Saturday, July 23, 2011

Tracking the first 'true' vampire

I recently received an interesting comment from bshistorian, which gave me some food for thought: who was the first 'true' vampire?

As I've mentioned many times in this blog, I'm a proponent of the 'modern' vampire theory, that is, vampires aren't as ancient or universal as many writers claim them to be. For starters, the word, 'vampire', is a relatively recent addition to our vocabulary. Superficial on the surface, sure, but I'll elaborate on its significance later. First, here's the relevant portions from bshistorian's comment:
More directly on topic for your latest post, I've been reading Masters' 'A Natural History of the Vampire', which suffers badly from the 'lumping in' syndrome you describe. Taking his lead from Summers, *everything* becomes somehow evidence of vampire belief - revenants, ghosts, cannibals, serial killers, you name it. But this is an 'old' book - it's when we see this still going on today that I really despair.

Though I said 'early 18th century), would I in fact be right in saying that the 'Jure Grando' incident of 1672 (reported by Valvasor in 1689) is the earliest instance of a 'true' (i.e. bloodsucking) vampire?
In case you're unfamiliar with our friend Jure, bshistorian is referring to a 'vampire' better known as Giure Grando. As bs alludes, [Johann Weichard von] Valvasor is believed to be the earliest source of this case, which he recorded in his 1689 book, Die Ehre deß Hertzogthums Crain (The glory of the Duchy of Carniola).

Rob Brautigam reproduced the relevant portions on the case from Valvasor's book (untranslated), while Niels has noted that the town in which it originally took place, has recently begun capitalising Grando's vampire reputation. The question is, does Grando deserve his 'vampire tag? Was he truly - as his Wikipedia entry says - 'the first classical vampire to be mentioned in documented records'?

Let's boil down the core elements featured in Brautigam's extracts. He has an overview of the case (in English), so I'll be relying on that in tandem with Google Translate for the extracts.*

Firstly, Grando is supposed to have returned from death to torment the living. He visited their homes and members of the household would die shortly after. There is no mention of direct attacks, which draws parallels with the Greek vrykolakas, which, in some cases, was said to knock on a resident's door, and, if answered, would ensure death to the householder. I might examine that aspect at a later time.

Brautigam repeats Dudley Wright's version of events, in that Grando was said to throw his widow 'into a deep sleep with the object of sucking her blood', however this attribute is not found in the Valvasor extracts, suggesting a latter-day embellishment.

In terms of the extracts, it's clear Grando wasn't called a 'vampire', either. At least, not locally or contemporary with the time the incident was recorded. Instead, supernatural beings of his type were called 'Strigon', as the Valvasor mentions. While this term - on the surface - bears a marked resemblance to the Romanian strigoi, which, itself, is often described as Romania's version of the vampire, that does not necessarily mean the word is a synonym. For instance, 'vampire' is rendered as vampir in Romanian and is of comparatively modern use, indicating the word had to be introduced to the language, otherwise an extant Romanian word would have sufficed. Same principle at work, in this case.

There are, however, other recognisable vampire tropes in the Grando case, so it's obvious to see why the vampire tag's been applied. There is an attempt to drive a stake through his body - as well as mention of the practice being used against others of his type. However, the use of a hawthorn stake (as per Wright's rendering) is not explicit, so I can't help wondering if Wright was trying to draw upon its use in Serbian vampire tradition, even if it wasn't explicitly listed by Valvasor. Apart from the stake, a crucifix is wielded at the 'vampire' while in its grave, however, this does not seem to have been used as a ward, per se, but as part of an exorcism or absolution rite.

The key ingredient missing from the Grando case is the vampire's tendency to suck the blood of its victims. This is a vital component to the vampire tag and this gets us back to my point about the significance behind the word's introduction to our language.

When the Arnold Paole case broke press, journalists and other writers used the local term for revenants of his 'type': 'vampyre' [vampire] and minor variants thereof. And by 'local', I mean the term used in Serbia, where Paole lived. These renderings can be traced to recounts of Flückinger's exhumation report, 'Visum et Repertum' (26 January 1732). In describing beings of Paole's type, Flückinger, himself, wrote 'die sogenannte Vampyrs'.

At the time, this area was occupied by the Austro-Hungarian empire, which is why Paole and/or the region he lived was occasionally - but mistakenly - referred to as Hungarian. Paole, himself, was said to have been attacked by a vampire while stationed in 'Turkish Serbia', i.e. the region of Serbia under Ottoman rule. Therefore, it can be surmised that Serbia is the 'source' of this term. That, in turn, means that components discussed in the Paole case should match up with other local applications of the term. Paole was explicitly said to have sucked his victim's blood after returning from the dead.

However, did Paole have an antecedent? Was there another Serbian revenant, also referred to as a vampire? Was it also described as sucking its victim's blood? Yep.

Enter Peter Plogojovitz. Another Serbian vampire. Another blood-drinker. Also referred to, locally, by the vampire tag ('so nennen Vampyri'). While not as well-known as Paole, his case also garnered press coverage, primarily from the Wienerisches Diarium (25 July 1725). However, despite what we're trying to establish with bshistorian's query about who the 'first' vampire was, Plogojovitz clearly wasn't. The report the Wienerisches Diarium reproduced, mentioned that other villages had been decimated by other such beings, which is why the villagers of Kisolova were so keen to 'dispose' of Plogojovitz in the 'traditional and approved manner': by staking him and cremating his remains. Such events were also said to occur during 'Turkish times', i.e. the period in which that region was under Ottoman rule.

