Scholarly article on origins of vampire myth

Postby lombano » Thu Sep 16, 2010 10:58 pm

Gomez-Alonso, Juan MD, 'Rabies: A possible explanation for the vampire legend,' Neurology, 51(3), 1998, pp 856-859.

In its origins the vampire myth seems to have been very different from modern vampires like Eli (importantly they were decidedly not immortal) :

The anthropologic data collected by folklorists from people who believed in vampires, together with the historic reports, permit a fairly good reconstruction of the legend. Dogs and wolves were the animals most related to vampires, and were also reported as being their worst enemies. A vampire could allegedly turn into a dog and kill all the dogs of its village. Apart from having a human figure, these creatures could appear in the shape of a wolf, dog, or cat, or be invisible. Vampires were usually male, and used to be poor people from rural areas. The vampires' activity was mainly nocturnal, but could be diurnal. Vampires were thought to suck blood and attack people, dogs, cattle, and other tame animals. Vampires were thought to leave their graves to have sexual intercourse. A person could become a vampire by being attacked by a vampire, eating the flesh of animals killed by vampires, having been a great lover, or having died of plague, rabies, or other epidemic diseases. A cadaver could turn into a vampire if it saw itself in a mirror, or if a dog, cat, or bat walked over it before burial. Protective measures used against vampires included rubbing garlic or burning resin, burying suspicious cadavers in islands or lakes, or pouring water around their coffins. The vampires' victims were said to experience suffocation before death. The vampires' life was supposed to last for 40 days. Signs that made a cadaver suspicious included good external appearance, a swollen body full of liquid blood that flowed out of the mouth, prominent genitalia, and the emission of a cry when a stake was driven into it.



I've posted that to me it seems rather peculiar that the vampire myth, which to me seems clearly in its origins at least about death and disease, should have been sexualised so much. According to this article, this apparent paradox may be easily and horrifically explained:

Hypersexuality may be a striking manifestation of furious rabies. Some men can stay "several days with permanent penile erection and even with ejaculations associated with voluptuous sensations." The literature reports cases of rabid patients who practiced intercourse up to 30 times in a day, or who made violent rape attempts.


Something on how cadavers of the rabid could appear 'undead':

Patients with rabies usually live less than 2 weeks and die by asphyxia or cardiorespiratory arrest. These types of death would account for some postmortem features documented in rabies, such as persistence of liquid blood, turgescence of the genitalia, and emission of sperm.


And some real-world evidence of how people actually respond to vampire-like diseases:

People with this disease, however, sometimes faced a more dramatic end: "The fear of rabies was such that often persons even suspected of hydrophobia were killed like wild animals . . . (by being) shot, poisoned, strangled or suffocated."33 The social alarm prompted by rabies moved some medical academies, religious institutions, and kings to propose remedies.


Other phenomena that probably contributed to the myth:
In 1985, Dolphin suggested that porphyria might have been the basis for the vampire legend 36; his unpublished theory has been criticized elsewhere.37 Kayton supported a connection with schizophrenia, arguing that "many behaviors and inner experiences of schizophrenics are similar to aspects of the vampire legend."38 Barber 18 attributed the belief to the fact that laymen are prone to misinterpret the observations made on cadavers. Thus, the idea that vampires sucked blood would be based on the presence of liquid blood inside bloated corpses and at the corners of corpses' mouths. Barber hypothesized that dead bodies might have been disinterred by dogs, wolves, or spontaneously due to superficial burials in times of epidemics. This would explain, in his view, both the idea that vampires left their graves and the implication of animals in the legend.



The concluding paragraph:

Much evidence supports that rabies could have played a key role in the generation of the vampire legend. This would be in accordance with the anthropologic theory that assumes that many popular legends have been prompted by facts. Under this approach, saying that the vampire is "mere fiction" may be somewhat inappropriate. The past occurrence of epidemics of men and animals that bit others and transmitted the same disease to them can now be scientifically understood. It can also be accepted that those men showed hypersexuality, intolerance to mirrors and smelling substances, and liquid blood after death. Finally, it can be scientifically stated that this unique picture may be seen, even nowadays, in some unfortunate cases of furious rabies.
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Re: Scholarly article on origins of vampire myth

Postby lombano » Thu Sep 16, 2010 11:52 pm

More on the similarities between vampirism and rabies:


In certain cases, rabies appears similar to vampirism. The characteristic spasms regularly involve the facial, laryngeal, and pharyngeal muscles, and may cause emission of hoarse sounds and an appearance with "the teeth clinched and the lips retracted as those of an animal."26 Meanwhile, "the saliva cannot be swallowed, so frothing at the mouth and vomiting of bloody fluid occurs."27 The spasms are generally triggered by some stimuli, such as air draughts (aerophobia), water(hydrophobia), light (photophobia), noises, odor, a minimal excitement, or the sight of mirrors.24,25,27 A man was not considered rabid if he was able to stand the sight of his own image in a mirror. Intermittent furious accesses may be impressive in some instances."The rabid patient rushes at those who approach him, biting and tearing them as if he was a wild beast."28 During these episodes, the patient's appearance is frightening, and has been compared to that of a furious wolf.26 Nowadays, this dramatic picture is seen rarely, partly due to early medical intervention and partly because the aggressiveness caused by rabies is inversely related to the cultural level of the sufferer.25,26 During quiet intervals, the patient "lies in bed mentally alert but terrified, with bloody saliva drooling from the mouth."27 Nightmares, illusions, and hallucinations may be present at this stage...


