Wednesday, 8 October 2008

The lumbering peasant

I recently quoted from a children's book about Dracula and vampires: 'The original Transilvanian vampires on the contrary were rough creatures with boastful voices and red faces covered with stuble.' The funny thing is that the book never says anything about these peasant revenants, so no explanation is provided why those original vampires look so different from the pale and thin vampires of fiction.

From the Medvedja vampire case we have the vivid description of the amazement with which the villagers observed the corpse of the 60 year old Miliza: 'Es haben sich bey der Secirung die umstehende sämtliche Heyducken über ihre Fette und vollkommenen Leib sehr verwundert, einhellig aussagend, daß sie das Weib von ihrer Jugend auf wohl gekannt, und Zeit ihres Lebens gantz mager und ausgedörrter ausgesehen und gewesen, mit nachdrücklicher Vermeldung, daß sie in dem Grab zu eben dieser Verwunderungs-würdigen Fettigkeit gelanget sey.' (In Paul Barber's translation: During her dissection, all the haiduks who were standing around marveled greatly at her plumpness and perfect body, uniformly stating that they had known the woman well, from her youth, and she had, throughout her life, looked and been very lean and dried up, and they emphasised that she had come to this surprising plumbness in the grave).

These various signs can be attributed to the effects of decomposition: The bloating and discolouring of the corpse, the contraction of skin that makes it look like nails and hair has grown post mortem, i.e. the 'red faces covered with stuble' and the plumb body of the peasant shown in the drawing. That those unfamiliar with the effects of decomposition believe that the discolouring and the fluids in dead bodies arise from blood sucking is quite another matter. The same goes for the sounds that corpses make because of bloating and insects.

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