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Friday Morning Latin Lesson, Vol. LXXXVIII

October 22, 2010

Well, here we are again, on a lovely Friday morning. But, we're not together, dear blog readers. Chances are, if you're reading this in the morning, then you're alone. I'm in bed. I'm not sick. I'm just lazy. I'm burning a day of vacation, filing it under mental health, and perhaps--just perhaps--working on a story. Maybe it's for you. Maybe it isn't. It depends: how much you willing to pay?

You might have picked up on a theme for the past few Latin Lessons, and I'm going to continue that trend today. Bear with me; you'll see where I'm going and what I'm doing next week. I hope.

Vampires...or vampiric spirits...are as old as mankind itself. Much like ghosts, vampires have existed since man first developed the ability to imagine. From the dawn of human sentience, vampires have crept through the dark spaces of the night, looking to pray on those victims whose guards had been dropped, even if for just a few moments. Vampires have survived through countless generations of tales, and even in Roman times there were vampires, vampire hunters, and cults surrounding the bloodsucking ghouls.

And not a fucking one of them sparkled.

I've mentioned before that the Romans liked to incorporate a lot of religions and religious practices from other peoples they had conquered and assimilated into the Empire. If you think about it, a lot of the ancient gods could be considered vampires in nature: many of them demanded blood sacrifices in order to keep the smiting at a minimum. It makes sense, too; if you lose your blood, you lose your life. There has to be some piece of the divine in the blood. Right?

As more conquered peoples were imported into the Empire, too, they brought with them their local legends and lore. As they were serving as slaves, they would tell of their mythologies surrounding blood, which, again, had a certain element of logic to it. Women with fertility issues should drink the blood--preferably menstrual--of fertile women; men should drink the blood of other men in order to gain strength, virility, and a great smile.

And this gave rise to some of the first vampire cults. we know nowadays...a lot of nasty shit can be transferred through the blood. People who were drinking the blood of other humans were ending up sick and dying in great numbers. This concerned the local government, not for any altruistic reason, but more because if they people out there were getting sick and dying...why that might just spread into here! We should put a stop to this!

So they did. Blood drinking was outlawed, but that didn't stop those who were truly dedicated to the practice. This is when the Imperial officials began hiring assassins to seek out those who were breaking the law by drinking human blood and kill them. For a small fee, naturally. This gave rise to the first vampire hunters. Their preferred weapon to dispatch the bloodthirsty lawbreakers was a small dagger. One notable exception to this was Simonius Belmontius, who preferred to do all his vampire fighting and hunting with a whip.

A more demonic precursor to the vampire was the strix, which was a sort of nocturnal bird-like demon that fed on the blood of its victims. These, of course, were typically young women, the prettier the better, but a desperate strix was a desperate strix, and so would settle for older women and men in a pinch. This is related to the term for witch, striga that we saw two weeks ago.

More importantly, strix leads directly into the Romanian term Strigoi (and the Slavic word Strzyga) which both mean "vampire". It is the Slavic legends and traditions that figure into our modern interpretation of vampires...and, again, you'll not find a single one of their vampires glittering in the sunshine.

The word vampire comes into English via French, vampyre, which itself came to France via German, vampir after Germany adopted it once the Austrian Empire gained control of northern Serbia, where it appeared as (transliterated) "vampir" as well. It possibly came from a proto-Slavic word upir which is a term for a witch. So, you can see that witches and vampires are knitted together in several different cultures, though they've deviated a bit more in recent times, thanks in large part to Bram Stoker.

There are far too many vampiric legends to get into here; whole volumes of books could be dedicated to the subject...and not shitty books, either. In fact, in remote villages in Eastern Europe--places where the modern versions of the vampire myths had their roots--funerary practices are still performed to prevent loved ones from becoming vampires. Or, suspected vampires are dealt with through various burial rites and rituals. There is a deep and cultural identification with the vampire lore, though it's not a positive one, to be sure. Vampires are evil, blood-sucking, disease-spreading entities that are to be loathed. Stake one as soon as you can.

What would a vampire in the old Roman Empire say? Good question. I can only imagine it'd be something like this (all translations are sparkle-free):

Tuum sanguinem volo sugere!

Pronounced: "Too-oom sahng-wee-naim woh-loh soo-gair-aye!"

Hovertext for the bloody good translation!

And then there's this one, which I've included because it really amuses me. Not to mention, I can work in the Bugs Bunny/Loony Tunes angle.

Pro sanguine, quies bonus est!

Pronounced: "Proh sahng-wee-nay, quee-ace boh-noose est!"

Frightful translation in the hovertext

And then there's this one, which is just silly:

Volo volare!

Pronounced: "Woh-loh woh-lahr-aye!"

Principle part translation in the hovertext!

Oh, okay. I'll throw one in, just because I can't resist the temptation:


Pronounced: Soo-goh!

Double-meanings in the hovertext!

There are a few bits of lore that are pretty common among non-Mormon vampires. Since they are creatures of darkness, the sunlight kills vampires; because bats are nocturnal, they get a bad rap for being evil thanks to their nightly activities. Plus, they're fucking creepy. The transformation idea is a holdover from the notion of the striges (plural of strix) could transform themselves into some sort of night time hell beast. It's kind of a logical step: creature of darkness turns into another creature of darkness. A few centuries later, this notion was repeated again with werewolves.

Owls, too, were given the same treatment. Even today, the genus name for the screech owl is Strix, and the screech owl is certainly the most evil-sounding owl out there, so it deserves the devilish connotations.

The above third translation is silly because the Latin verb volo, volare means "I want" and "I fly". Volare survives into modern Italian, and you should know this thanks to Domenico Modugno's impassioned rendition of "Nel blu, dipinto di blu". The only thing is, Italian has the modern /v/ sound on the front.

If there's any justice in the world, that fucking song is stuck in your head like it will be in mine all weekend long. Valete, mei amici!


Sully said...

I'll have a bowl of Count Chocula in your honor sir.

Bev said...

Enjoy your lazy day! Makes me wish I'd taken one, too. I could sure use it!

Loved the vamp-lesson this week. I'm working on a story right now too, but about a different kind of blood-sucker. Muahahahaha

Have a great weekend, Jenksy-poo!

Dr. Assy said...

I hope the lesson next week involves that bane of the Latin world. Dare I say it?

El chupacabra

It's Spanish so it must have a Latin root but I'd be terrified to even research that for fear of retribution.

MJenks said...

@ Sully: *smacks self in forehead* I can't believe I forgot Count Chocula!

@ Bev: Ooooo...aren't we all just storying it up around here lately? I'm all writey, you're all writey...who else is writey?

@ Assy: Good Doctor, I've already touched on that foul hell-beast. In fact, next to my picture up there on the upper right-hand side tells that which I fear the most: el Chupacabra.

Elly Lou said...

Mmmm shiny. Wait, did you say something?

Wynn said...

You should really include the accent, it's half of the fun!

BeckEye said...

You should have your own show on The History Channel. Of course, it would have to be History Channel After Dark, but there's nothing wrong with that.