Lord Byron: The First Modern Vampire

Lord Byron: The First Modern Vampire, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas, aspasiasbissas.com. Lord Byron, vampire, vampires, The Giaour, Fragment of a Novel, A Fragment, Byronic Hero, goth, goths, gothic, John Polidori, The Vampyre, Lord Ruthven

“The Giaour”

lines 757–768:

But first, on earth as vampire sent,
Thy corse shall from its tomb be rent:
Then ghastly haunt thy native place,
And suck the blood of all thy race;
There from thy daughter, sister, wife,
At midnight drain the stream of life;
Yet loathe the banquet which perforce
Must feed thy livid living corse:
Thy victims ere they yet expire
Shall know the demon for their sire,
As cursing thee, thou cursing them,
Thy flowers are withered on the stem.

Lord Byron, 1812 (published in 1813)

Happy World Goth Day! To celebrate, I’m exploring the life and work of George Gordon Byron, better known as Lord Byron: poet, adventurer, freedom fighter, the original celebrity, cursed soul, granddaddy of goths, and the first modern vampire (probably not literally).

If you weren’t aware, vampires weren’t always the charismatic, sexy, human-seeming creatures we know them as these days. The vampires of times past were generally monstrous, charmless, and often more like zombies than what we now consider vampires to be (take a look at my post A Further 5 Vampires You May Not Have Heard Of). That all changed with Lord Byron.

When Byron was born in 1788, he had a caul over his face. There are many superstitions about cauls. Some believe being born with one is lucky and the child is destined for greatness, some believe the child will have second sight. In Romania the belief is that those born with a caul become vampires after death.

Byron’s childhood was fairly traumatic by any standards. His father was rarely around (and when he was, his presence didn’t improve anything), his mother was an alcoholic, and his governess abused him. At age 10, he inherited the title Baron Byron of Rochdale, along with the family’s ancestral home, Newstead Abbey, which incorporated the ruins of a Gothic monastery. At some point he found a human skull in the building and took to drinking from it in front of friends, who he’d then dare to do the same.

Lord Byron: The First Modern Vampire, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas, aspasiasbissas.com. Lord Byron, vampire, vampires, The Giaour, Fragment of a Novel, A Fragment, Byronic Hero, goth, goths, gothic, John Polidori, The Vampyre, Lord Ruthven
Portrait of Lord Byron by Théodore Géricault, 1811

As his popularity grew, Byron cultivated a “cult of personality” based on his invented romantic and heroic image. He had portraits painted of himself as different characters: Le Corsair, Scottish sailor, Egyptian bandit. He adapted his personality, his clothing, and even the way he spoke, to suit the occasion or who he was with. He presented himself as a tragic outsider with a mysterious past, a character out of his own books, and made sure never to let the persona slip.

Byron was one of the first to write about vampires in English. In his poem”The Giaour” (quoted above) he tells of a man cursed to become a vampire and destroy his own family. In notes with the poem, Byron comments on the belief in the Levant, Greece, and Hungary of the Vroucolachas (or Vardoulacha). After its publication, some expressed fear about Byron’s hypnotic, or vampiric, ability to control his admirers with his poetry.

This image Byron created of himself as the archetypal “Byronic Hero” would influence future literary characters such as Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights), Count Dracula, Batman, and Severus Snape, to name a few, as well as real-life celebrities and rock stars like Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain.

In his unfinished work “Fragment of a Novel” (also known as “A Fragment” or “The Burial: A Fragment) from 1819, Byron’s character, Augustus Darvell, brings vampires into the modern age. Darvell is wealthy, attractive, and blends easily into human society. Although Byron never completed the story, according to a letter by his doctor and ‘frenemy,’ John Polidori, Byron was planning on having Darvell’s friend bury him according to strange and ritualistic instructions, only to come back later and find Darvell alive and wreaking havoc (including seducing and killing the man’s sister).

Speaking of Polidori, Byron didn’t just write about vampires. he was portrayed as one in the works of others. Polidori’s story “The Vampyre” was strongly influenced by Byron’s ideas for the continuation of “Fragment of a Novel” (Byron was also wrongly given credit for “The Vampyre,” and Polidori struggled to correct the mistake). Besides Byron’s influences, the main character “Lord Ruthven” was an unflattering and exaggerated portrait of Byron. Ruthven is a sexual predator who is calculating and cruel. He revels in sin and degradation. Although he looks sickly and cadaver-like, he’s also compelling and hypnotic. In the end Ruthven gets away with everything, while those around him suffer.

