Monday, 17 March 2014

Peter Plogojowitz unearthed

The extraordinary Terra X documentary Dracula: Die wahre Geschichte der Vampire, that aired on German ZDF in October last year, is now available on Blu-ray in both 3D and 2D. Although primarily a gimmick, the 3D works reasonably well, e.g. in the Prunksaal of the Austrian National Library. As a bonus, the disc includes a National Geographic documentary on the archaeological find of Irish 'vampire skeletons'.

Both documentaries are readily available on youtube, where another interesting Terra X documentary can currently be found: Draculas Schatten: Fahndung im Reich der Finsternis from 1995, which includes a retellinig of the Peter Plogojowitz/Petar Blagojewic incident and an interview with Dr. Christian Reiter who talks about anthrax as the possible cause of the deaths in Kisiljevo.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

In Styria ...

'In Styria ...' Irishman Sheridan Le Fanu set his Carmilla in Styria, part of current day Austria. A current exhibition at the GrazMuseum in Graz in Styria now explores the role of Styria in vampire literature, the development of the media vampire, and what it is all about.

Le Fanu appears to have read an 1836 travel book, Schloss Hainfeld, or a Winter in Lower Styria by Basil Hall, and probably found the description of a pre-industrial and romantic part of Europe an appropriate setting for his vampire novella. By the time Bram Stoker was working on Dracula, he also chose Styria as the home of the vampire count, before deciding to place Count Dracula's castle in Transylvania. The curators of the GrazMuseum believe that at the end of the nineteenth century the construction of a backwards, threatening, and superstitious East Europe had moved further to the Southeast, making Styria a region less likely for a vampire story. Stoker, however, as we know, still retained Styria as a location in his short story Dracula's Guest.

The exhibition, Carmilla, der Vampir und wir (Carmilla, the vampire and us), sees the fictional vampire of Le Fanu and Stoker not only as an extension of the Romantic vampire figure, but rather as a reaction to the industrialization that changed the face of many West European countries throughout the nineteenth century. This is, of course, evident in the conflict between East and West in Dracula, but as industries, media, and the globalization has developed and transforms even remote places, the vampire becomes (in the view of the curators) more a mirror image of the problems that humans face in an everchanging world more and more out of contact with its history and roots. At the same time the vampire of fiction, just like humans, faces his (or her) own existential crisis.

The exhibition at the GrazMuseum appears to explore such themes rather than the vampire's roots in folk beliefs. It consists of five rooms, glimpses of which can be seen in a clip from Austrian TV, from which a few shots are shown below. It is open until Halloween this year, and a publication related to the exhibition will be available later this year.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Jure Grando, the 'first' vampire

I have previously written about current interest in the so-called first vampire, Jure (or: Giure) Grando, first mentioned by Johann Weichard von Valvasor in 1689. In the meantime, a local gymnasium has made an amateur video about Grando that is possibly worth watching, even if you can only understand a word here and there.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

A visit to Kisiljevo

Author James Lyon recently visited Kisiljevo in Serbia with ABC News in search of Peter Plogojowitz.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

'Vampire' burials that can change a research life

Anthropology PhD student and blogger, Katy Meyers, recently wrote of a symposium on The Odd, the Unusual, and the Strange: Human Deviant Burials and their Cultural Contexts arranged by the Canadian Association of Physical Anthropologists:

'[Sandra] Garvie-Lok discussed the finding of a potential ‘vampire’ burial in Byzantine and Ottoman Greece. This was interesting because she examined first the ethnographic and historical evidence for the belief in vampires and the behavior towards them. Next, she used this information to interpret a burial from Ottoman-era Mytilene that due to the presence of stakes through the skeleton may indicate that people believed the deceased individual was a ‘vampire’. [Lauren] Hosek discussed a similar topic, the fear of revenants- individuals who rise from the dead. She discussed historic legends of revenants and archaeological evidence from two fortified settlement sites in what is now the Czech Republic. Several of these graves are consistent with the descriptions of potential revenants.'

Sandra Garvie-Lok, an anthropologist from the University of Alberta, according to that university's web site was aided in her career by a 'vampire': 'It really did change my research life.'

