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The Vampire in Lore and Legend
By Montague Summers
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2001 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
THE VAMPIRE IN GREECE AND ROME OF OLD
ALTHOUGH perhaps, in Greek and Roman authors, it may be said that, strictly speaking there are—with one possible exception—no references to, or legends of vampires according to the exactest definition of the term as given in such standard works as Webster's International Dictionary and Whitney's Century Dictionary, yet there do occur frequent, if obscure, notices of cognate superstitions, esoteric rituals, and ceremonial practice, which certainly prove that vampirism was not unknown in Italy and in Greece of ancient times. Webster thus explains the word vampire: "A blood-sucking ghost or reanimated body of a dead person; a soul or re-animated body of a dead person believed to come from the grave and wander about by night sucking the blood of persons asleep, causing their death." Whitney interprets a vampire as "A kind of spectral body which, according to a superstition existing among the Slavic and other races on the Lower Danube, leaves the grave during the night and maintains a semblance of life by sucking the warm blood of living men and women while they are asleep. Dead wizards, werewolves, heretics, and other outcasts become vampires, as do also the illegitimate offspring of parents themselves illegitimate, and anyone killed by a vampire."
There were certain demons and blood-sucking ghosts of the most hideous malignancy in Greek and Roman lore, but the peculiar quality of the vampire, especially in Slavic tradition, is the re-animation of a dead body, which is endowed with certain mystic properties such as discerptibility, subtility, and temporal incorruption. In the ancient world vampirism was very closely connected with black magic, and among the crew of Hecate, "Queen of the phantom-world" we find such monstrous and terrible goblins as the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] the silent watchers of the night, who may have had something in common with the terrible "Washerwomen of the Night" in Breton legend, ghouls of most ruthless savagery and cunning. Lycophron, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] has a reference which would seem to imply that the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] were also known as "the companions," and illfare the luckless wight whose society they craved as satellite and convoy. Morning and evening, in the dark watches and at fairest noon the spectral shadow was always at his side; once and again a faint footstep would echo in his ear; the presence, now stealthy, now hatefully palpable, would ever be there until the unhappy wretch, driven to madness and desperation, fell into an early grave.
Other among the attendance of Hecate were [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Mormo) who, originally a hideous and harmful cacodaemon, degenerated into a bugaboo to frighten children. But most stygian and fiendish of all this horrid train were the' [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Empusas), most fiendish and most evil, in many ways strangely akin to the vampire. This foul phantom, which was wont to appear with racking vertigo in a thousand loathly shapes, is alluded to by Aristophanes in the Ranae, during the dialogue between Dionysus and Xanthias when they have crossed the Acherusian Lake.
Again in the Ecclesiazusae we have the following dialogue, 1054-1057:
[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]
Second Hag: Come hither.
Youth (to the Girl). O my darling, don't stand by,
And see this creature drag me!
Second Hag: 'Tis not I,
'Tis the LAW drags you.
Youth: 'Tis a hellish vampire,
Clothed all about with blood, and boils and blisters.
It will be noticed that in this translation, which is that of Bickley Rogers, the word [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is actually rendered by "vampire" and this is perhaps, the nearest equivalent although it must always be borne in mind that a vampire is a dead person who is not really dead, but owing to certain circumstances able to lead a horrible corpse-life.
The Empusa was a demon, that is to say a spirit, who was able to assume a body, visible and tangible, but none the less not real human flesh and blood.
The best known and most highly authenticated instance of an Empusa is that which occurs in the Life of Apollonius of Tyana by Philostratus, book IV, xxv. In discussing the pupils of the great philosopher his biographer tells us: "Among the latter was Menippus, a Lycian of twenty-five years of age, well endowed with good judgement, and of a physique so beautifully proportioned that in mien he resembled a fine and gentlemanly athlete. Now this Menippus was supposed by most people to be loved by a foreign woman, who was good-looking and extremely dainty, and said that she was rich; although she was really, as it turned out, none of these things, but was only so in semblance. For as he was walking all alone along the road towards Cenchrese, he met with an apparition, and it was a woman who clasped his hand and declared that she had been long in love with him, and that she was a Phnician woman and lived in a suburb of Corinth, and she mentioned the name of the particular suburb, and said: 'When you reach the place this evening, you will hear my voice as I sing to you, and you shall have wine such as you never before drank, and there will be no rival to disturb you; and we two beautiful beings will live together.' The youth consented to this, for although he was in general a strenuous philosopher, he was nevertheless susceptible to the tender passion; and he visited her in the evening, and for the future constantly sought her company as his darling, for he did not yet realize that she was a mere apparition.
