When we hear the word "vampire," we immediately thinks of a pale, elegant, old count, wearing a cape, who can be defeated with garlic and silver daggers. Bram Stoker’s novel, published in 1897, has become one of the most famous works of gothic literature and has been the inspiration for many adaptations, rewritings, and basically the creation of the modern vampire we all know and love. From the 1921 first film adaptation Dracula’s Death, the famous Nosferatu movie starring Max Schreck, Count Chocula, Radiohead’s "We Suck Young Blood," the 1972 Blaxploitation movie Blacula, television shows such as The Munsters or the cartoon series of Count Duckula, to the very bad, yet extremely famous Twilight saga, vampires have become a cultural icon for many societies. The idea of a dark creature haunting us and feeding off our blood has intrigued humanity for centuries. Whether it’s due to fear or the way we're spellbound by their myths, the image of the vampire has always been part of our collective imagination. But what exactly charms us about this particular creature?
The Nightmare (1781) Henry Fuseli
Throughout the years, these enticing creatures have been represented in almost every medium. These portrayals have expanded the vampire myth all over the world and created the standard physical attributes and powers we associate with them. Of course, art wasn't the exception. There are many paintings representing all those passions and dark elements of vampirism.
Lilith (1892) John Collier
Many have tried to guess or give their theories about the origins of these supernatural creatures. They've been linked to cultures such as Egyptian, Babylonian, Roman, Greek, Slavic, etc. While they’re not completely wrong, the truth is that no one knows for sure where or when these depictions began. What we know is that many ancient cultures believed in creatures with similar features as the ones we confer to vampires. Yet the whole package of modern vampirism first appeared in the eighteenth century.
Love and Pain (1893) Edvard Munch
Many European societies believed in the idea of the dead coming back to earth to harm and torment the living. Others thought that people who were bitten by an animal like a dog or a wolf, and whose wounds hadn’t been properly healed, would die and later on transform into undead creatures (this, of course, could be linked to some diseases like rabies). In Russia, many thought that those who would rebel against the church would be punished with an eternal life of suffering and, as a vengeance, they would cause atrocities on the living. The list goes on since this fear has always tormented humanity.
Lamia (1905) John William Waterhouse
Many archaeologists, historians, sociologists, and other specialists believe is that the attributes of fangs and drinking blood come from the same origin: ignorance on the decomposition of the body. Since the body shrinks considerably –out of the disappearance of muscle bulk–, hair, nails, and teeth appear larger than normal. Also, when the organs start to decompose, they produce a dark liquid or purge that leaks from the nose and mouth. People believed this liquid was actually blood that the deceased drank from living beings. People also related vampires to the spread of diseases they couldn’t understand, like the plague. So, in the 18th century a mass hysteria regarding vampires started all over Europe and some towns in America, where people were hunted down and publicly executed. In order to ensure that these "vampires" would no longer be a threat, hunters would take the teeth and heart of the "undead," place large bricks in their mouths, or cut off their heads.
The Vampire (1897) Philip Burne-Jones
So, when did vampires stop being beast-like creatures and become human-like specters? It’s a general agreement that the first popular text with this new characterization of an aristocratic, intriguing, and romantic vampire who feeds on human blood appeared in John William Polidori’s The Vampyre (1819). However, it was Stoker’s novel the one that established all the stereotypes and myths about this enticing creature.
Dante and Virgil (1859) William Bouguereau
With the passing of time, people have always tried to put a face to all of their fears and tragedies. The vampire is one that has managed to survive for centuries. While names, physical features, and origins change constantly, this figure will be part of the human psyche for a long time. Unlike other creatures such as werewolves or zombies, who appeal more to humanity's basic instincts, the vampire is a more rational being, which makes it more enthralling and also more frightening. Why do we find vampires so attractive? Mainly because they embody all the elements that fascinate human beings: sensuality, eroticism, lust, immortality, supernatural powers, and darkness.
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