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Thalaba, VIII, st. 10

by Robert Southey

"This is not she!" the Old Man exclaim'd;
"A Fiend; a manifest Fiend!"
And to the youth he held his lance;
"Strike and deliver thyself!"
"Strike HER!" cried Thalaba,
And, palsied of all power,
Gazed fixedly upon the dreadful form.
"Yea, strike her!" cried a voice, whose tones
Flow'd with such sudden healing through his soul,
As when the desert shower
From death deliver'd him;
But, unobedient to that well-known voice,
His eye was seeking it,
When Moath, firm of heart,
Perform'd the bidding: through the vampire corpse*
He thrust his lance; it fell,
And, howling with the wound,
Its fiendish tenant fled.
A sapphire light fell on them,
And garmented with glory, in their sight
Oneiza's Spirit stood.

*In the Lettres Juives is the following extract from the Mercure Historique et Politique. Octob. 1736.

We have had in this country a new scene of Vampirism, which is duly attested by two officers of the Tribunal of Belgrade, who took cognizance of the affair on the spot, and by an officer in his Imperial Majesty's troops at Gradisch, (in Sclavonia,) who was an eye-witness of the proceedings.

In the beginning of September, there died at the village of Kisilova, three leagues from Gradisch, an old man of above threescore and two: three days after he was buried, he appeared in the night to his son, and desired he would give him some what to eat, and then disappeared. The next day the son told his neighbors these particulars. That night the father did not come, but the next evening he made him another visit, and desired something to eat. It is not known whether his son gave him any thing or not, but the next morning the young man was found dead in his bed. The magistrate or bailiff of the place had notice of this; as also that the same day five or six persons fell sick in the village, and died one after the other. He sent an exact account of this to the tribunal of Belgrade, and thereupon two commissioners were despatched to the village, attended by an executioner, with instructions to examine closely into the affair. An officer in the Imperial service, from whom we have this relation, went from Gradisch, in order to examine personally an affair of which he had heard so much. They opened, in the first place, the graves of all who had been buried in six weeks. When they came to that of the old man, they found his eyes open, his color fresh, his respiration quick and strong; yet he appeared to be stiff and insensible. From these signs, they concluded him to be a notorious Vampire. The executioner thereupon, by the command of the commissioners, struck a stake through his heart; and when he had so done, they made a bonfire, and therein consumed the carcass to ashes. There were no marks of Vampirism found on his son, or on the bodies of the other persons who died so suddenly.

Thanks be to God, we are as far as any people can be from giving into credulity; we acknowledge that all the lights of physic do not enable us to give any account of this fact, nor do we pretend to enter into its causes. However, we cannot avoid giving credit to a matter of fact juridically attested by competent and unsuspected witnesses, especially since it is far from being the only one of the kind. We shall here annex an instance of the same sort in 1732, already inserted in the Geaner, No. 18.

In a certain town of Hungary, which is called, in Latin, Oppida Heidonum, on the other side Tibiscus, vulgarly called the Teysse, that is to say, the river which washes the celebrated territory of Tokay, as also a part of Transylvania, the people known by the name of Heydukes believe that certain dead persons, whom they call Vampires, suck the blood of the living, insomuch that these people appear like skeletons, while the dead bodies of the suckers are so full of blood, that it runs out at all the passages of their bodies, and even at their very pores. This old opinion of theirs they support by a multitude of facts, attested in such a manner, that they leave no room for doubt. We shall here mention some of the most considerable.

It is now about five years ago, that a certain Heyduke, an inhabitant of the village of Medreiga, whose name was Arnold Paul, was bruised to death by a hay-cart, which ran over him. Thirty days after his death, no less than four persons died suddenly in that manner, wherein, according to the tradition of the country, those people generally die who are sucked by Vampires. Upon this, a story was called to mind that this Arnold Paul had told in his lifetime, viz. that at Cossova, on the frontiers of the Turkish Servia, he had been tormented by a Vampire; (now the established opinion is, that a person sucked by a Vampire becomes a Vampire himself, and sucks in his turn;) but that he had found a way to rid himself of this evil by eating some of the earth out of the Vampire's grave, and rubbing himself with his blood. This precaution, however, did not hinder his becoming a Vampire; insomuch, that his body being taken up forty days after his death, all the marks of a notorious Vampire were found thereon. His complexion was fresh, his hair, nails, and beard were grown; he was full of fluid blood, which ran from all parts of his body upon his shroud. The Hadnagy or Bailiff of the place, who was a person well acquainted with Vampirism, caused a sharp stake to be thrust, as the custom is, through the heart of Arnold Paul, and also quite through his body; whereupon he cried out dreadfully, as if he had been alive. This done, they cut off his head, burnt his body, and threw the ashes thereof into the Saave. They took the same measures with the bodies of those person who had died of Vampirism, for fear that they should fall to sucking in their turns.

