, Research Paper The Origin and Evolution of Vampires Stories of vampires go back earlier than Abraham Stoker, before the existence of Vlad the Impaler, and even before the origin of the Hungarian word vampir from which we get the current word “vampire.” Stories of the undead were told in Ancient Greece and in Ancient Rome, and were called lamiae.
, Research Paper
The Origin and Evolution of Vampires
Stories of vampires go back earlier than Abraham Stoker, before the existence of Vlad the Impaler, and even before the origin of the Hungarian word vampir from which we get the current word “vampire.” Stories of the undead were told in Ancient Greece and in Ancient Rome, and were called lamiae. Since these times, many authors like Charles Middleton, Robert Southey, Anne Rice, and the most famous, Abraham Stoker, have all written books, plays, poems, and even movies that include vampires as characters.
According to Anthony Masters, in his book The Natural History of the Vampire, The first vampire stories were told in Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. Stories like The Life of Apollonius of Tyana, by the Greek writer Philostratus, told the tale of Menippus whose fiancee is a vampire. Eighteenth century Germany opened the door for many authors to write stories and poems about vampires. Authors like Meinrich August Ossenfelder who created a poem called Der Vampir, Goethe who wrote the story The Bride of Corinth, and Burger who wrote Lenore were all big influences on other European writers with their stories. These authors were some of the most prominent German writers who incorporated vampires in their literature. In 1796, English writers created new vampire stories when the ballad Lenore, written by Burger, was translated into English. This sparked a new interest for English writers. Sir Walter Scott quickly wrote his story Rokeby. Robert Southey wrote Thalaba the Destroyer soon after Scott published his work. Christabel by Coleridge came soon after Southey’s story. These English writers started composing their vampire stories in the late 1790’s and early 1800’s. By this point in time, vampires started losing their reality and were seen as fictitious beasts, unlike in the sixteenth century, when they were thought to be real creatures who terrorized the living. Modern writers of vampire stories include Abraham “Bram” Stoker, who is most famous for his best selling novel Dracula published in 1897. Which was a fictitious account of the afterlife of Vlad the Impaler. Another best selling author is Anne Rice, whose Vampire Chronicles have been celebrated by millions and her novel, Interview with a Vampire, has been made into a movie. Other authors, who have written stories of vampires include E. F. Benson, Nancy Gideon, and Jeanne Kalogridis.
The Ancient Greeks and Romans incorporated vampires, or lamiae, into their folk tales. Romans also used terms like striges and mormos as well as the Greek word lamiae for the undead. In the book, The Truth About Dracula, by Gabriel Ronay, he reports that a Greek writer, Ovid, wrote that lamiae would transform into large ravenous birds that would fly at night and devour the bodies of children, eat the children’s flesh, and drink the children’s blood. They believed the transformation into birds was a common characteristic for the undead. Greeks would also speak of human forms that would rise from their tombs and walk around at night, wearing black robes that were splattered with blood. In the sixteenth century, Hungarians introduced the word vampir, which has been adopted as the most common term used to classify the undead. Raymond T. McNally and Radu Florescu state in their book, In Search of Dracula, that Romanians in the sixteenth century introduced Vlad the Impaler, who later was known as Dracul, or the devil. Germans labeled him wutrich, which means bloodthirsty monster, berzerker, or slaughterer. The Europeans in this era were terrified of vampires and believed in their existence. In the late 1500’s, the Roman church investigated over 30,000 cases of lycanthropy (drinking blood). Toward the end of the seventeenth century, reports of dead men leaving their graves and walking around dramatically increased. Throughout the years, many authors created stories which dramatically altered the appearances and abilities of these ancient vampires.