Lady Caroline Lamb, a married woman Byron had an affair with and then ignored, got back at him through her novel, Glenarvon. Again, a barely disguised Byron is portrayed as a vampiric (and somewhat ridiculous) character, howling at the moon and dressing as a monk. He seduces and ruins every woman he meets and betrays everyone close to him. Unlike Ruthven, he gets his comeuppance when he’s confronted by the ghosts of all the women he’s destroyed, and then throws himself into the sea out of remorse. Lady Caroline is credited with describing Byron as “mad, bad and dangerous to know”.

Byron and Polidori transformed vampires from the grotesque undead to attractive and charming almost-humans. Bram Stoker was likely influenced by Byron when he wrote Dracula, and ever since, vampires in both print and onscreen are overwhelmingly “Byronic”: tragic, mysterious, dark, brooding, and embodying (or inducing) lust. Literary critic Tom Holland wrote in his 1999 essay “Undead Byron” that “vampires remain recognizably Lord Byron’s descendants.” He also comments, “…the modern genre of vampire fiction may be seen as perhaps the most vital and enduring of all the varied expressions of Byronism.” As violent and bloodthirsty as the modern vampire can be, fans are under their spell, as much as Byron’s fans were under his.

Lord Byron: The First Modern Vampire, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas, aspasiasbissas.com. Lord Byron, vampire, vampires, The Giaour, Fragment of a Novel, A Fragment, Byronic Hero, goth, goths, gothic, skull, human skull, skull cup, John Polidori, The Vampyre, Lord Ruthven
Lord Byron’s skull cup (Photo: devonlive)

Even in his own time, it didn’t go unnoticed that Byron had more than a few vampiric qualities. People around him complained that he was draining the life from them, and overshadowing them with his “almost supernatural magnetism.” Critics claimed he hypnotized and subjugated his followers. Byron himself felt he was cursed, pointing out that many of the people closest to him suffered misfortune, or died tragically.

Amelia Opie, a woman Byron had charmed, claimed he had “such a voice as the Devil tempted Eve with; you feared its fascination the moment you heard it.”

And like a true vampire, Byron was immune to conventional life and the rules and judgments of polite society.

He was seductive and insatiable, not unlike vampires, although his appetite was for sex, not blood. He was openly bisexual and had a particular taste for married women, but not so particular that he didn’t also sleep with admirers, servants, prostitutes, and his half-sister. It was rare that anyone turned him down.

In a letter from 1819, Byron claimed to have no interest in vampires:

“I have besides a personal dislike to ‘Vampires,’ and the little acquaintance I have with them would by no means induce me to reveal their secrets.”

Reading this, I can’t help thinking that “little acquaintance” indicates that there was some acquaintance. And what secrets of theirs was he keeping, exactly? It’s not difficult to imagine that as he toured Europe and came into contact with many of the cultures that had strong vampire folklore, he might have encountered a creature that wasn’t quite human. At one point in his travels, he was claiming that “spies” were following him through Geneva and Flanders. Were they journalists looking for hot gossip to publish, or maybe something more?

In 1823 Byron went to Greece to fight for Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire. He spent 4,000 pounds (equivalent today to about 477,000 USD or 382,000 GBP) of his own money to refit the Greek naval fleet. He also took command of a Greek unit of elite fighters. Unfortunately, he fell ill with a “fever” on 15 February 1824. Ironically, doctors bled him to treat the illness, which most likely led to his death.

Byron died on 19 April 1824, aged 36. Some say his heart was cut out and kept in Greece, where, to this day, he’s a national hero. In any case, his body was returned to England. He was supposed to be buried in Westminster Abbey, but the Dean of Westminster refused on the grounds of Byron’s “questionable morality.” (They did add a memorial plaque to Byron in 1969.) He was instead buried in the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Hucknall.

