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Q: Babette's Feast and religious symbolism ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: Babette's Feast and religious symbolism
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Movies and Film
Asked by: archae0pteryx-ga
List Price: $4.44
Posted: 01 Jan 2005 01:28 PST
Expires: 31 Jan 2005 01:28 PST
Question ID: 449947
This passage appears without attribution on many websites that discuss
the film "Babette's Feast":

"They are twelve to supper, and that number is no accident. Nor is the
grace that flows through that meal. Any Christian can appreciate its
significance. And anyone who loves the Eucharist can only smile in
joy, when one of the guests identifies the main dish as "Caille en
Sarcophage" (Quail in a sarcophagus.)"

I would like the remark about the Eucharist and the quail dish explained.

Thank you,
Subject: Re: Babette's Feast and religious symbolism
Answered By: leli-ga on 01 Jan 2005 05:05 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Happy New Year, A'teryx!

In St. John's gospel, when Jesus says he is the "bread of life", he
introduces the idea of the Eucharist, and also refers to the "manna in
the wilderness" story. The quail aren't as well known as the manna,
but they are part of the same story and fed Moses' people the evening
before the manna/bread appeared.

"Sarcophagus" is an extra allusion to the Eucharist, since it is
derived from the Greek words for "flesh" and "eat":

"The word comes to us from Latin and Greek, having been derived in
Greek from sarx, ?flesh,? and phagein, ?to eat.? The Greek word
sarkophagos meant ?eating flesh,? and in the phrase lithos (?stone?)
sarkophagos it denoted a limestone that was thought to decompose the
flesh of corpses placed in it. "

47 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.
48 I am that bread of life.
49 Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead.
50 This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat
thereof, and not die.
51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat
of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give
is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.
52 The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this
man give us his flesh to eat?
53 Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except
ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no
life in you.
54 Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life;
and I will raise him up at the last day.

John 6

11 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
12 I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel: speak unto
them, saying, At even ye shall eat flesh, and in the morning ye shall
be filled with bread; and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God.
13 And it came to pass, that at even the quails came up, and covered
the camp: and in the morning the dew lay round about the host.
14 And when the dew that lay was gone up, behold, upon the face of the
wilderness there lay a small round thing, as small as the hoar frost
on the ground.
15 And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another,
It is manna: for they wist not what it was. And Moses said unto them,
This is the bread which the LORD hath given you to eat.

Exodus 16

"The primary liturgy of the Christian Church is the Holy Eucharist.
This Greek name means Thanksgiving and depicts the power, nature, and
the attitude of joyful, God-filled living. The rite is rooted in the
Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples, the Feeding of the Multitude
by Lake Galilee, and the Eucharistic experience of the Early Church;
in conjunction with the ancient observance of Passover, when God saved
his people from slavery in Egypt and the miraculous feeding with
manna, quail, and water which followed."

"The Manna. This is one of the clearest symbols of the Eucharist in
the Old Testament and one that Jesus expressly applies to himself
(John 6:32?51). "

"Babbette [sic] herself is clearly a Christ-image, coming mysteriously
and humbly to live with the community, taking on the role of a
servant, finally giving all she has to provide a banquet in which the
most profound longings of the heart are answered and hungers filled.
Wine is poured out in excess. Bread quite literally mirrors manna in
the desert. The specialty dish of the Cafe Anglais, which is the
centerpiece of Babbette's meal, is a dish named "quail in a
sarcophagus." Quail being a form of manna and sarcophagus meaning
"flesh-eater," the film makes illusion to Jesus' discourse in John, "I
am the bread of life . . . this is the manna that comes down from
heaven . . . if you do not eat of the flesh of the Son of Man you will
not have life . . . " ("Babbette's Feast: A Religious Film," Wendy M.
Wright, Journal of Religion and Film, 1997.)"

I hope this explains things thoroughly. 

Now I shall add seeing the film to my list of New Year resolutions.

Best wishes for 2005 - Leli


Exodus quail
"bread of life" manna
manna quail Eucharist
manna quail Eucharist film

Request for Answer Clarification by archae0pteryx-ga on 01 Jan 2005 12:17 PST

Thank you for your excellent answer!  I was not raised Catholic, and
although I am familiar with taking Communion, I would certainly not
think of that on hearing the word "sarcophagus" even though I can
decode the Greek.  I would think instead of the Egyptian kings.  From
Sunday school I know about the manna in the desert, but if the
teachers ever made anything of the quails, I certainly missed it. 
(And it isn't clear to me from the Exodus passage that the quails were
eaten.)  So--you supplied a connection that was lost on me.  Thank you
very much!

I would just like to be clear on the quoted statement, however:  "And
anyone who loves the Eucharist can only smile in joy, when one of the
guests identifies the main dish as 'Caille en Sarcophage' (Quail in a
sarcophagus.)"  Do you think that association will in fact leap out
and be immediately apparent for "anyone who loves the Eucharist"?

Thank you,

P.S. Your abbreviation of my name makes me smile.  All I've actually
done is add 'rchae0' in between the A and the p, as your apostrophe
points out.

Clarification of Answer by leli-ga on 02 Jan 2005 05:23 PST
Oh dear, I don't think I have the right background for this! It was a
lucky fluke that I could fit quail and Eucharist together.

My instinct is that only someone who is a very committed and educated
church-goer with an artistic-literary bias would say "anyone who loves
the Eucharist can only smile in joy, when one of the guests identifies
the main dish as "Caille en Sarcophage" (Quail in a sarcophagus.)"

You may want to read the writer's other reviews at Amazon. Also note
that she thinks most of the guests at the film banquet didn't
understand the allusion. "The other guests smile, but miss his drift.
And he exclaims, "But this really *is* Caille en Sarcophage!" They
still do not understand, but the meal works its magic nonetheless."

You might want to look at a sermon which comments on symbolic aspects
of Babette's meal without bringing out any direct connection between
quail and Eucharist.

So do I think the association would leap out? Well, no, not really.
(But I don't have any solid basis for this opinion - I haven't even
seen the film!) I "got it" because you presented the image as a
question, and my impressionistic memory dredged up a link between
quail, manna and Communion. It would *not* have leapt out at me, and I
find it hard to imagine that many people, Catholic or not, would have
the "joy" of recognising the symbolism as the film rolled past.

As for the sarcophagus, I hadn't got beyond vague thoughts of death
and resurrection before I found that excerpt pointing out the

Hope 2005 has started well for you, Archae0pteryx, and thanks for
drawing my attention to the film.

Best wishes for a New Year - Leli

Request for Answer Clarification by archae0pteryx-ga on 02 Jan 2005 21:31 PST
I never saw this 1987 film myself until New Year's Eve, and what a
fine choice it proved to be for a quiet, pleasant evening at home
(that's the way we prefer it):  richly textured, subtle, emotionally
engaging and satisfying, visually beautiful, and complete.  I would
highly recommend "Babette's Feast" to anyone who hasn't seen it--I
give it five stars.  I say turn on the subtitles so you can hear the
Danish and French dialogue in the actors' own voices.

Thanks to your excellent memory, Leli, I've also got a lot more out of it now.


Clarification of Answer by leli-ga on 03 Jan 2005 02:58 PST
Thank you very much, Tryx!

I enjoyed your question and the interesting byways it led through - a
good way of starting a new GA year.

Thanks again - Leli
archae0pteryx-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $3.33
First-rate, as always, Leli.  Many thanks for the extra comments.


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