The article investigates a range of lavishly staged banquets evoking death and funerary rituals in history and fiction, comparing them with actual funerary practices involving food. Examples discussed range from the ancient world (Greece, Rome, Egypt) to Renaissance Italy, early modern Britain, and eighteenth and nineteenth century Britain and France. By exploring the symbols of food and dining as entertainment and ritual, it contrasts the elaborate melancholy of the black banquet with the cathartic effectiveness of the funeral feast, and assesses the heightened impact of the borrowing of funerary symbols for entertainment in periods where such rites had a much more prominent role in daily life. It concludes that whereas the funeral feast has a constructive contribution to make to the process of mourning, the black banquet is little more than a gratifyingly macabre—if entertaining—indulgence.

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