Authors of vampire stories determined a stereotypical appearance. Ancient vampires were loosely described as human forms that turned into large birds. Later on in the fifteenth and sixteenth century they became more detailed. The undead were believed to have two hearts and two souls, one of each died and the other would exist forever, giving vampires eternal life according to Ronay. He also reports that the Europeans of these times believed vampires, while alive, had cursed souls and when they died, the earth would not receive the dirty soul, so the person could not rest in peace. Those who were typical for having cursed souls were criminals, bastard children, witches, magicians, excommunicates, the unbaptized, the seventh son of a seventh son, and those born with teeth. Anyone who fit into one of these categories was thought to have a corrupt soul and was therefore prone to vampirism. Societies of these times believed that if a body had not decomposed in three to seven years, it was a vampire, and a stake would be driven through its heart. Romanian folklore has contributed to vampire legends more than any other culture. One story was told about a woman who died, and soon after death her family members and animals around her house were found dead. When the people from this Romanian town dug her up, they found her eyes open and her body rolled over in the coffin. Many stories like this were told, vampires were sometimes blamed for plagues that occurred when there was no simple explanation.
In modern stories, vampires are created when another vampire bites a living person and drinks that person s blood. This contradicts the earlier belief that vampire are made when their soul was cursed. These new rules and techniques of vampires started around the times of Bram Stoker, when vampire literature became popular and vampires lost frightfulness in reality, and only existed in books. With the popularization of Dracula, many stereotypes became prominent in vampire literature. Some of these stereotypes that were formed in the nineteenth century ruled that vampires have no reflection in the mirror, they are repelled by crosses and garlic, and that vampires are powerless when they are in someone else’s house unless they are invited in. None of these evolutionary abilities were present in the earlier times of vampirism. They all started with Stoker and the writers who followed. One of the only vampire traits that has not changed over time is the ability of a vampire to transform into flying animals. Since vampires have been often pictured with the devil, and since Dracula is a Romanian word meaning son of the devil, and because the devil is sometimes pictured with wings, vampires have been seen as having the ability to fly. McNally and Florescu wrote that the incorporation of bats with vampires started when Cortes first arrived in South America. He saw large blood sucking bats, he remembered the legends of vampires and named these bats Vampire bats. This started the myth that vampires turned into bats. There have been only three characteristics that have stayed the same since the creation of vampires: the nocturnal life, thirst for blood, and sleeping in tombs. Even the drinking of blood has changed; in modern stories, vampires drink blood as a choice for drink. Ancient vampires drank blood as a revitalizing drink, to restore life. Some traits that have no ancient ties are the super human strength of vampires and the use of garlic to turn vampires away.
Movies have also spread the tales of vampires to the world. Since the first vampire movie was made in 1909, the American made Vampire of the Coast, films have drawn many people to seeing new vampire stories. Of the most famous vampire films, the 1922 movie Nosferatu, (which is considered one of the most frightening films ever made) was based on Bram Stoker’s novel and was the first movie using Dracula as a character. In Search of Dracula by McNally and Florescu reports that the names in the movie had to be changed since the director, Friedrich Murnau, had not secured the copyrights when he made this movie. Other famous movies include the 1931version of Dracula starring Bela Lugosi, and the Swedish movie Vampyrn produced in 1912. The 1931 version set the standard for Dracula as a debonair man dressed in black. Currently, vampires have become much less dramatic. In a 1987 movie, The Lost Boys, vampires were seen sleeping in a cave like bats hanging by their feet and flying in human forms, not as bats or large birds.
Over time, vampires have changed through literature and movies. In their origin, vampires were seen as real threats to the Greeks, Romans, and Ancient Egyptians. The fear spread to Europe where vampires were some of the most intimidating figures in the Europeans lives. In these times, vampires killed people and animals. They caused plagues and were associated with the devil. Around the times of Stoker, when vampires started to become more popular, people took their existence less seriously and soon they were seen only on film and on paper. Stories of vampires are one of the oldest horror legends that are known to man, although they have been modified over time, it has been great literature and films that have kept the myth alive.
Masters, Anthony. The Natural History of the Vampire. New York: G. P. Putnam’s
McNally, Raymond T., and Florescu, Radu. In Search of Dracula: A True History of
Dracula and Vampire Legends. Greenwich, Connecticut: New York Graphic
Ronay, Gabriel. The Truth About Dracula. New York: Stein and Day Publishing, 1972
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