As some of us don our favorite costumes on this night of mischief and mayhem in search of cavities and a slightly expanded wasteline lets pause for a moment to reflect on the mythical stories that have inspired Vampires, Zombies and Werewolves.
The word vampire is a relatively recent name given to those who lust for blood, but there are many references to similar creatures. In ancient Greece, the goddess Hera killed the children of a beautiful Libyan woman named Lamia. Her loss and rage led to her taking on a monstrous appearance and thereafter she sought to seize and kill other children . The famous vampire we have come to love by the name of Dracula is also based on a real character. Vlad Tepes or Vlad the Impaler as he is sometimes called was ruled Wallachia in Romania during the mid-fifteenth century AD. He is well know for inviting his enemies to dinner and subsequently having them impaled while he ate. The name Dracula is derived from dracul (Order of the Dragon), a society that Vlad belonged to. As far as the evidence goes, a number of skeletons have been uncovered recently that have shed light upon the burial practices of suspected vampires. In Bulgaria a 700 year-old skeleton was found that had been stabbed in the chest and had had its teeth extracted . The precaution of placing a brick in the mouth of those believed to be undead has also been observed .
Both the Greek historian Herodotus and the Roman author Petronius mention werewolves. Herodotus mentions that there was a people called the Neuri who transformed into wolves each year for a few days and then changed back again [4}. Petronius tells a different tale in his work the Satyricon;
We came to a graveyard, and this pal of mine went off to the tombstones to take a pis while I say a spell or two to keep off evil and count how many stones there are. But when I turned back to him, he’d taken off all his clothes and put’em in a pile beside the road . . . He pissed around his clothes, and then all of the sudden he turned into a wolf . . . once he was a wolf he started howling and ran off to the woods .
Tales of the undead predate those of werewolves and vampires. In The Epic of Gilgamesh, the goddess Ishtar, lamenting her recent rebuff by Gilgamesh to her father states, “I’ll raise up the dead to devour the living, the dead shall outnumber the living” . The credit for the creation of zombies goes to Ishtar not George Romero. All of these myths do not prove the existence of these creatures, however, they do show that there were people who did and still do believe that vampires, zombies and werewolves are real.
By the way, remember that there are always more frightening creatures out there lurking in the night besides vampires, zombies and werewolves. Oh wait, that’s just a Kardashian.
1. Simon Price and Emily Kearns, Classical Myth and Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003) 312.
4. Herodotus. Histories trans. A.D. Godley. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1920) 4, 105.2.
5.Petronius, Satyricon trans. Sarah Rudin (Indianapolis: Hacket Publishing Company, 2000) 46.
6. Benjamin R. Foster, The Epic of Gilgamesh (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2001) 49.