Sunday 26 April 2009

Using the internet

Very few books really incorporate the internet as a kind of appendix. One example, though, is Johannes Dillinger's Hexen und Magie (Campus Verlag, 2007). On various places in the book, a mouse icon is printed, which means that the reader can go to the publisher's web site to read an extract of the source that is referred to.

The book e.g. contains a short section on spirits of the dead ('Totengeister') which in very few lines reviews the historical vampire and some of the prevalent theories. The reader is referred to an extract from Johann Christoph Harenberg's Vernünftige und christliche Gedanken über die Vampirs oder blut-saugende Toten (1733) which can be found as source text no 13 here.

Saturday 11 April 2009

'Principe indubitable': La résurrection d'un mort est l'ouvrage de Dieu seul

In these days, millions of Christians affirm their belief in the resurrection of Christ and consequently: of the dead.

'Si autem resurrectio mortuorum non est, neque Christus resurrexit. Si autem Christus non resurrexit, inanis est ergo praedicatio nostra, inanis est et fides vestra. (...) Nam si mortui non resurgunt, neque Christus resurrexit. Quod si Christus non resurrexit, vana est fides vestra, adhuc enim estis in peccatis vestris.' (Paulus ad Corinthos I 13-14, 16-17: But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. (...) For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!)

But then what should a good Christian think of the stories of vampires and other revenants? Dom Calmet had this to say in the first chapter of the second volume of his Dissertation sur les Revenant en corps, les Excommuniés, les Oupires ou Vampires, Brucolaques etc. (here in the translation of Henry Christmas):

'Several systems have been propounded to explain the return and apparition of the vampires. Some persons have denied and rejected them as chimerical, and as an effect of the prepossession and ignorance of the people of the countries, where they are said to return.

Others have thought that these people were not really dead, but that they had been interred alive, and returned naturally out of their tombs.

Others believe that these people are truly dead, but that God, by a particular permission or command, permits or commands them to come back to earth, and resume for a time their own body; for when they are exhumed, their bodies are found entire, their blood red and fluid, and their limbs supple and pliable.

Others maintain that it is the demon who causes these revenants to appear, and by their means does all the harm he can both to men and animals.

In the supposition that vampires veritably resuscitate, we may raise an infinity of difficulties on the subject. How is this resurrection accomplished? Is it by the strength of the revenant, by the return of his soul into his body? Is it an angel, is it a demon who reanimates it? Is it by the order, or by the permission of God that he resuscitates? Is this resurrection voluntary on his part, and by his own choice? Is it for a long time, like that of the persons who were restored to life by Jesus Christ? Or that of persons resuscitated by the Prophets and Apostles? Or is it only momentary, and for a few days and a few hours, like the resurrection operated by St Stanislaus upon the lord who had sold him a field; or that spoken of in the life of St Macarius of Egypt, and of St Spiridion, who made the dead to speak, simply to bear testimony to the truth, and them left them to sleep in peace, awaiting the Last, the Judgement Day.

First, I lay it down as an undoubted principle, that the resurrection of a person really dead is affected by the power of God alone. No man can either resuscitate himself, or restore another man to life, without a visible miracle.

Jesus Christ resuscitated himself, as he had promised he would; he did it by his own power; he did it with circumstances which were all miraculous. If he had returned to life as soon as he was taken down from the cross, it might have been thought that he was not quite dead, that there was yet in him some remains of life, that he might have been revived by warming him, or by giving him cordials and something capable of bringing him back to his senses.

But he revives only on the third day. He had, as it were, been killed after his apparent death, by the opening made in his side with a lance, which pierced him to the heart, and would have put him to death, if he had not then been beyond receiving it.

When he resuscitated Lazarus, he waited until he had been four days in the tomb, and began to show corruption; which is the most certain mark that a man is really deceased, without a hope of returning to life, except by supernatural means.

The resurrection which Job so firmly expected; and that of the man who came to life on touching the body of the Prophet Elisha in his tomb; that of the child of the widow of Shunem, who the same Elisha restored to life; that army of skeletons, whose resurrection was predicted by Ezekiel, and which in spirit he accomplished before his eyes, as a type and pledge of the return of the Hebrews from their captivity at Babylon; in short, all the resurrections related in the sacred books of the Old and New Testament, are manifestly miraculous effects, and attributed solely to the almighty power of God. Neither angels, nor demons, nor men, the holiest and most favoured of God, could by their own power restore to life a person really dead. They can do it by the power of God alone, who when he thinks proper to do so, is free to grant this favour their prayers and intercession.'

The illustration is from Picture Book of Devils, Demons and Witchcraft by Ernst and Johanna Lehner (Dover, 1971), where it is credited as taken from a 1470 book called Leiden Christi published by Albrecht Pfister, Bamberg.

