It is highly unlikely that Johann Christoph Harenberg imagined that, 280 years after he originally wrote it, the title page of one his books would be sold as a poster in Italy. That, however, is what happened at the Dracula e il mito dei vampiri exhibition in Milan, and the book was, of course, Harenberg's Vernünftige und Christliche Gedancken über die Vampirs oder Bluhtsaugende Todten, published in Wolffenbüttel in 1733.
As he was walking from Alfeld to Langenholzen one Saturday in the Spring of 1708, he saw a well-dressed, old man nearby whom he recognized as a man he knew. Harenberg approached him, but he suddenly noticed that the man was transparent, and the closer he got to the man, the more transparent he became. Terrified, Harenberg retreated to his village, where he next day learned that the old man had died from consumption at about the time that he had seen the vision. This was only Harenberg's first of three encounters with apparitions in connection with the death of locals.
In 1715, at the age of nineteen he went to the University in Helmstedt to study the sciences as well as further languages. In 1719 he visited the universities in Jena and Halle, and the following year he was asked by the abbess and duchess of Gandersheim, Elisabeth Ernestine Antonie von Sachsen-Meiningen, to become headmaster of school belonging to the diocese. Besides teaching, he researched not only the Holy Writ, but also the history of the diocese. Several of his theological articles were published in the so-called Bremische Sammlungen published by Theodor Hase.
|Merian's view of Gandersheim from Wikimedia|
In 1745 Harenberg became Honorary Professor at the newly established Carolina collegium in Braunschweig and dean of the St. Lorenz convent in Schöningen. He died in Braunschweig on November 12 1774.
|Göttingische Anzeigen von gelehrten Sachen November 26 1774, p. 1224|
(He must have been 78 years of age, not 74).
It was while he was Headmaster in Gandersheim that he wrote his book on vampires on the request of a high-ranking individual, no doubt the abbess herself. It must have been aimed at a wider audience, as it was not written in Latin like most of his other writings at the time, but in German. Postponing the publication in the hope that more examples would be published, he finished it on September 24 1732, and was consequently able to comment on a number of books on the subject that were published in the first half of that year. He also drew on his own experiences, including the above mentioned vision from his youth.
In Harenberg's view, the Serbs who claimed to be victims of vampires, probably suffered from angina (pectoris) that was caused by a) eating contaminated animal flesh, b) visiting other ill persons, and c) coming into contact with contaminated corpses. The illness then caused the blood to thicken, and as the blood began to stand still in the small vessels in the head, depression set in and the imagination malfunctioned. As the beliefs in harmful revenants were so impressed upon their imagination, the ill and their relations explained the illness, the chest pains and suffocation in terms of such vampires.
|Ranft on Harenberg|
An in-depth study of Harenberg's book can be found in Anja Lauper's paper published in Begemann, Herrmann and Neumeyer's Dracula unbound: Kulturwissenschaftliche Lektüren des Vampirs (2008) and her subsequent book Die "phantastische Seuche": Episoden des Vampirismus im 18. Jahrhundert (2011).
Although it is, of course, his book and its subject that could be considered a 'vampire icon', one might still imagine a film inspired by Harenberg: His visions of the recently deceased and his considerations on the vampires could be intertwined and combined with machinations at the various courts and universities, perhaps even including some creative use of the controversy with Ranft, so that Hollywood could come up with stories of his own feverish experiences with bloodsuckers...
|Geschichte Jetztlebender Gelehrten Vol. V (Zelle, 1732), pp. 94-144|