Lord Byron: The First Modern Vampire, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas, aspasiasbissas.com. Lord Byron, vampire, vampires, The Giaour, Fragment of a Novel, A Fragment, Byronic Hero, goth, goths, gothic, John Polidori, The Vampyre, Lord Ruthven, Westminster Abbey
Lord Byron memorial
This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library
Image © 2022 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

His death didn’t end the vampire rumours about Byron. Because people kept insisting that his coffin was empty, in 1938– more than a century after his death– the vicar of Hucknall agreed to open the casket. Byron was inside, naked and well-preserved, The vicar stated:

‘Reverently, very reverently, I raised the lid and before my eyes lay the embalmed body of Byron in as perfect condition as when it had been placed in the coffin … his features and hair easily recognisable from the portraits with which I was so familiar. The serene, almost happy expression on his face made a profound impression on me … I gently lowered the lid of his coffin – and as I did so, breathed a prayer for the peace of his soul.’

And so Lord Byron rests in peace…or maybe not.

What do you think? Did Byron become a vampire, or just play one on the page? Share in the comments…

Celebrate World Goth Day with some new books:

Aspasia S. Bissas books: Love Lies Bleeding, Blood Magic, Tooth & Claw, book, books, free book, free books, freebies, freebie, free ebook, free ebooks, vampire, vampires, dark fantasy, dark romance, historical fiction, gothic fiction, gothic fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal, supernatural, horror, dark reads, indie author, indie fiction, strong female protagonist, aspasiasbissas.com

Love Lies Bleeding: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books
FREE Blood Magic: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books
FREE Tooth & Claw: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books

If you prefer paperback, use this link to order Love Lies Bleeding from Bookshop – a portion of each sale goes directly to independent bookstores, as well as to myself. Thank you for supporting indie! ♥

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

🧿

Further Reading

Wikipedia: Fragment of a Novel

Was Lord Byron England’s 1st Vampire?

On the Very Scary Rise of the First Literary Vampire

Lord Byron’s Image Inspired Modern Take on Vampires

Lord Byron in Popular Culture

“Mad, bad, and dangerous to know”

Biography: Lord Byron

Lord Byron: Westminster Abbey

A Further 5 Vampires You May Not Have Heard Of

A Further 5 Vampires You May Not Have Heard Of, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas, aspasiasbissas.com. Vampire, vampires, Krasue, penanggalan, manananggal, sasabonsam, asanbonsam, pricolici, vrykolakas
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Chances are when you think of vampires you’ll think of Spike, Nick Knight, Miriam Blaylock, or any of the other fanged creatures-of-the-night that populate modern culture, including Mara from Love Lies Bleeding. The vampires we’re familiar with are (generally) human looking, powerful, often charismatic and attractive, with a thirst for blood and a dislike of stakes. But that wasn’t always the case. History and folklore are full of types of vampires that are nothing like what we’ve come to expect. Here are five examples…

Krasue

A Further 5 Vampires You May Not Have Heard Of, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas, aspasiasbissas.com. Vampire, vampires, Krasue, penanggalan, manananggal, sasabonsam, asanbonsam, pricolici, vrykolakas

Similar to the penanggalan of Malaysia, the krasue is a type of ghostly vampire from Thailand that preys on chickens and cattle. The krasue has the face of a beautiful young woman (or sometimes an old woman), but instead of a body she has hanging organs and entrails. She’s also luminescent, and can be considered a form of will o’ the wisp. Like most vampires, she has fangs, and like most ghosts, she moves by floating. A common belief is that women who live sinful lives are cursed to become krasue after death (or that the curse will be passed on to their daughters and granddaughters). Another belief is that eating food contaminated by krasue saliva or flesh will turn someone into a krasue. And, as has been the case countless times throughout history, women in small communities acting “strangely” were/are suspected of being witches and monsters, or in this case– of becoming krasue at night. Krasue are always hungry, seeking out blood or flesh to consume. If blood isn’t available they’ll settle for rotting food, corpses, or feces. The krasue needs to reattach to her headless body before dawn, so destroying the body also destroys the krasue. Other ways to kill krasue include cutting the organs and entrails off or burning her. A krasue can be prevented from entering the home by surrounding it with something spiky, like bamboo, which the krasue will avoid in order not to get her entrails caught. There have been several krasue sightings in Thailand in recent years, most– but not all, debunked.