Vampirism and rabies share many zoonotic features, for instance, in the animals involved in both conditions. Dogs have been the most frequent transmitters of rabies to man. However, the stories of rabid wolves biting scores of people in a single day made them the most feared animals in Europe some centuries ago. Vampire bats in America and nonhematophagous bats in America and in Europe have also transmitted rabies to humans. The puzzling metamorphosis of vampires from human to animal shape might have some form of explanation. Rabies is considered an isosymptomatic zoonosis because it can produce a similar furious picture in humans and in animals such as dogs, wolves, cats, and bats. Consequently, it would be imaginable that men and beasts with identical ferocious and bizarre behavior might have been seen, by a primitive witness, as similar malign beings. Farm animals were said to be frequent victims of vampires but they were usually not regarded as vampires. Likewise, farm animals usually contract paralytic rabies and become victims but not aggressive transmitters of the disease.
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Re: Scholarly article on origins of vampire myth

Postby DMt. » Fri Sep 17, 2010 12:11 am

Didn't one of your characters say this? That Eli's monster was like...rabies?
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Re: Scholarly article on origins of vampire myth

Postby lombano » Fri Sep 17, 2010 12:29 am

Yes, Esteban mentions it, and the puzzle-maker as well.
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Re: Scholarly article on origins of vampire myth

Postby gattoparde59 » Fri Sep 17, 2010 12:35 am

People with rabies would be pretty scary. That seems to be the explanation for the monsters in 28 Days Later and [Rec].

Your article reminded me of this older one, which deals with vampires in my native New England. Tuberculosis gets the blame here. In general, I think people had a much more intimate knowledge of death and dieing in these older societies. Close relatives, especially children, were always dying.

http://www.ceev.net/biocultural.pdf

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Re: Scholarly article on origins of vampire myth

Postby lombano » Fri Sep 17, 2010 12:51 am

gattoparde59 wrote:People with rabies would be pretty scary. That seems to be the explanation for the monsters in 28 Days Later and [Rec].


Danny Boyle has said that he based the Infection on rabies and ebola. I've seen footage of rabid humans, and from that and what I've read it's actually far worse - it seems rabies isn't so much about rage as about being driven insane by anguish and terror, and there seem to be periods of lucidity, so unlike some other neurodegenerative conditions, sufferers can be perfectly aware of their decay.

The article I cited deals exclusively with Balkans vampires.
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Re: Scholarly article on origins of vampire myth

Postby a_contemplative_life » Fri Sep 17, 2010 1:14 am

Interesting how so many myths seem to be grounded in real-life experiences. I remember that a girl survived a rabies infection a few years ago when the doctors put her into a coma, which avoided the brain damage and gave her body time to fight the infection. That was the 1st case of an untreated person surviving without brain damage as I recall.
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Re: Scholarly article on origins of vampire myth

Postby lombano » Fri Sep 17, 2010 2:19 am

Yes, and I think before that there were only six cases of anyone surviving it at all - and they were all essentially vegetables afterwards.
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Re: Scholarly article on origins of vampire myth

Postby sauvin » Fri Sep 17, 2010 5:26 am

lombano wrote:
gattoparde59 wrote:People with rabies would be pretty scary. That seems to be the explanation for the monsters in 28 Days Later and [Rec].


Danny Boyle has said that he based the Infection on rabies and ebola. I've seen footage of rabid humans, and from that and what I've read it's actually far worse - it seems rabies isn't so much about rage as about being driven insane by anguish and terror, and there seem to be periods of lucidity, so unlike some other neurodegenerative conditions, sufferers can be perfectly aware of their decay.

The article I cited deals exclusively with Balkans vampires.


You may or may not be interested to learn that the French word for rabies is "rage".

a_contemplative_life wrote:Interesting how so many myths seem to be grounded in real-life experiences.


I have a sneaking suspicion that most myths of this nature have some basis in real-life experience that have either been misinterpreted at the outset or have been transmuted into something else along the way as word of mouth passes through the generations imperfectly in preliterate societies.

Lombano, it seems you have run into a very good source for explaining the germination of the vampire myth; I've seen similar explanations suggested on the History Channel involving people from a mere couple centuries ago not understanding the process of postmortem decay. Remember that I'm claiming that vampires of one form or another predate Lilith, can you say from your sources when the vampire myth might have started to rise in the fashion you describe?
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Re: Scholarly article on origins of vampire myth

Postby lombano » Fri Sep 17, 2010 6:10 am

This source seeks to explain a very specific 'outbreak' of vampirism in the Balkans, rather than the vampire myth more generally or its oldest forms:

In 1693, a gazette revealed the existence of strange cadavers that were full of liquid blood, allegedly taken by the Devil from people and animals.4 Subsequently, the belief that those corpses left their graves spread through the Balkan region...

The most famous story of vampires occurred in the Serbian village of Medvedja, in the winter of 1731-1732.6 The death of some peasants was attributed to a vampire who allegedly had also killed other people and animals. Eventually, 17 cadavers with "all the signs of vampirism" were uncovered and pierced with stakes, decapitated, and cremated.


However, given that rabies, the decomposition of bodies, etc are all ancient, these phenomena probably do account for the origins of the myth; I've no idea how old the particular form of the myth described might be.

sauvin wrote:I have a sneaking suspicion that most myths of this nature have some basis in real-life experience that have either been misinterpreted at the outset or have been transmuted into something else along the way as word of mouth passes through the generations imperfectly in preliterate societies.


Probably. The article mentions that some have suggested werewolves may have their origins in rabies too - transmissible, the turning of a man into a ferocious beast, the association with wolves, etc.
I think these origins may also explain why vampires went from being terrifying to nowadays being everything from sexy to appearing on children's shows; rabies, once common enough in Europe for there to be special hospitals for the rabid, is now pretty rare in most of the world, and moreover immunisation is pretty effective. It is a sufficiently distant fear so that vampires can be portrayed as 'friendly.'
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