"Then Apollonius looked over Menippus as a sculptor might do and he sketched an outline of the youth and examined him, and having observed his foibles, he said: 'You are a fine youth and are hunted by fine women, but in this case you are cherishing a serpent, and a serpent cherishes you.' And when Menippus expressed his surprise he added: 'For this lady is of a kind you cannot marry. Why should you? Do you think that she loves you?' 'Indeed I do,' said the youth, 'since she behaves to me as if she loves me.' 'And would you then marry her?' said Apollonius. 'Why, yes, for it would be delightful to marry a woman who loves you.' Thereupon Apollonius asked when the wedding was to be. 'Perhaps tomorrow,' said the other, 'for it brooks no delay.' Apollonius therefore waited for the occasion of the wedding breakfast, and then, presenting himself before the guests who had just arrived, he said: 'Where is the dainty lady at whose instance ye are come?' 'Here she is,' replied Menippus, and at the same moment he rose slightly from his seat, blushing. 'And to which of you belong the silver and gold and all the rest of the decorations of the banqueting hall?' 'To the lady,' replied the youth, 'for this is all I have of my own,' pointing to the philosopher's cloak which he wore.
"And Apollonius said: 'Have you heard of the gardens of Tantalus, how they exist and yet do not exist?' 'Yes,' they answered, 'in the poems of Homer, for we certainly never went down to Hades.' 'As such,' replied Apollonius, 'you must regard this adornment, for it is not reality but the semblance of reality. And that you may realize the truth of what I say, this fine bride is one of the vampires, that is to say of those beings whom the many regard as lamias and hobgoblins. These beings fall in love, and they are devoted to the delights of Aphrodite, but especially to the flesh of human beings, and they decoy with such delights those whom they mean to devour in their feasts.' And the lady said: 'Cease your illomened talk and begone'; and she pretended to be disgusted at what she heard, and no doubt she was inclined to rail at philosophers and say that they always talked nonsense. When, however, the goblets of gold and the show of silver were proved as light as air and all fluttered away out of their sight, while the wine-bearers and the cooks and all the retinue of servants vanished before the rebukes of Apollonius, the phantom pretended to weep, and prayed him not to torture her nor to compel her to confess what she really was. But Apollonius insisted and would not let her off, and then she admitted that she was a vampire, and was fattening up Menippus with pleasures before devouring his body, for it was her habit to feed upon young and beautiful bodies, because their blood is pure and strong. I have related at length, because it was necessary to do so, this the best-known story of Apollonius; for many people are aware of it and know that the incident occurred in the centre of Hellas; but they have only heard in a general and vague manner that he once caught and overcame a lamia in Corinth but they have never learned what she was about, nor that he did it to save Menippus, but I owe my own account to Damis and to the work which he wrote."
This famous legend is, of course, well known to English readers from the exquisite poem of Keats, Lamia. In this he has, either unconsciously or with intention, added one or two touches of vampirism, which are not found in the original story. For example when "the young Corinthian Lycius" is first seen by Lamia she "fell into a swooning love of him," and what even more closely recalls the trance into which the victim of a vampire is thrown, when she is about to depart
He sick to lose
The amorous promise of her lone complain,
Swoon'd murmuring of love, and pale with pain,
The cruel lady, without any show
Of sorrow for her tender favourite's woe,
But rather, if her eyes could brighter be,
With brighter eyes and slow amenity,
Put her new lips to his, and gave afresh
The life she had so tangled in her mesh:
Again the poem concludes thus:
"A serpent!" echoed he; no sooner said,
Than with a frightened scream she vanished:
And Lysius' arms were empty of delight,
As were his limbs of life, from that same night.
On the high couch he lay!—his friends came round—
Supported him—no pulse, or breath they found,
And, in its marriage robe, the heavy body wound.
It is probable that these suggestions are purely accidental but it must be allowed that they are, at least, very striking.
Towards the end of the third century when Paganism was bitterly striving against Christianity and all undone foresaw its own defeat, the partisans of the old heathendom seeking about for some eminent figure they might put forward as a rival to the Founder of the new religion in a kind of despair resolved to set up Apollonius, to whom, as indeed to many others, shrines and oratories had been erected in various parts of Asia Minor, a land always morbidly avid for new objects of veneration. Thereupon Hierocles, a fierce persecutor, who was governor in Bithynia and in Egypt under the Emperor Diocletian, wrote a treatise The Lover of Truth (Philalethes) in which he endeavoured to show that the Philosopher of Tyana had been as wise and as holy, as mighty a worker of miracles and as powerful an exorcist as the Messiah of Nazareth. Naturally his work gave great offence, and was answered by many writers, particularly by Eusebius of Caesarea, the "Father of Church History," who in effect had an easy task in disposing of his opponent. Eusebius declares that the thaumaturgy of Apollonius was probably vastly exaggerated, and emphatically what he did achieve is due to black magic. It has been supposed, but quite unwarrantably, that Philostratus intended his Life of Apollonius as a counterblast to the Gospels. Nothing could be further from the truth, for Eusebius is particularly careful to point out that until Hierocles issued his blasphemous tractate no Pagan writer had ever thought of advancing Apollonius as the equal and rival of Our Lord. It must be remembered, too, that other philosophers were boasted and profanely vaunted by the early Pagan controversialists as vying with our Saviour, and Lactantius tells us that it was quite common for people to argue that Apollonius had wrought greater miracles than Christ. He continues: "It is extraordinary that they omit to mention Apuleius, concerning whom the most marvellous stories are related." It will readily be remembered that S. Augustine wrote when speaking of the Metamorphoses "aut indicauit, aut finxit," either the author was telling a true story or else perchance, it is fiction.