'Garvie-Lok, an osteologist, was set to study North American sites until a fateful opportunity took her to the island of Lesbos in Greece, where she found herself with the skeleton of an alleged vampire from the Ottoman Empire. She became embroiled in ethnocultural history and vampire lore that would play a small part in her focusing on Greece and ancient civilizations. She says the vampire tales from that region and the pop-culture iterations of the undead bear little resemblance, especially when it comes to disposing of a vampire. And as for her own adventure as a vampire hunter, she says it’s an experience she’ll never forget.'

'She says the regional accounts of vampires are consistent from Greece all the way through to the Slavic states, and none of the stories had anything to do with bats, biting or blood loss. Instead, she says, the vampire was believed to be a demon-animated corpse who would chase and physically attack the living—much closer to current popular culture images of zombies. And unlike the Dracula lore, it was the vampire’s look—or even his breath—that could be deadly. Vampires were often blamed for weird noises and unexplained phenomena that would occur in towns.'

News story from the University of Alberta
Garvie-Lok has also told her story in the Huffington Post.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

The Dark Side of the Enlightenment

'The reading of any work of literature becomes richer and more intelligible when conducted against the background of the intellectual climate in which it was created, but for the period of the Enlightenment the historical "background" is often indispensable. First in preparing to write the book and then again while actually writing it, I spent several years pursuing such apparently disparate topics as alchemy, epistolary culture, Renaissance Egyptology, Jansenism, Pietism, the spread of Freemasonry in France, and the rise and decline of the literary salon. I say "apparently" disparate because one at length discovers in the period of the Enlightenment, as of course in other historical periods, some convincing overarching unities.'

Medievalist John V. Fleming explores The Dark Side of the Enlightenment in his recently published book at at the educated general reader. He 'chose the title The Dark Side of the Enlightenment, which is meant to be goo-humored as well as lighthearted, for probably obvious reasons. It seems rather catcy. It plays against the flattering idea of intellectual and spiritual illumination that gave birth to the word "Enlightenment," as well as its principal European equivalents, the French Lumières and the German Aufklärung. Since the period of the Enlightenment witnessed, among other things, a remarkable efflorescence of occultism and mysticism, and since such topics occupy much of my attention, the title seemed to me not merely appropriate but inevitable.'

The subtitle alludes to wizards, alchemists, and spiritual seekers in the Age of Reason, including convulsionists, the Rosy Cross, the Freemasons, and Cagliostro. The latter 'performed feats of clairvoyance ranging from the humdrum (locating mislaid peices of property) to the sensational. The empress Maria Theresa, the mother of the French queen, died on November 19, 1780. It is about eight hundred miles from Vienna to Paris. Ordinary carriage travel might be as slow as thirty miles a day, and even the fastest express relay couriers would require upward of a week. Cagliostro, newly arrived in Strassburg, had quite publicly (and daringly) predicted her death to Cardinal Rohan, with whom he had already ingratiated himself. "He even foretold the hour at which she would expire," writes Madame d'Oberkirch. "Monsier de Rohan told it me in the evening, and it was five days after that the news arrived."'

Fleming also provides a substrate of what alchemy was about, a subject nowadays hard to penetrate, but at the time still part of the intellectual context: 'Literary and iconographic evidence alike attest to the very widespread cultural diffusion of alchemical ideas and images throughout the Enlightenment period. It is true that among many thinkers, alchemy had a musty and medieval whiff about it. Yet insofar as there was a "popular" idea of a scientist, it found its expression in the image of a learned man laboring amid his exotic implements with their exotic names. In the year 1700 almost anybody interested in "the advancement of science" was likely to have an interest in alchemy; and even as experimental science developed during the eighteenth century, the alchemical dream remained vivid for many scientists.'

The Dark Side of the Enlightenment is published by W. W. Norton & Company. The cover is taken from a painting by Pietro Longhi.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

An anti-modernist

At the conference on vampirism and magia posthuma in Vienna in 2009 I had the opportunity to talk to Professor Marco Frenschkowski about Montague Summers, so it was interesting to read what he had to say about the subject in a delightful and inexpensive introduction to the cultural history of witches published last year, Die Hexen: Eine kulturgeschichtliche Analyse (Marix Verlag). In fact, what he writes is very much like the opinion he told me back then: that he thought many scholars denounced Summers, but still read his books, albeit discreetly.

