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Understanding the Vampire Myth in Slavic Cultures

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In seeking to understand the vampire myth in Slavic cultures I found myself intrigued by the essay, Forensic Pathology and the European Vampire, exclusive to Alan Dundes's, The Vampire: A Casebook. Within this essay, an enticing and new interpretation of the vampire is offered by historian, Paul Barber. Uniquely, Barber approaches the vampire myth with the notion that " most if not all of the beliefs surrounding the vampire can be explained in terms of the folk perception or misperception of what happens to a cadaver after death."# His intriguing argument, which attempts to demystify the supernatural vampire, is what entices me to consider the notion that "the lore of vampires arose simply out of misconceptions concerning the nature of decomposition."#

Paul Barber, through modern forensic analysis, is able to provide specific explanations for common characteristics and physical attributes surrounding reports on "vampires" at their graves. Within the epidemic of vampirism, the best attested of these reports, tell of events that occurred in the 1720's, near Belgrade. This account examined the corpse of a man named Arnold Paloe, who died an accidental death after which several people suddenly died of what had been traditionally viewed as vampirism. What surgeons found while examining Paole were considered to be rare characteristics in the early eighteenth century, that denoted "vampirism." These characteristics included the corpse being filled with fresh blood flowing from his eyes, ears, and lips and the occurrence of the corpses' old finger nails being replaced with new ones. Since then, science has been able to prove that these "vampire attributes" are in fact actual characteristics of coagulation and decomposition that occur after death. Barber explains that " It is normal in a decomposing body for this to occur" and "It occurs because the lungs which are rich in blood, deteriorate after death and are under pressure from the bloating internal organs." This in turn causes a " blood stained fluid to be forced out through the mouth and nose,# " which advocates how easily this seemingly unordinary occurrence could happen to anyone and is not only limited to vampires. Both explanations for these supposed vampire indications are perfect examples of what can be consistently found throughout Barber's thought provoking essay entailed in Dundes casebook.

A separate notion that helped lead people in the belief that vampires were immortal was the replacement of their hair, nails, and teeth while in their graves. Barber's explanation for this misconception is that " hair, nails and teeth do not in fact grow after death, but merely appear to do so as the skin shrinks back." #

This leads me to believe that audiences witnessing these strange occurrences among these corpuses indecisively wanted to explain what they saw, didn't understand, and had a complete lack of knowledge in. It is here where I completely agree with the comment made by Barber that, " Far from being merely fanciful horror stories, the vampire



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