So, is there an earlier version of a being - or person - explicitly referred to as a vampire along with these traits? To my knowledge, no. And Niels seems to agree. Neither us, however, are saying that Plogojovitz was the first vampire, per se, but that he is probably the first named vampire. The first case in which the terms and traits are explicitly fused. At least, that's my interpretation. Therefore, Serbia's vampire 'contribution', essentially, to the world, can not be underestimated. Romania usually takes the credit - thanks to Dracula - but it certainly wasn't the bedrock of the legend.

However, this is where things get murky.

In my original reply to bshistorian, I did allude to sources covering vampires elsewhere. Namely, Poland. When Calmet said, 'In this age, a new scene presents itself to our eyes, and has done for about sixty years in Hungary, Moravia, Silesia, and Poland', he was incorporating references to the 'oupire'.
The public memorials of the years 1693 and 1694 speak of oupires, vampires or ghosts, which are seen in Poland, and above all in Russia. They make their appearance from noon to midnight, and come and suck the blood of living men or animals in such abundance that sometimes it flows from them at the nose, and principally at the ears, and sometimes the corpse swims in its own blood oozed out in its coffin. It is said that the vampire has a sort of hunger, which makes him eat the linen which envelops him. This reviving being, or oupire, comes out of his grave, or a demon in his likeness, goes by night to embrace and hug violently his near relations or his friends, and sucks their blood so much as to weaken and attenuate them, and at least cause their death (p. 52).
The main traits - as well as a marked similarity in name - are present. Plogovitz and Paole were both supposed to strangle their victims ('hug violently'?). However, the method of the 'oupire''s destruction (decapitation and/or 'opening the heart') vary slightly. The term, 'oupire', is clearly derived from the Slavic upir and it's interesting to see that term is occasionally used in lieu of 'vampire' or an obvious derivative.

Naturally, this open the door to a version of the 'universal' vampire theory: if oupire or upir was an antecedent/variant of 'vampire', what other cultural variants are there of the Slavic type? Were they considered to synonymous? To justify that, I would suggest that a direct correlation needs to be established. But I think it's reasonable to conclude that the direct origins of vampire we today can be traced to the localised Serbian variant at least by its name and basic characteristics.

To employ the term, 'vampire' in a broad, generic sense, at least, without showing due respect - and citation of original, localised terms and characteristics - is to obscure and/or obliterate the cultural and local 'variants' (for want of a better description). If a case is to be made that the variants in question were 'the same thing', then a linguistic and cultural genealogy to the Serbian vampire should be established. After all, without the Serbian vampire precedent, there are no other 'vampires', either.**

* I know this isn't the best scholarly aid, but those able to read German are free to correct me if I've made any errors by consulting Brautigam's extract. I will happily cite corrections on this blog.

** This isn't to say that, generally speaking, the vampire label should only be used if it caters to this specific paradigm. After all, that'd make the vampire film and literary genres obsolete. What I'm saying is, yes, I know that the term can be used in a generic sense, especially in respect to its evolution even in our own language, but where folklore studies are concerned, a vampire 'family tree' should be taken into consideration before using the term in a 'universal' context.


Anonymous said...

Google Books is just brilliant, isn't it? Thanks to the snippet Niels posted the other day, I came across one of the two Mercure Galant pieces (1693) scanned and online here;

I searched on "demon tire ce sang du corps" to find it, though there's every chance one of you dedicated vampire types has already seen it :)

Wouldn't it be ironic (if unlikely) if the whole concept of blood-drinking was an inference in error made by Zopfius (?) and then promulgated to such a degree over the next few decades that it came to influence the folklore itself? Wild speculation on my part I know.

Anonymous said...

Argh, sorry. Had another brainwave when I typed 'Zopfius'. Clearly the two Mercure Galant pieces antedate him by quite some time. I blame a lack of sleep and an overly hectic day job at present!

Anthony Hogg said...

Wow, you've found the Mercure Galant pieces! Well done! :D

I've been trying to find it online, meself. I do have a citation for the Mercure Galant, courtesy of Juan Gómez-Alonso's 'Rabies: a possible explanation for the vampire legend', Neurology, vol. 51, no. 3, 1998: 'Mercure Galant. Paris. May 1693:62-69' (p. 859), which is clearly the same article you've stumbled upon.

I'd love to find out what the 1694 one Calmet referred to, though.

It's interesting to note the terms being used in that article: 'Striges' and 'Upierz'. We're essentially either looking at the vampire in formation, or a cultural variant. It'd be very interesting to find out if there's a direct Polish/Russian connection to the Serbian vampire, apart from linguistic similarities.

Google Books is, indeed, a brilliant resource. In fact, thanks to GB, I vindicated a long-dead author's use of the term 'nosferatu'.

Johann Heinrich Zopf (1691-1774) wasn't the originator of the blood-drinking element. Rest assured, that was an extant 'trait', as attested by the reports written on Plogojovitz (1725) and Paole (1732). Meanwhile, Zopf's dissertation was published in 1733.

Niels K. Petersen said...

The February 1694 issue of Mercure Galant issue can be found here. Sur les stryges en Russie begins on page 13. A few people have written about this, e.g. Daniela Soloviova-Horville in Les Vampires: Du folklore slave à la littérature occidentale. I will probably post a bit on my blog about that within a couple of days...

Anonymous said...

Yes, of course you're right. I had that noted down. I need stop reading up on things so late at night. The names and dates begin to swirl about in my caffeine-addled brain!

Anthony Hogg said...


Great find, mate! Thank you! And it's great to see it mentioned in Daniela Soloviova-Horville's book. I gotta get it, pronto!


Hahaha! No worries! I know what it's like to lose track of stuff - caffeine or otherwise. I appreciate your contributions, regardless. ;)

Anonymous said...

Brilliant, thank you Niels.

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