Frenchowski’s book is dedicated to Henry Charles Lea, whose collection of sources, Materials toward a History of Witchcraft, was published posthumously in 1939, a work that Frenschkowski praises for its scope and Lea’s understanding of ecclesiastical history. Montague Summers on the other hand is Lea’s diametrical antipole, although in Frenchowski's opinion not a mere crank. Nor did Summers represent a remnant of conservative Catholic conviction, as his homosexuality was an unconcealed part of his life as well as his work. What Summers, however, is to Frenschkowski, is an anti-modernist, whose 'quaint, sultry and baroque language, his evocation of a magical alternative reality to the Modern, in which witches are absolutely real, can hardly be considered a case of misguided scholarship, but rather as a piece of art, as decadently poethical evocations of a (fictious, and faux authentic) Pre-Modern.' (my translation)

Frenschkowski also admits that the reader may doubt whether Summers actually did believe fully in the reality of the vampires, werewolves, witches, and demons that he claimed, but finds he use of sources solid and learned, while his style and subject matters have made his books desired collector's items.

Die Hexen: Eine kulturgeschichtliche Analyse is one of three books by Frenschkowski published in the series Marix Wissen.

On vampires of mythology and folklore Frenschkowski has written an article in the anthology Draculas Wiederkehr edited by Thomas Le Blanc, Clemens Ruthner, and Bettina Twrsnick that was published in 2003.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Are there vampires in the library?

Having recently seen Count Dracula visit the Prunksaal of the Austrian National Library, it should be easy to answer the question: Gibt es Vampire in der Bibliothek? (i.e. Are there vampires in the library?) Of course, Gerard van Swieten vil disagree, but visitors, and this tour is particularly aimed at children, will find garlic and books to help them ward off vampires and other creatures of popular superstition...

More information on the library's web site.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Calmet returns in German

From the ever productive Nicolaus Equiamicus comes a new German edition of the second volume of Augustin Calmet's Dissertation on apparitions and vampires. Soon to be published, this 160 page volume is available for pre-order from German amazon at € 14.95.

"Seit ungefähr sechzig Jahren hat sich in Ungarn, Polen, Schlesien und Mähren ein neues Schauspiel hervorgetan, indem dort Leute, die schon mehrere Jahre oder Monate zuvor verstorben sind, wieder zurückkommen, reden, gehen, die Dörfer beunruhigen, Menschen und Tiere misshandeln, ihren Verwandten das Blut aussaugen, ihnen Krankheiten und schließlich gar den Tod verursachen, und sich auch von solchen überlästigen und schädlichen Besuchen nicht zurückhalten lassen, bis man ihre Leiber wieder ausgräbt, spießt, ihnen das Haupt abschlägt, das Herz ausreißt, oder sie verbrennt..." (Augustin Calmet) Augustin Calmet (1672-1757), den gelehrten Geschichtsschreiber und Abt des Klosters Senones/Lothringen, würde heute kaum mehr eine Menschenseele kennen, hätte er nicht im Jahre 1746 dieses Buch über Vampire geschrieben. Er behandelt darin die Vampirthematik in 59 Kapiteln aus theologischer und historischer Sicht und geht dabei detailliert auf zahlreiche überlieferte und aktenkundig gewordene Vampirfälle ein. Das für Calmets Verhältnisse eher kleine Werk übertraf den Erfolg seiner anderen Bücher – unter anderem verfasste er einen dreiundzwanzigbändigen Bibelkommentar - bei weitem und erschien bereits im 18. Jahrhundert in vier französischen und drei deutschen Auflagen. Die vorliegende Neuausgabe soll dazu beitragen, dass dieser Klassiker der Vampirologie auch weiterhin nicht in Vergessenheit gerät.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Dracula: Die wahre Geschichte der Vampire

Count Dracula visits the Prunksaal in Vienna
The German documentary series Terra X on channel ZDF launched a new documentary on Dracula and vampires this evening, Dracula: Die wahre Geschichte der Vampire, which is currently available on the ZDF web site along with various information on vampire books a.o. Forensic scientist and vampire expert Mark Benecke as well as Dr. Clare Downham participate in this program that is partially narrated by Count Dracula himself as portrayed by actor Christian Baumann. The Count visits the archives in Vienna to examine the original Visum et Repertum, and we see Flückinger examine 'Arnold Paole' - even the apocryphal journey of Gerard van Swieten to Moravia is dramatized. Still, this is generally one of the best documentaries on the subject so far, including visits to RomaniaLondon, and Vienna, where Dracula studies some of the 18th century literature on vampires in the Prunksaal next to the bust of van Swieten.

The documentary will be released on DVD and Blu-ray in early 2014.

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