The vampire myth in storytelling has become popular once again, but for me, it was never unpopular. Vampires are my favourite fictional subject. This post, however, delves into the origin of the vampire myth itself.
Many of us are familiar with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which was published in the late nineteenth century, but it was not the first example of vampire fiction, with The Vampyre, by John Polidori, having been published several decades earlier.
The vampire myth predates these publications by a considerable amount of time. In fact, the word ‘vampire’ did not find origin in the English language until the eighteenth century, and it was borrowed from German or French.
So what do we know about the vampire legend?
As far back as Mesopotamia we find mentions of blood-drinking demons, such as the Lamashtu (Mesopotamian demons could be either good or bad, never wholly evil). In Ancient Greece, we find mentions of the lamia; she supposedly drank the blood of children and there was also the demi-goddess Empusa, daughter of Hecate. The Indian goddess Kali also consumed blood, and was incidentally a deity of human sacrifice. There were many such ancient creatures, prone to disease, ill fortune and the need for a warm, blood beverage. Men and children were often the victims of choice.
The vampire myth as we know it found its origin in the eighteenth century CE, yet there were some notable historical figures that added zest to this legend. The fifteenth century CE, Vlad Tepes, or Vlad III the Impaler, is perhaps the most well-known of these historical figures. Whether or not he drank the blood of his victims has never been confirmed, although he supposedly killed up to 100,000 people in very imaginative ways.
Countess Elizabeth Bathory is known to modern history as one of the most prolific serial killers of all time and lived during the sixteenth century CE. She was called the “Blood Countess” and was rumoured to bathe in the blood of her victims. Whether the latter is true is debatable. Her guilt has been questioned as well, although her diaries have been kept, but are in ancient form of Slovakian and their content is apparently difficult to read.
During the reign of the Austrian empire, archaeological evidence alleges that bodies have been found that show the signs of staking and decapitation. In the seventeenth century CE, the remains of an Austrian Princess, Eleonora of Lobkowicz, were found buried in an obscure chapel under solid concrete and ‘sacred earth’, amidst rumours of vampirism.
Whether these…colourful…historical figures impacted on Stoker’s portrayal of Dracula is without question. What remains interesting is that he chose a male (with homosexual undertones) as his vampire and the female as his prey, a sign of his cultural bias, perhaps, rather than historical context?
[Tomorrow sees a very different cultural approach to the vampire from Reece Notley]