With regard to Menippus and the Empusa, Eusebius comments: "The youth was clearly the victim of an indwelling demon; and both it and the Empusa and the Lamia which is said to have played off its mad pranks on Menippus, were probably driven out of him with the help of a more important demon."
A curious legend is related of a certain Polycrites, who is considered by Colin de Plancy to have been either a vampire or an ogre. There dwelt at Thermon in Aetolia a citizen named Polycrites, whom the people on account of his candour and integrity appointed governor of the country. This dignity he enjoyed for three years, with the good opinion of all, and about the end of this time he married a woman from Locris. Upon the fourth night after his nuptials he died suddenly. His wife, who had conceived, in due time became the mother of a hermaphrodite, whereupon the priests and the augurs prophesied that this androgynous birth portended an internecine war between the Aetolians and the Locri, and the archons decided that both the mother and her ill-omened offspring must be burned alive, the execution, to prevent mishap, taking place beyond the boundaries of Aetolia. The pyre was accordingly prepared, but as they were about to set light to it Polycrites himself appeared, pale and ghastly to see, clad in a long black robe blotched and dabbled with blood. All present took to flight, but the spectre recalled them, bidding them have no fear. In a terrible voice he warned them that if they burned his wife and young nothing could avert the most awful calamity. But seeing that in spite of all remonstrances, the rabble, overawed by their soothsayers and magicians, would kill the child directly he had vanished from their sight, he suddenly seized it and tore it to pieces with his teeth, seeming to swallow down great gory gobbets of raw flesh. The crowd uttered hideous yells and hurled stones at the phantom, but this did not disappear until only the head of the child was left undevoured. In horror the magistrates and elders cried aloud that an embassy must at once be sent to holy Delphi to inquire the meaning of these prodigies. The head, however, of a sudden spoke and foretold the most terrible misfortunes all of which were surely and swiftly accomplished. Later it was exposed upon a pillar in the public market-place. A day or two after, opening its eyes which glared with fury, it announced in a hoarse voice that craked from the livid lips how the army of the Aetolians which had taken the field against the rough and warlike Acarnanians, had been cut to pieces in a recent battle. And presently this proved to be true.
Among the long list of Spectres of antiquities, given by Louis Lavater in his treatise De Spectris, Lemuribus, et magnis atque insolitis Fragoribus, are the following; "Mani according to Festus the grammarian, are fearfully deformed or hideous persons. Much the same are the Laru, with which nurses are apt to threaten refractory children.
"Mormo is a female form of hideous appearance, a Lamia; sometimes considered to be the same as Larua, hence [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] terriculamentum, Spectrum, larua. Nicephorus in his Ecclesiastical History says that the name Gilo was given to spectres who wandered about at night.
"Lamiae were thought by ancient writers to be women who had the horrid power of removing their eyes, or else a kind of demon or ghost. These would appear under the guise of lovely courtesans who, by their enticing wiles, would draw some plump rosy-cheeked damoiseau into their embraces and then devour him wholemeal. Philostratus in his Life of Apollonius tells us an extraordinary account or legend of a certain Menippus who fell into the clutches of a lamia. He also says that these lamiae are sometimes called laruae, and lemures are often known as Empusas; and that nurses use these names in order to frighten children. Dio Chrysostom relates that in Central Africa there are certain fierce beasts which are termed lamiae. They have the countenances of beautiful women, and their bosoms are so white and fair as no brush could paint. These they show very wantonly and thus attract men by lewd deceit, but their victims they cruelly mangle and craunch. So the prophet Jeremiah saith, Lamentations, iv. 3: 'Even the lamiae have drawn out the breast.' Apuleius tells us that lamiae are merely bugbears for naughty children.
"Lamiae are also called Striges. They say that Striges are birds of ill-omen, which suck the blood of children lying in their cradles, hence the name is also given to witches whom Festus terms sorceresses (uolaticae). The name Gorgon is merely invented to frighten naughty children. The story goes that the Gorgons were most voracious, and they seem to be very like the lamiae."
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