Frank Lestringant, one of the foremost scholars of European encounters with the Americas, looks at the concept of the cannibal and the powerful images and meanings it conjured for Europeans from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century. Combining historical and ethnographic data with allegorical and literary concerns, he describes how European voyagers, writers, and missionaries encountered cannibal cultures and represented them in their writings. Lestringant argues that sixteenth-century travellers and writers gave the figure of the 'man-eating savage of the Americas' a positive currency, as a hero who devoured his defeated enemy in accordance with custom, not to satisfy a cruel instinct.Two centuries later, Enlightenment philosophers used the figure of the cannibal in their fight against colonialists and Catholics. But the image of the cannibal suffered a reversal at the end of the eighteenth century, becoming a hateful figure that aroused the primitivist imaginings of writers like Sade and Flaubert. Lively, accessible, and provocative, this unique study will not only be welcomed by readers in early modern history, European literature, anthropology, and religious studies, but will fascinate anyone interested in the myths and realities of cannibalism.