Myths and Legends: Vampires

Welcome to the first part in a new series centered around the various myths, legends, and stories of the world. Truth be told, I’ve actually been thinking of a way to go about this series for a while now – I just haven’t found the proper way to do so until recently.

Here are the two warm-up articles I wrote a while back.

This series will incorporate mythology from all four corners of the world and the time scale knows no limits. I hope this is a series that will you will all enjoy as I shed light on the real back stories behind some of our most beloved, feared, and iconic elements of the supernatural world. I will start each individual article with the supposed origins of the topical figure, then go on to how the legend has evolved over time, and end with a brief overview of how we now view the legend today.

In order to start strong I feel it’s best I cover something practically everyone has been unable to avoid for the past decade or so: Vampires. Yes, love or hate the way the children of the night have been portrayed as-of-late Vampires have a very rich mythology behind them. These immortal bloodsuckers have an origin which takes place in a time and place you might not have ever known of or could have ever guessed.

The Legend
The very first allusions to what one might identify as vampirism are found in the world of Greek mythology. One myth of Ancient Greece depicts a tale where the queen of Libya, Lamia, invokes the wrath of Hera, queen of the gods, by having an affair with her husband Zeus. As an act of retribution Hera not only kills all of Lamia’s children but damns the lustful queen further by cursing her with a terrible blood-lust that can only be satisfied by regularly drinking the blood of innocent children. Other allusions to vampiric behavior crop up in both Roman and Hebrew mythology too but Vampires as we know them did not enter prominence until the 18th century in Europe.

Europe during the 18th century was a continent in the midst of the Enlightenment, a movement which professed reason over superstition. However, like the witch trials in America such a mindset did not stop a wave of vampire-hysteria from sweeping across the continent. Sightings of vampires and recorded “cases” of vampiric behavior were widespread, ranging from France all the way to the Balkans. It is here that vampires began to take on more recognizable traits such as immortality, eternal youth, and an adversion to sunlight. This wave of folklore-made-fact ended when Austrian Empress Maria Theresa, who had grown weary of her subjects terror of folklore, sent her personal physician to investigate the reports of vampire attacks. When he returned and was asked whether vampires were real or not he replied  with a resounding verdict of “no”. Theresa then passed a decree stating that all exhumations and desecrations of the dead were illegal which effectively put an end to the hysteria.

Vampires pretty much fell out of the minds of people until a certain character fell upon Hollywood in 1931…

VladThe character in question, the most infamous Vampire of all time, owes his supposed origin and existence to this man pictured to the left. The man in question is Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia (1431–1476). Vlad was part of an incredibly famous Transylvanian-Hungarian noble family called the “House of Drăculești” (see where this is going?), a family which ruled over what is now Romania before the Ottomans came knocking. Despite being a member of the nobility Vlad was anything but noble. Even in life he gained a reputation for being a bloodthirsty and ruthless tyrant, a sadist with no limit on his imagination and will to inflict suffering. Vlad’s favorite form of punishment which he later became infamous and which earned him the posthumous title “Vlad the Impaler” for was impaling people through the heart with iron and/or wooden stakes. It’s probably occurred to you all by now but Vlad became the template for the legendary Count Dracula, the titular character of Bram Stoker’s 1931 classic “Dracula”.

This first ever media portrayal of a vampire, in this case by Bela Lugosi, brought the mythology of vampires straight back to prominence and a slew of vampire-inspired media followed suit. Something that has continued to this day. Vampires have fluttered in-and-out of cinema and subsequently public interest since 1931. Thankfully, because of that, it’s pretty easy to see how perceptions of the legendary creatures have evolved over time. Vampires have normally been given the role of the antagonist, as suave villians to be more precise.

In keeping true to their mythology vampires have often been depicted as possessing a host of supernatural abilities, all of which are greatly amplified when the sun sets. Vampires are gifted with eternal life and stop aging effectively from the moment they contract vampirism. They possess greatly enhanced vision, awareness, and hearing during the night and in some variations have the ability to transform themselves into bats. Vampires, both male and female, also have considerable influence over their opposite sexes. Likely because of their youthful appearances and enhanced features many men and women (usually women) fall victim to a vampires charms through either hypnotism or through unawareness.

Despite all of these benefits a vampire enjoys they possess a number of glaring weaknesses. The first is the best known: vampires have a severe adversion to sunlight. This adversion, depending on the depiction, either results in a major crippling of a vampires’ abilities and causes serious fatigue or outright kills the vampire by burning them to dust. Taking an obvious leaf out of Vlad’s history vampires can be instantly killed by staking them through the heart. Vampires have also been depicted as being weak to religious idols and symbols such as the Cross of Christ and ‘Holy Water’. In addition to being the way they bolster their ranks a vampire is also required to drink blood regularly or suffer excruciating pain. Vampires are also supposedly weak to the scent and touch of garlic as their ‘undead’ bodies and senses cannot withstand the strong anti-bacterial effects of the plant.

Modern Depiction
The way Hollywood and authors have been depicting vampires lately is nothing short of hubris in the eyes of some but there have been some interesting deviations from the myth. There are many ways these creatures have been portrayed in the media since 1931 but I’ll just single out two particular examples of what I feel are vampires done wrong and vampires done right.

First: The Bad
EdwardAt his core Edward Cullen does actually represent an interesting take on vampires, even if his character is written badly. Edward represents a more friendly version of vampires (Pacifist), characters with complex and emotional pasts forged from an unnaturally prolonged life. The problem is that his problems clearly rule his life and he comes across as overly brooding and self-centered. I’m not sure if his past is delved into much in the books as I have not read them but a few scenes here-and-there in the movies showing Edwards past would have helped flesh his character out. As it stands, he is just a mopey character with nothing to show that justifies such a mindset. His character type has been done before and frankly been done much better…

Second: The Good

LouisBy this person here: Louis de Pointe du Lac.
The protagonist of Anne Rice’s 1976 novel “Interview with the Vampire”, Louis is the antithesis of Edward in almost every sense of the word. Louis is what I would consider the definitive ‘tragic hero’ of pretty much any vampire novel. Like the title of the book implies the story follows Louis in the modern day regaling his entire life’s story thus far to a writer called Daniel Molloy. His story is actually quite harrowing but the way in which he communicates this to Daniel shows that he has not only come to terms with all that he has seen and done but is actually going on record like this to prevent anyone else from suffering like he has. Louis has problems but doesn’t let them rule him. Over the course of his narrative we, as readers and viewers, see how Louis comes to terms with his vampiric nature and develops as a character through it. The ending is also quite unexpected but the actions of Louis during it are quite justified.

Next Time: Werewolves


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