All these prudent steps did not hinder the same mischief from breaking out again about five years afterwards, when several people in the same village died in a very odd manner. In the space of three months, seventeen persons of all ages and sexes died of Vampirism, some suddenly, and some after two or three days' suffering. Amongst others, there was one Stanoska, the daughter of a Heyduke, whose name was Jovitzo, who, going to bed in perfect health, waked in the middle of the night, and making a terrible outcry affirmed, that the son of a certain Heyduke, whose name was Millo, and who had been dead about three weeks, had attempted to strangle her in her sleep. She continued from that time in a languishing condition, and in the space of three days died. What this girl had said, discovered the son of Millo to be a Vampire. They took up the body, and found him so in effect. The principal persons of the place, particularly the physician and surgeons, began to examine very narrowly, how, in spite of all their precautions, Vampirism had again broke out in so terrible a manner. After a strict inquisition, they found that the deceased Arnold Paul had not only sucked the four persons before mentioned, but likewise several beasts, of whom the new Vampires had eaten, particularly the son of Millo. Induced by these circumstances, they took a resolution of digging up the bodies of all persons who had died within a certain time. They did so, and amongst forty bodies, there were found seventeen evidently Vampires. Through the hearts of these they drove stakes, cut off their heads, burnt their bodies, and threw the ashes into the river. All the informations we have been speaking of were taken in a legal way, and all the executions were so performed, as appears by certificates drawn up in full form, attested by several officers in the neighboring garrisons, by the surgeons of several regiments, and the principal inhabitants of the place. The verbal process was sent towards the latter end of last January, to the council of war at Vienna, who thereupon established a special commission to examine into these facts. Those just now mentioned were attested by the Hadnagi Barriarer, the principal of the village, as also by Battuer, first lieutenant of prince Alexander of Wirtemberg, Flickstenger, surgeon-major of the regiment of Furstemberg, three other surgeons of the same regiment, and several other persons.

This superstition extends to Greece.

The man, whose story we are going to relate, was a peasant of Mycone, naturally ill- natured and quarrelsome; this is a circumstance to be taken notice of in such cases. He was murdered in the fields, nobody knew how, or by whom. Two days after his being buried in a chapel in the town, it was noised about that he was seen to walk in the night with great haste, that he tumbled about people's goods, put out their lamps, griped them behind, and a thousand other monkey tricks. At first the story was received with laughter; but the thing was looked upon to be serious when the better sort of people began to complain of it; the Papas themselves gave credit to the fact, and no doubt had their reasons for so doing; masses must be said, to be sure: but for all this, the peasant drove his old trade and heeded nothing they could do. After divers meetings of the chief people of the city, of priests, and monks, it was gravely concluded, that it was necessary, in consequence of some musty ceremonial, to wait till nine days after the interment should be expired.

On the tenth day, they said one mass in the chapel where the body was laid, in order to drive out the Demon which they imagined was got into it. After mass, they took up the body, and got every thing ready for pulling out its heart. The butcher of the town, an old clumsy fellow, first opens the belly instead of the breast; he groped a long while among the entrails, but could not find what he looked for; at last, somebody told him he should cut up the diaphragm. The heart was then pulled out, to the admiration of all the spectators. In the mean time, the corpse stunk so abominably, that they were obliged to burn frankincense; but the smoke mixing with the exhalations from the carcass, increased the stink, and began to muddle the poor people's pericranies. Their imagination, struck with the spectacle before them, grew full of visions. It came into their noddles that a thick smoke came out of the body; we durst not say it was the smoke of the incense. They were incessantly bawling out Vroucolacas, in the chapel, and place before it; this is the name they give to these pretended Redivivi. The noise bellowed through the streets, and it seemed to be a name invented on purpose to rend the roof of the chapel. Several there present averred, that the wretch's blood was extremely red; the butcher swore the body was still warm; whence they concluded that the deceased was a very ill man for not being thoroughly dead, or, in plain terms, for suffering himself to be reanimated by Old Nick; which is the notion they have of Vroucolacas. They then roared out that name in a stupendous manner. Just at this time came in a flock of people, loudly protesting, they plainly perceived the body was not grown stiff, when it was carried from the fields to church to be buried, and that consequently it was a true Vroucolacas; which word was still the burden of the song.

I don't doubt they would have sworn it did not stink, had not we been there; so mazed were the poor people with this disaster, and so infatuated with their notion of the dead being reanimated. As for us, who were got as close to the corpse as we could, that we might be more exact in our observations, we were almost poisoned with the intolerable stink that issued from it. When they asked us what we thought of this body, we told them we believed it to be very thoroughly dead. But as we were willing to cure, or at least not to exasperate their prejudiced imaginations, we represented to them, that it was no wonder the butcher should feel a little warmth when he groped among entrails that were then rotting, that it was no extraordinary thing for it to emit fumes, since dung turned up will do the same; that as for the pretended redness of the blood, it still appeared by the butcher's hands to be nothing but a very stinking, nasty smear.

