Saturday, 29 October 2011

The first true vampire: another candidate?

British Library
I'm glad I bought Fastitocalon's first and second issues. Eugenio M. Olivares Merino's two-part discussion on revenants and vampires in Medieval English literature did not disappoint.

I previously outlined the case for Peter Plogojowitz being the first true vampire on account of the necessary 'ingredients' present: undead corpse, bloodsucking, exhumation, destruction of corpse.

These traits were used in conjunction with the earliest use of the term 'vampire' in association with an undead being—rendered 'so sie Vampyri nennen' in a report on Plogojowitz's exhumation.

However, Olivares Merino makes a strong case for these traits also being present in a British case from the 12th century—best known as the Vampire of Anantis Castle:
The English translation that I have been using ("that it might be have been taken for a leech filled with the blood of many persons") does not seem to reproduce the meaning of the Latin text, which literally means: 'so that they understood that he had been a leech of many'. For lack of a better word, William of Newburgh might have used the Latin term 'sanguisuga, ae', to convey precisely that the revenant had done exactly what leeches do: suck blood from others.1
In terms of its relevance to Medieval vampirism, he also notes, 'This is a relevant novelty that has not appeared in any of the cases referred to so far, a landmark in the genesis of the vampire myth in Europe.'2 In other words, far from proving that vampires—in the sense we've discussed so far—were common during this period, such traits are an aberration; perhaps hinting at the 'missing link' in the evolution of revenants to vampires.

After all, the vampire didn't spring just pop out of nowhere. Even the Plogojowitz case hints at prior manifestations of the phenomena. The author of the report noted: 'if I did not accord them the viewing and the legal recognition to deal with the body according to their custom, theu [the villagers] would have to leave house and home, because by the time a gracious resolution was received from Belgrade, perhaps the entire village—and this was already supposed to have happened in Turkish times [i.e. Ottoman occupation]—could be destroyed by such an evil spirit'.3 There are also clear antecedents in the Russuab stryges and Polish upior featured in late 17th century issues of the Mercure galant.

By the time the Plogojowitz and Paole cases rolled around, it was clear the vampire—by that name—was an established 'being' or tradition, its undead state and bloodsucking tendencies recurring throughout the region. The question is, what is the connection between the folklore of Northern Europe with Eastern Europe? Did they intersect at some point? If so, when? How did the vampire develop in Eastern Europe? Did it form spontaneously? Was it influenced? Who knows. That's the on-going riddle for me.

In the meantime, if you can get a handle on Olivares Merino's articles, I highly recommend you do so. His overview of the English 'vampire' cases is one of the most thorough I've had the pleasure of reading.

1. EM Olivares Merino, 'Reporting the stubborn undead: revenants and vampires in twelfth century English literature (II)', Fastitocalon, vol. 1, no. 2, 2010, p. 166.

2. ibid.

3. Cited in P Barber, Vampires, burial, and death: folklore and reality, Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn., 1988, p. 6.


Eugenio M. Olivares-Merino said...

Dear friend, I am glad that you enjoyed the essays you mention in this entry. The topic of vampirism in Medieval English literature is one to which I have devoted hours of work.
Best wishes.

Anthony Hogg said...

Firstly, a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Eugenio. I really did enjoy your essays, they're great. It's good to see someone delve into the subject, rather than swallow the Medieval vampires thing without question.

Your essays have shown that the phenomena wasn't nearly as prevalent as some - like Summers - have suggested.

What I'm particularly interested in, is the connection between these cases on the Slavic variety. You can see some similar strains emerge there. But I wonder whether or not there's a direct connection between them...

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