What's the Significance of Hannibal Lecter's Keen Sense of Smell?

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Why did the writers of Hannibal give Hannibal such a keen sense of smell? Is their symbolic significance to this? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Karl Krehbiel, Data Scientist, on Quora:

Hannibal is both a connoisseur and a predator, and smell is the sense most associated with both.

Hannibal is a connoisseur:

  • He loves fine wines and foods.
  • He speaks with a vaguely British accent.
  • He frequently eats the most expensive meat on Earth.

A connoisseur needs a finely tuned sense of smell, so it fits for a larger-than-life connoisseur to have a larger-than-life sense of smell.*

Hannibal is a predator. Popular depictions of serial killers fall into one of a few (not mutually exclusive) categories:

  • The Crazy--The killer who believes something completely different from the rest of society. Think: Buffalo Bill (from Silence of the Lambs) or Norman Bates.
  • The Incentivized--The killer who doesn't necessarily want to kill, but does so in pursuit of some other aim. Think: hitmen or Jigsaw.
  • The Show-Off--The killer who just wants to show off how clever he** is, usually with respect to the cops. Think: The Reaper from Criminal Minds or Red John from The Mentalist.
  • Dexter Morgan--I can't really figure out where to put him so he gets his own category for now...

Hannibal is none of these--he's not crazy, he's not incentivized by anything else, and he ultimately isn't trying to show off. Hannibal is a hunter--he stalks, outthinks, and ultimately eats his prey. Like Nietszche's eagles, he hunts because that's who he is.

Of all the senses, smell is most associated with predators; so it makes sense for the super-human to have super smell.

So why did they give Hannibal have such a keen sense of smell? Because it's a masterful way of tying together the two primary aspects of his character--that he is predator and that he is a connoisseur.

*h/t to Yair Livne for the idea of Hannibal as connoisseur.

**In pop culture (and real life?), serial killers are almost always guys.

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