Friday 10 April 2009

Why do vampires still thrill?

There was an interesting essay on the popularity of vampires, Dracula and annotated editions of Stoker's Dracula in The New Yorker a while back: 'Every generation, it seems, gets the annotated “Dracula” that it deserves.'

World's Weirdest?

This morning I read a newsletter from Abebooks about what they consider to be the world's weirdest book. At the end they write: 'If you know a weirder book (...) we’d love to hear about it', which made me think of a vampire book which is pretty unusual, but probably not as 'weird' as the book chosen by Abebooks.

I'm thinking of a German book titled Drakula, Drakula - Ein transsylvanisches Abenteur written by H. C. Artmann and graphically designed by Uwe Bremer. It was published in 1966 in cooperation between the Berlin Rainer Verlag and the Swiss Magica Verlag. The first 120 copies were signed by both Artmann and Bremer. My copy is not signed.

The story itself is a mix of Stoker, Le Fanu, Lovecraft in a tale of an English couple visiting Dracula in his Transsylvanian castle. It does not work very well as more than a short grotesque tale in its own right, but what makes the book 'weird' and 'wonderful' is the graphical presentation.

Printed in a mix of gold of black, using different alphabets, and combining the text with 13 full page illustrations that are pretty unusual, this is really more of a bibliophile piece of art than a vampire tale. It is certainly difficult to do it justice by showing a few sample pages, you have to see this book for real. I don't claim that this is great art or literature, but it is certainly an interestinig curiosity that will no doubt be cherished by any collector of vampire books.

A number of copies are for sale on Abebooks, and they are certainly not so expensive as the 'world's weirdest book'. There is even an edition signed by Artmann available at 280€.

Thursday 9 April 2009

De cruentationibus cadaverum

One of the 18th century texts usually referred to in books on vampires is the natural history of Poland, Historia naturalis curiosa regni Poloniæ, by the Jesuit Gabriel Rzaczynski (1664-1737) published in the Polish city Sandomierz in 1721. Apart from chapters on fossils, minerals and various other natural phenomena, Rzaczynski discusses the incorruptibility, flexibility and mobility of corpses, as well as other phenomena related to cadavers, like the belief that the corpse of a murdered person will start bleeding if it gets into contact with the murderer (‘Cadaver hominis violenter occisi, ad præsentiam occisoris, etiam in Provinciis nostris non semel sanguinem profudisse narratur.’).

Of particular interest here is the part on how malign spirits can appear in corpses and e.g. move its mouth, tongue and eyes. It can even make the corpse rise from the tomb and attack people: ‘etiam notatum est, quòd cadaver ejusmodi è tumulo exurgat, compita, domos obambulet, his & illis se conspiciendum præbeat, ac quosdam etia invadat, & suffocare nitatur’. Such a cadaver is called Upier if the corpse is male, and Upierzyca if female.

The full text of Rzaczynski’s natural history is available online at the Digital Library at Gdansk University of Technology.

Wednesday 8 April 2009

Dom Calmet: Un itinéraire intellectuel

Long time ago I mentioned that the papers commemorating the 250th anniversary of Dom Calmet's death would get published. And indeed they have been back in late 2008 under the title Dom Augustin Calmet Un itinéraire intellectuel. The anthology is edited by Philippe Martin and Fabienne Henryot, and is available from Riveneuve at 26€. It includes a paper titled Dom Calmet, «historiographe des vampires»?, but otherwise looks like it sheds light on various parts of Calmet's life and work, so this is probably the best up to date book on Calmet.

It's probably a photo of Philippe Martin holding a copy of the book that you can find in this report from a meeting on the subject.

Sunday 5 April 2009

Historical cemetery affected by metro

A local newspaper here in Denmark reports that the remains of 4-10.000 bodies are going to be excavated in connection with the construction of a new underground metro station in Copenhagen. The station will be located beneath the cemetery that I wrote about here. The excavation will not affect the graves of such world famous people as Niels Bohr and Søren Kierkegaard, who are buried there, but people have been buried here between 1805 and 1998, so it is certainly a piece of cultural history that will be affected by the work.

Apart from the unique and delicate nature of the work, it is interesting to read that a rule of thumb is that on average the bodies of 13 people can be expected to have been buried in each burial plot over the past 200 years, and that apparently few of these bodily remains have been removed. That is why the archaeologists who will carry out the work expect to find the remains of an unknown, but pretty large number of people.

Thursday 2 April 2009

Other bloggers

Nicolaus Equiamicus has found a beer that carries a name that reminds him of the Medvedja vampire case. And Carl Pyrdum who is blogging on medieval subjects comments on the recent archaeological found that I mentioned here.
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