Friday, April 10, 2009

Rzączynski Gains Fame Through Quotation

Magia Posthuma's most recent post, "De cruentationibus cadaverum", deals with Gabrielis [Gabriel] Rzączynski's 1721 work, Historia naturalis curiosa Regni Poloniae. It is often cited as an early text on vampires.

However, Jan L. Perkowski notes the following in The Darkling: A Slavic Treatise on Vampirism (Columbus, Ohio: Slavica Publishers, Inc., 1989), p. 113:
Father Gabriel Rzączynski (1664/5-1737) was a Polish Jesuit priest who wrote the first national history of Poland, Historia Naturalis Curiosa Regni Poloniae, (Sandomir, 1721). The text, which is in Latin, is on page 365, Section II of the Historia, but it is a quotation from the manuscript of another Jesuit, Father Gengell's Eversio Atheismi.
For the record, Georgio Gengell's work, Eversio Atheismi seu pro Deo contra Atheos libri duo, was published in 1716.


Niels K. Petersen said...

Rzaczynski clearly refers to Gengell in his text. What is perhaps curious, is that Perkowski did not translate the following paragraph that includes the story of a dead woman who was seen walking about and whose body upon inspection was found red a capite ad umbilicum and looked as if she was chewing on her shroud.

I believe that Rzaczynski is famous for his book in general as it is an early and pretty comprehensive description of the geology, zoology etc. of Poland, Lithuania. The 14th chapter (or Tractatus) which contains the bit about the Upier/Upierzyca is probably typical of the interest of that day in post mortem phenomena like uncorruptibility, jus cruentationis etc. But, of course, on the internet he is probably best known for those few lines dealing with the Upier. No doubt far more people are interested in vampires than in Polish mineralogy :-)

The section dealing with the Upier was quoted in Latin and translated into German in Thomas Schürmann's 1990 book Nachzehrerglauben in Mitteleuropa, including a reference to Gengell.

Amateur Vampirologist said...

Hi Niels,

I'm certainly in agreement with you that Rzączynski clearly mentions Gengell.

However, Gengell's name is rarely mentioned in vampire texts. Instead, we are given Rzączynski as a source.

Off the top of my head, I can cite three examples for you, in which Rzączynski is cited in lieu of Gengell:

1) "The Travels of three English Gentlemen, from Venice to Hamburgh, being the Grand Tour of Germany, in the Year 1734", The Harleian Miscellany... v. XI (London: Robert Dutton, 1810), pp. 232-233. [orig. pub. 1744]

2) Katharina M. Wilson's "The History of the Word Vampire", Journal of the History of Ideas XLVI.4 (October-Dec. 1985), p. 579.

3) David Keyworth's Troublesome Corpses: Vampires & Revenants from Antiquity to the Present (Southend-on-Sea, Essex: Desert Island Books, 2007), pp. 225-226.

It is clear that Rzączynski is generally used as a secondhand source.

Thank goodness for Perkowski's citation!

It is suprising that Rzączynski's other accounts aren't usually related. It sounds like (from your description) that he was dealing with the "shroudeater" phenomena that bridged the gap to later vampire studies.

Thanks for mentioning Thomas Schürmann's book. It certainly sounds like an interesting source to chase up.

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