer and served his remains to a group of colleges with some sweet bread. Once officials finally put him into custody he then killed at least three more people.

Meanwhile in the outside world a serial killer called Buffalo Bill is murdering and removing the skins of young girls. A trainee in the FBI Clairice Starling is called on to interview Hannibal in order to find Buffalo Bill. Hannibal becomes a mentor to Clairice and Buffalo Bill is captured with the help of Hannibal. However during their encounters Hannibal is able to escape from captivity.

Hannibal is unquestionably evil to his victims, however he is also brilliant, cultured, a man of high class and honest even about his own past. In a letter he writes to Clairice in the second film Hannibal comments about his own disgrace stating that it never really bothered him “except for the inconvenience of being incarcerated.” He seems uncaring about his actions.

Aristotle seems incapable of accepting that men can simply be evil. He claims that if a person does bad things they either suffer from incontinence or intemperance. Aristotle describes incontinence as a weakness of the will. The person knows what they are doing is wrong, but they do it anyway. Intemperance as Aristotle describes it is a person who is unaware that what they are doing is wrong. However the idea of a person doing bad things because they enjoy it or because it feels right to them seems unattainable to Aristotle.

This leaves us with a simple question “What would Aristotle think of Hannibal Lecter?” Hannibal is intelligent so Aristotle must think he suffers from incontinence and simply can not help himself from eating his fellow man. Also given the lengths that Hannibal will go to in order to cook some of his victims it would seem he gains pleasure from the act. However he seems unable to see anything wrong with eating people. Clairice explains in the second film that Hannibal has two reasons to kill people. The first is to show his contempt for them. The second reason serves as a public service. Also it is stated that whenever possible Hannibal tries to eat the rude. This shows that he seems unable to understand that under no circumstances should one eat their fellow man. Thus Aristotle must believe Hannibal suffers from intemperance and just doesn t understand.

There is also a third option. When Aristotle was writing many Greeks saw the world in very black and white terms. There were the Greeks and the non-Greeks. This is expressed by the Greek ideas of Hubris vs. Sophrozyne. Hubris is a failure to recognize one s own limits and Sophrozyne is a knowledge of one s own limits. The non-Greeks were also known at suffering from barbarism. Aristotle continues to divide men into five groups. The first is the God-like man, next the Good man, man, bad man and lastly the brute. The brute sounds very similar to the barbaric non-Greek. Hannibal was not Greek, he was English. Aristotle could very easily write Hannibal off as being a non-Greek and unable to understand civilized culture. However that s a bit of a stretch so, let s assume Aristotle would put personal bigotry aside for Hannibal s sake.

Aristotle might have one last trick to use to prove Hannibal is neither incontinent nor intemperate. He is very clear when he states;

“Now each man judges well the things he knows, and of these he is a good judge. And so the man who has been educated in a subject is a good judge of that subject, and the man who has received an all-round education is a good judge in general.”

Aristotle praises the educated man, calling him a good judge. Aristotle then goes on to explain why an educated man can hope to become virtuous while the brute and child can not. However Hannibal is polite, cultured, familiar with women s skin creams and quality of attire, has a strong artistic ability, helpful and thoughtful in his own way, speaks both English and Latin, is a grommet cook, not to mention the fact he has a PHD and was a very successful psychiatrist. If this is not a well rounded man I don t know what is. So, it would appear Aristotle must psychoanalyze Hannibal Lecter as he would any other Greek.

Does Hannibal suffer from a weakness of the will? Normally when we think of a weakness of the wills we think about things we did that we knew we should not have done. Thus we do bad things and then we feel shame. In Hannibal s case he doesn t feel shame. One would normally think that a lack of shame would strengthen Aristotle s case against Hannibal. However Aristotle states that;

” . . . an older person no one would praise for being prone to the sense of disgrace, since we think he should not do anything that need cause this sense. For the sense of disgrace is not even characteristic of a good man . . .”

So, if the good man feels no disgrace or shame and neither does Hannibal is Aristotle somehow allowing us to compare Hannibal to a “good man?” Also Aristotle claims a good man shouldn t do anything he would feel bad about. Aristotle clearly has never met Ned Flanders (from The Simpsons, on FOX.)

However, shame or no shame it is clear that Hannibal enjoys what he does. Aristotle would point out that the good doctor clearly gains quite a bit of pleasure from what he does. Pleasure as Aristotle defines it is neither a good thing nor a bad. It is the extent that one consumes their form of pleasure that makes it good or bad. For example, one can enjoy eating. They gain pleasure from the action of eating and it fulfils a need in order to live. However is one abstains from eating they will surly die, or if one over eats to an excess they will become obese and may also die.

As Aristotle might praise some amounts of pleasure, he would never praise the eating of flesh of other people. However Aristotle being a Greek would believe in the idea of “Help Yours Friends, Hurt Your Enemies.” This is an idea that Hannibal follows closely. He has many times acted out vengeance on Clairice s behalf. After their first meeting the man in the cell next to Hannibal s threw cum unto Clairice. Hannibal acted quickly, first he gave Clairice information that lead to more evidence in finding Buffalo Bill. That night he committed his second form of vengeance, he convinced the fellow convict to kill himself. Another time Hannibal has hurt his enemies, was threw the direct eating of those who mistreated him while he was incarcerated. Had Antigone eaten Creaon rather than try to convince him to let her bury her brother perhaps both of their lives would have been better off?

The reason of course that Antigone didn t eat Creaon is that there is a normative idea that one does not eat their enemies. In Greek culture it is ok to kill one s enemies, but not eat them. Perhaps this was a reaction to rumors that Amazon women ate men? Throughout history very few groups have practiced cannibalism. Aristotle probably could never have even imagined a person who would commit the acts that Hannibal commits, while asking himself little more than if a butter sauce or mushroom sauce might be tastier.

Aristotle would almost definitely claim Hannibal is suffering from intemperance and simply doesn t understand one should not eat other people. However as it has been stated above humans as a group of beings know that when planning a dinner menu it s best to leave your best friend off the menu. To Hannibal this is a foreign concept. Aristotle claims brutes are as unaware of right and wrong as Hannibal seems to be. Aristotle shows this when he states;

“a brute has no vice or virtue, so neither has a god; his state is higher than virtue, and that of a brute is a different kind of state from vice.”

However we have shown that Hannibal is educated, making him not a brute. Hannibal understands right and wrong. He sees Clairice being hurt and commits vengeance in her name. If nothing else he understands the idea of helping friends and hurting enemies. If Hannibal is not a brute, perhaps Aristotle would have to in the end label him a god.

Greek gods are nothing like the Judeo-Christian God. Greek gods are powerful and strong, like Hannibal. The Greek gods are above vice and virtue. Hannibal doesn t hold himself to the same standards as the rest of humanity. The Greek gods demanded sacrifice. Hannibal simply took it for himself. The Greek gods punish those who cross them in inhuman ways. Hannibal eats those who cross him.

We will never really know what Aristotle would have thought of Dr. Hannibal Lecter M.D. Hannibal never really lived and he was only thought of thousands of years after Aristotle died, but it s fun to wonder what he would think.


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