The seat of the soul, the centre of legends, the middle of cults and cultural taboos: the heart has a history as long and complex, and often as sordid, as that of the secret life it once signified. And this is the history that Milad Doueihi tells in a book that follows the adventures of the human heart through custom, legend, religion, and literature from antiquity to early modern times. Most prominent, and macabre, in this history is the account of the eaten heart, beginning with the myth of Dionysos, who was kidnapped and devoured by the Titans. Doueihi shows the reader, from the Middle Ages through to the 17th century, strange tales combining a cuisine of the macabre with the devotion of the lover, in which a jealous husband serves his unwitting wife the heart of her murdered lover. Beyond the tensions of courtly love, manifest in the Laid Ignaure, the Roman du Chatelain du Coucy, and works by Dante and Boccaccio, Doueihi evokes the image of the devoured heart invoked in Francis Bacon's "Essay on Friendship".
Not to be outdone by literature and legend, religion, particularly in the theology of the Sacred Heart, takes its place in this story, exerting its influence on the legend of the eaten heart, with stories of perverse consumption coming to be explained in terms of the mystery of the Eucharist, the magical and mystical consumption of the body of Christ. Finally, with the discovery of physiology and the emerging science of blood circulation, the heart loses its symbolic place, though Doueihi leaves the reader with the possible marriage of mysticism and science that Pascal's descriptions of intuitive intelligence open up for the heart.