Thursday, 1 January 2009

Genesis of the word "Vampire"


The English word vampire was borrowed (perhaps via French vampire) from German Vampir, in turn borrowed in early 18th century from Serbian вампир/vampir or, according to some sources, from Hungarian vámpír. The Serbian and Hungarian forms have parallels in virtually all Slavic languages: Bulgarian вампир (vampir), вапир (vapir) or въпир (vəpir), Croatian vampir, Czech and Slovak upír, Polish wąpierz and (perhaps East Slavic-influenced) upiór, Russian упырь (upyr'), Belarussian упiр (upyr), Ukrainian упирь (upir' ), from Old Russian упирь (upir'). The etymology is uncertain. Among the proposed proto-Slavic forms are *ǫpyr' and *ǫpir'. The Slavic word might, like its possible Russian cognate netopyr' ("bat"), come from the Proto-Indo-European root for "to fly". Another theory has it that the Slavic word comes from a Turkic word denoting an evil supernatural entity (cf. Kazan Tatar ubyr "witch"). This theory has now become obsolete, but has recently been embraced by one Polish scholar. The word Upir as a term for vampire is found for the first time in written form in 1047 in a letter to a Novgorodian prince referring to him as 'Upir Lichyj' (Wicked Vampire).

Tales of the undead craving blood are ancient and found in nearly every culture around the world. Vampire-like spirits called the Lilu are mentioned in early Babylonian demonology, and the bloodsucking Akhkharu even earlier in the Sumerian mythology. These female demons were said to roam during the hours of darkness, hunting and killing newborn babies and pregnant women. One of these demons, named Lilitu, was later adapted into Jewish demonology as Lilith. Lilitu/Lilith is sometimes called the mother of all vampires.

In India, tales of the Vetalas, ghoul-like beings that inhabit corpses, are found in old Sanskrit folklore. A prominent story tells of King Vikramāditya and his nightly quests to capture an elusive Vetala. The stories of the Vetala have been compiled in the book Baital Pachisi.

The Ancient Egyptian goddess Sekhmet in one myth became full of bloodlust after slaughtering humans and was only sated after drinking alcohol coloured as blood.

In Homer's Odyssey, the shades that Odysseus meets on his journey to the underworld are lured to the blood of freshly sacrificed rams, a fact that Odysseus uses to his advantage to summon the shade of Tiresias. Roman tales describe the strix, a nocturnal bird that fed on human flesh and blood. The Roman strix is the source of the Romanian vampire, the Strigoi and the Albanian Shtriga, which also show Slavic influence.

In early Slavic folklore, a vampire drank blood, was afraid of (but could not be killed by) silver and could be destroyed by cutting off its head or by putting a wooden stake into its heart.

Medieval historians and chroniclers Walter Map and William of Newburgh recorded the earliest English stories of vampires in the 12th century.

Many vampire legends also bear similarities to legends and religious beliefs regarding succubi or incubi.

The Oxford English Dictionary dates the first appearance of the word vampire in English from 1734, in a travelogue titled Travels of Three English Gentlemen published in the Harleian Miscellany in 1745. Vampires had already been discussed in German literature. After Austria gained control of northern Serbia and Oltenia in 1718, officials noted the local practice of exhuming bodies and "killing vampires". These reports, prepared between 1725 and 1732, received widespread publicity.

The English term could have been derived (possibly via French vampyre) from the German Wampyr, in turn thought to be derived in the early eighteenth century from the Serbian вампир/vampir. The Serbian form has parallels in virtually all Slavic languages: Bulgarian вампир (vampir), Czech and Slovak upír, Polish wąpierz, and (perhaps East Slavic-influenced) upiór, Russian упырь (upyr'), Belarusian упыр (upyr), Ukrainian упирь (upir'), from Old Russian упирь (upir'). Many of these languages have also borrowed forms such as "vampir/wampyr" subsequently from the West; these are distinct from the original local words for the creature. The exact etymology is unclear. Among the proposed proto-Slavic forms are *ǫpyrь and *ǫpirь. Like its possible cognate that means "bat" (Czech netopýr, Slovak netopier, Polish nietoperz, Russian нетопырь / netopyr' - a species of bat), the Slavic word might contain a Proto-Indo-European root for "to fly". An older theory is that the Slavic languages have borrowed the word from a Turkic term for "witch" (eg Tatar ubyr).

The first recorded use of the Old Russian form Упирь (Upir') is commonly believed to be in a document dated 6555 (1047 AD). It is a colophon in a manuscript of the Book of Psalms written by a priest who transcribed the book from Glagolitic into Cyrillic for the Novgorodian Prince Vladimir Yaroslavovich. The priest writes that his name is "Upir' Likhyi " (Упирь Лихый), which means something like "Wicked Vampire" or "Foul Vampire". This apparently strange name has been cited as an example both of surviving paganism and of the use of nicknames as personal names.

Another early use of the Old Russian word is in the anti-pagan treatise Word of Saint Grigoriy, dated variously from the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries, where pagan worship of upyri is reported.


Johnson, Samuel (1745). "IV". Harleian Miscellany. London: T. Osborne. pp. 358.

Barber, Paul. Vampires, Burial and Death, page 5.

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(French) "Trésor de la Langue Française informatisé". Retrieved on 2006-06-13.

(French) Dauzat, Albert (1938). Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue française. Paris: Librairie Larousse. OCLC 904687.

(Russian) Tokarev, Sergei Aleksandrovich (1982). Mify Narodov Mira. Sovetskaya Entsiklopediya: Moscow. OCLC 7576647. ("Myths of the Peoples of the World"). Upyr'

(Russian) "Russian Etymological Dictionary by Max Vasmer". Retrieved on 2006-06-13.

(Bulgarian) Mladenov, Stefan (1941). Etimologičeski i pravopisen rečnik na bǎlgarskiya knižoven ezik.

(Russian) Sobolevskij, A. I.. "Slavjano-russkaja paleografija". Retrieved on 2007-12-21. The original manuscript, Книги 16 Пророков толковыя

Lind, John H. (2004). "Varangians in Europe’s Eastern and Northern Periphery". Ennen ja Nyt (4).

Dolotova, I.A.; O.A. Rodionov & A.B. Van'kova (2002) (PDF). История России. 6-7 кл : Учебник для основной школы: В 2-х частях. Ч. 1: С древнейших времен до конца XVI века. ЦГО. ISBN 5-7662-0149-4. ("History of Russia. 6-7 kl.: Textbook for the basic school: In 2-X parts. Part 1: From the earliest times to the end of the XVI century.")

(Russian) "Рыбаков Б.А. Язычество древних славян / М.: Издательство 'Наука,' 1981 г.".

(Russian) Зубов, Н.И. (1998). "Загадка Периодизации Славянского Язычества В Древнерусских Списках “Слова Св. Григория … О Том, Како Первое Погани Суще Языци, Кланялися Идолом…”". Живая Старина 1 (17): 6–10.

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