After all our reasons, they were of opinion it would be their wisest course to burn the dead man's heart on the sea shore, but this execution did not make him a bit more tractable; he went on with his racket more furiously than ever; he was accused of beating folks in the night, breaking down doors and even roofs of houses, clattering windows, tearing clothes, emptying bottles and vessels. It was the most thirsty devil! I believe he did not spare any body but the Consul, in whose house we lodged. Nothing could be more miserable than the condition of this island; all the inhabitants seemed frighted out of their senses; the wisest among them were stricken like the rest; it was an epidemical disease of the brain, as dangerous and infectious as the madness of dogs. Whole families quitted their houses, and brought their tent beds from the farthest parts of the town into the public place, there to spend the night. They were every instant complaining of some new insult; nothing was to be heard but sighs and groans at the approach of night; the better sort of people retired into the country.

When the prepossession was so general, we thought it our best way to hold our tongues. Had we opposed it, we had not only been accounted ridiculous blockheads, but Atheists and Infidels; how was it possible to stand against the madness of a whole people? Those that believed we doubted the truth of the fact, came and upbraided us with our incredulity, and strove to prove that there were such things as Vroucolacasses, by citations out of the Buckler of Faith, written by F. Richard, a Jesuit Missionary. He was a Latin, say they, and consequently you ought to give him credit. We should have got nothing by denying the justness of the consequence: it was as good as a comedy to us every morning to hear the new follies committed by this night bird; they charged him with being guilty of the most abominable sins.

Some citizens, that were most zealous for the good of the public, fancied they had been deficient in the most material part of the ceremony. They were of opinion that they had been wrong in saying mass before they had pulled out the wretch's heart: had we taken this precaution, quoth they, we had bit the devil as sure as a gun: he would have been hanged before he would ever have come there again; whereas, saying mass first, the cunning dog fled for it awhile, and came back again when the danger was over.

Notwithstanding these wise reflections, they remained in as much perplexity as they were the first day: they meet night and morning, they debate, they make processions three days and three nights; they oblige the Papas to fast; you might see them running from house to house, holy-water-brush in hand, sprinkling it all about, and washing the doors with it; nay, they poured it into the mouth of the poor Vroucolacas.

We so often repeated it to the magistrates of the town, that in Christendom we should keep the strictest watch a-nights upon such an occasion, to observe what was done, that at last they caught a few vagabonds, who undoubtedly had a hand in these disorders; but either they were not the chief ringleaders, or else they were released too soon. For two days afterwards, to make themselves amends for the Lent they had kept in prison, they fell foul again upon the wine-tubs of those who were such fools as to leave their houses empty in the night: so that the people were forced to betake themselves again to their prayers.

One day, as they were hard at this work, after having stuck I know not how many naked swords over the grave of this corpse, which they took up three or four times a-day, for any man's whim, an Albaneze that happened to be at Mycone took upon him to say, with a voice of authority, that it was in the last degree ridiculous to make use of the swords of Christians in a case like this. Can you not conceive, blind as ye are, says he, that the handles of these swords, being made like a cross, hinders the devil from coming out of the body? Why do you not rather take the Turkish sabres? The advice of this learned man had no effect: the Vroucolacas was incorrigible, and all the inhabitants were in a strange consternation; they knew not now what saint to call upon, when, of a sudden, with one voice, as if they had given each other the hint, they fell to bawling out all through the city, that it was intolerable to wait any longer; that the only way left was to burn the Vroucolacas entire; but after so doing, let the devil lurk in it if he could; that it was better to have recourse to this extremity than to have the island totally deserted; and, indeed, whole families began to pack up, in order to retire to Syre or Tinos. The magistrates therefore ordered the Vroucolacas to be carried to the point of the island St. George, where they prepared a great pile with pitch and tar, for fear the wood, as dry as it was, should not burn fast enough of itself. What they had before left of this miserable carcass was thrown into this fire and consumed presently. -- It was on the 1st of January 1701. We saw the flame as we returned from Delos; it might justly be called a bonfire of joy, since after this no more complaints were heard against the Vroucolacas; they said that the devil had now met with his match, and some ballads were made to turn him into ridicule. -- Tournefort.

In Dalmatia, the Morlachians, before a funeral, cut the hamstrings of the corpse, and mark certain characters upon the body with a hot iron; they then drive nails or pins into the different parts of it, and the sorcerers finish the ceremony by repeating certain mysterious words; after which they rest confident that the deceased cannot return to the earth to shed the blood of the living. --Cassas.

The Turks have an opinion, that men that are buried have a sort of life in their graves. If any man makes affidavit before a judge, that he heard a noise in a man's grave, he is, by order, dug up, and chopped all to pieces. The merchants, at Constantinople, once airing on horseback, had, as usual, for protection, a Janizary with them. Passing by the burying place of the Jews, it happened that an old Jew sat by a sepulchre. The Janizary rode up to him, and rated him for stinking the world a second time, and commanded him to get into his grave again. -- Roger North's Life of Sir Dudley North.