Manananggal

A Further 5 Vampires You May Not Have Heard Of, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas, aspasiasbissas.com. Vampire, vampires, Krasue, penanggalan, manananggal, sasabonsam, asanbonsam, pricolici, vrykolakas

The manananggal is from the Philippines and is similar to the penanggalan and krasue in the way it separates from the lower half of its body, trailing intestines behind. Unlike the other two, the manananggal has large, bat-like wings, and can be either male or female (although they’re usually female). Another name for manananggal is “tik-tik,” which is the sound the tiktik birds make as they accompany the manananggal when they’re flying. Apparently the sound gets fainter the closer they get, a tactic meant to confuse their victims. One becomes a manananggal either by inheriting the condition, performing a ritual, or surviving a manananggal attack. While they have fangs, manananggal perch on roofs and use their long, proboscis-like tongues to suck the blood from sleeping victims. They’re also known to eat flesh and organs. Preferred prey is pregnant women, fetuses, and newlyweds (particularly the grooms, as manananggal is said to have been left at the altar). Like many vampires, manananggal hate garlic and holy water; unlike most vampires they also can’t stand salt, vinegar, spices, daggers, and the tails of stingrays. To keep a manananggal away from your house, leave pots of uncooked rice, salt, or ash around. To kill a manananggal, spread salt, ash, or crushed garlic on the detached lower half. The top half won’t be able to reattach and will then die at sunrise.

ETA: a commenter let me know that the manananggal can also transform into a wild pig (!), and that “Oftentimes, a woman suspected of being one is asleep during the day.” Thanks for the extra info!

Sasabonsam

A Further 5 Vampires You May Not Have Heard Of, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas, aspasiasbissas.com. Vampire, vampires, Krasue, penanggalan, manananggal, sasabonsam, asanbonsam, pricolici, vrykolakas
Ashanti Sasabonsam/Asanbosam figure, via Into the Wonder

Sasabonsam, also known as Asanbosam, is a vampiric being in the folklore of the Akan people of southern Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, and Togo. Instead of feet they have iron hooks, which they use to dangle from trees in order to attack from above. They also have iron fanged teeth and bat-like features, including pointed ears and 6 metre- (20 foot-) long wings. Sasabonsam are territorial creatures, feeding on anyone who enters their forests. They eat flesh, as well as drinking blood, and they can infect people with a wasting illness (a common theme in vampire lore) with just a look. There is a claim that a man killed one by “fatally injuring it,” but I can’t find more details about it. Because of their hook feet, they can’t move well on the ground, so in theory you could get away from a Sasabonsam if you can run fast enough to get out from under the trees before they can grab you. Then again, it’s said that they like to play with their victims, like cats sometimes do with mice, so running might not help much.

Pricolici

A Further 5 Vampires You May Not Have Heard Of, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas, aspasiasbissas.com. Vampire, vampires, Krasue, penanggalan, manananggal, sasabonsam, asanbonsam, pricolici, vrykolakas

A creature from Romanian folklore, the pricolici is a hybrid vampire-werewolf (together at last!) Some claim they are undead souls risen from the grave in wolf form. Others say that pricolici are werewolves in life, who then rise after death as vampires. Men who are cruel or violent in life are likely to become pricolici after death. In any case, pricolici are especially vicious undead that enjoy hurting the living.

Vrykolakas

A Further 5 Vampires You May Not Have Heard Of, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas, aspasiasbissas.com. Vampire, vampires, Krasue, penanggalan, manananggal, sasabonsam, asanbonsam, pricolici, vrykolakas
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Greece (influenced by the myths of neighbouring Slavic countries) brings us our final (for now) vampire: the vrykolakas. Interestingly, while vrykolakas is generally considered to be a vampire, its name (from the Bulgarian vǎrkolak) means werewolf, and by modern definitions it’s closer to a zombie than a vampire. Vrykolakas don’t decay after death, but their bodies become swollen with blood, giving them lifelike ruddy complexions. They generally roam around wreaking all sorts of havoc, including causing epidemics. Vrykolakas sometimes sit on victims as they sleep, crushing or suffocating them. It was also believed (and still is in some places) that they would knock on doors, calling the names of people inside; if anyone opened the door, they themselves would die within a few days and become a vampire. One could also become a vrykolakas by living a sacrilegious life, being buried in unconsecrated ground, or eating the meat of a sheep that had been injured or killed by a wolf. Like the pricolici, it was also thought that a werewolf could become a vampire after death, retaining wolf-like fangs, hairy palms, and glowing eyes. The vrykolakas eats flesh rather than drinking blood, and it has a particular fondness for livers (possibly with a nice Chianti). The longer they are allowed to roam and feed, the stronger they become. To kill a vrykolakas, the body needs to be destroyed, which is done by impaling, beheading, dismembering, or cremation. Destroying the body has to be done on a Saturday, which is when the vrykolakas is believed to rest. During the Great Famine of 1941-1942 in Greece, so many people died that burial on consecrated ground became impossible. Families started pre-emptively destroying bodies so that their loved ones wouldn’t become vrykolakas.

