Do vampires really exist? -JSTOR Daily

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Strange stories of vampirism in Eastern Europe began to reach Western Europe at the end of the 17th century. Those who died and were buried returned to their villages, and even to their own families, to suck blood. Such stories have sparked debate among natural philosophers about the nature of knowledge. Could such strange things be true, especially when backed up by seemingly reliable eyewitness testimony?

Modernist scholar Kathryn Morris explores the debates that greeted these vampire reports, placing them in the context of the rise of empirical and factual approaches to the facts of the world. It might be risky to automatically dismiss the potentially vampiric; new discoveries of the world beyond Europe “called into question the ideas established on the inventory of the world”.

And the vampire evidence came from the testimonies of servicemen, doctors, and clergymen sent by their superiors to investigate the rumors. “Overly gullible ones risked accepting fabricated or fraudulent facts, while overly incredulous people risked rejecting new facts too quickly because they did not meet expectations,” Morris writes.

Morris quotes Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who wrote: “If there is one well attested history in the world, it is that of the vampires. Nothing is missing: interrogations, certificates from Notables, Surgeons, Parish priests, Magistrates. Judicial evidence is the most complete. But as to whether these documents proved the existence of vampires, Rousseau was ambiguous, although he noted that witnesses to the Incredible were themselves credible.

One person who took the sources seriously was Father Dom Augustine Calmet. His best-selling book of 1746, Dissertations on the apparitions of angels, demons and spirits and on the vampires of Hungary, Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia, examined in detail the reports on vampires. He eventually came to the conclusion that vampires did not exist and that, as Morris paraphrases, “the vampire epidemic could be explained in terms of a combination of frightening illusions and a misinterpretation of natural processes. of death and decay “.

But Calmet bumped into Voltaire, who did not have a truck with vampirism: “What! Do vampires exist in our eighteenth century? ”, Regardless of the testimony cited. In fact, he accused Dom Calmet of truly believing in vampires and, as a “historian” of vampires, of doing the Enlightenment a disservice by paying attention to the testimony in the first place.

According to Morris, Voltaire’s deliberate misreading of Calmet was ideological. His “own views on superstition demanded that even consistent and widespread testimony be dismissed as a reliable basis for knowledge claims.” For Voltaire, all superstition was false news: false, dangerous and easily propagated. “After slander,” he wrote, “nothing is communicated faster than superstition, fanaticism, witchcraft and the tales of those who are resurrected.

John Pollidori’s 1819 story “The Vampire”, based on an idea by Lord Byron, resurrected the figure of the living dead in Western Europe. Pollidori modeled the aristocratic bloodsucker, giving rise to plays, operas and other fictions by Alexandre Dumas, Nikolai Gogol, Aleksey Tolstoy, Sheridan Le Fanu and finally, in 1897, by Bram Stoker, whose novel Dracula sunk its fangs deep into popular culture’s throat.


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By: Catherine Morris

Preternature: Critical and Historical Studies on the Preternatural, Vol. 4, n ° 2 (2015), p. 181-202

Penn State University Press


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