Have you heard of these vampires? Which do you think is scariest? Tell me in the comments…

Read my previous posts on this subject:

5 Vampires You May Not Have Heard Of

5 More Vampires You May Not Have Heard Of

Another 5 Vampires You May Not Have Heard Of

Yet Another 5 Vampires You May Not Have Heard Of

Can’t get enough vampires? Download my books!

Aspasia S. Bissas books: Love Lies Bleeding, Blood Magic, Tooth & Claw, book, books, free book, free books, freebies, freebie, free ebook, free ebooks, vampire, vampires, dark fantasy, dark romance, historical fiction, gothic fiction, gothic fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal, supernatural, horror, dark reads, indie author, indie fiction, strong female protagonist, aspasiasbissas.com

Love Lies Bleeding: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books
FREE Blood Magic: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books
FREE Tooth & Claw: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books

If you prefer paperback, use this link to order Love Lies Bleeding from Bookshop – a portion of each sale goes directly to independent bookstores, as well as to myself. Thank you for supporting indie! ♥

Further Reading

Krasue

Ghostly Beings

Manananggal

17 Facts About the Manananggal

Philippine Folklore: Meet the Vampiric, Cannibalistic Manananggal

Asanbosam

Sasabonsam

10 Places Where Vampires May Exist

Pricolici

Vrykolakas

Vampires in Greece

Astonishing Legends: Vrykolakas

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

🧿

It’s the (not so) Little Things

It's the (not so) Little Things, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas. aspasiasbissas.com. Houseplants, garden, gardening, calamondin orange, citrus trees. Photo by Scott Morrison
Photo by Scott Morrison

Sometimes you don’t realize how much you need something until you get it. In my case what I needed was a happier plant.

My calamondin orange was suffering in a too-small pot for far too long. I kept putting off re-potting, wanting to do it after we moved, but since that’s taking longer than anticipated I finally decided to take care of the plant now.

After transferring it to a bigger pot, pruning, and staking it, I was tired, but also feeling accomplished. It was like a weight had been lifted. Giving the plant what it needed made me feel good. I highly recommend it.

I also discovered that my once-tiny houseplant has gotten huge! It really wasn’t obvious until I was finished and took a step back. How dwarf is a dwarf citrus tree anyway?

It's the (not so) Little Things, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas. aspasiasbissas.com. Houseplants, garden, gardening, calamondin orange, citrus trees. Photo by Scott Morrison
Photo by Scott Morrison

By the way, you can use calamondin oranges to make cake, juice (aka Filipino lemonade), or– if you’re like my SO (who also snacks on lemons)– you can eat them straight off the branch, rind included.

What little thing has lifted your spirits lately? Share in the comments…

My character Mara loves plants too. She’s also a vampire. Download my books and find out more…

Aspasia S. Bissas books: Love Lies Bleeding, Blood Magic, Tooth & Claw, book, books, free book, free books, freebies, freebie, free ebook, free ebooks, vampire, vampires, dark fantasy, dark romance, historical fiction, gothic fiction, gothic fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal, supernatural, horror, dark reads, indie author, indie fiction, strong female protagonist, aspasiasbissas.com

Love Lies Bleeding: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books
FREE Blood Magic: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books
FREE Tooth & Claw: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books

If you prefer paperback, use this link to order Love Lies Bleeding from Bookshop – a portion of each sale goes directly to independent bookstores, as well as to myself. Thank you for supporting indie! ♥

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

🧿
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