The philosopher and the vampire
• Many believe that vampires must have been a medieval creation. And that these creatures needed to hunt and hide their unspeakable deeds among the lonely mountains of Transylvania or the peasoup fogs of old England.
If you believe that, you’d be wrong. Vampires are an ancient evil; 2000 years ago, the most ferocious prowled the warm Mediterranean regions of the earth. The Greeks called them Empusae. Moreover, these early vampires were female. Here is one of their stories.
* * * *
A casual encounter on a lonely road outside the Greek city of Corinth—that’s what he, Menippus, thought.
She was a dainty woman; darkly sexy; from Phoenicia, she said. Wealthy, she said.
He was 25, an earnest young philosopher but far from scholarly to look at. A body like an Olympic athlete.
She took his hand. Said she’d had a crush on him for some time. You’ve been studying with the famous philosopher Apollonius of Tyana, she said, admiration in her dark eyes. I live nearby. Come tonight, she said. I’ll sing to you. You’ll have wine such as you’ve never tasted before. Just you. You have no rivals in my heart.
Menippus thought he was fully committed to his philosophical studies, but at her words, his resolve melted away. One rapturous evening, her touch, and he was a goner.
His sage teacher Apollonius first noticed the changes in Menippus. Worried about his star pupil, he asked, What have you been doing lately? Visiting the colts of Aphrodite, you young rascal? No harm in that, but remember, they give themselves freely to every man, those temple priestesses..
I’ve met a woman, Menippus confessed. She’s everything to me. We’re getting married, he said, his jaw set. Tomorrow, he said.
The older philosopher laughed, making light of it. Five and twenty is too young to marry, he said. The boy is in thrall to a monster, he thought. Aloud he pretended to give in, saying: Menippus, you’ve always had good judgment. I will be at your wedding. Of course I will.
The next morning, the great philosopher arrived at the wedding breakfast. The hall, already crowded with guests, was beautifully decorated, its tables laid with fine silver and golden goblets. Apollonius asked, Where is the dainty bride?
Blushing, Menippus rose and introduced his woman. The guests murmured. She was a fetching piece.
And Apollonius boldly asked, To which of you belongs this lavish display of goblets of gold and sparkling silver, these treasures we see in this hall?
To the lady, Menippus replied. All that I own is on my back. He pointed to his modest philosopher’s cloak.
Summing his powers of persuasion, Apollonius began to talk about perception and reality, saying to the others that all they regarded was not reality but only the semblance of reality. And this fine bride, he said, pointing to the dainty woman, is a vampire, an Empusa. They too fall in love and delight in sex—-but more than anything they are devoted to the flesh of human beings. And they delight in decoying those they mean to feast upon.
As the bride snarled in protest, Apollonius gestured vehemently at the finery. As he did so, the glittering show of fine silver and gold became as light as Greek air, and fluttered away. As the philosopher continued his rebuke, the wine-pourers and the cooks for the wedding feast, the musicians and the sandal slaves, began to turn translucent, until at length they too vanished.
After he’d ripped away the veil of illusion, the bride-to-be begged the great philosopher to cease the torture. She broke down, admitting to her true state as a vampire.
Menippus, now aware, watched and listened in shock. Yes, she confessed, I was fattening up my lover with pleasures of the body. Then I planned to devour him at leisure. I need young and beautiful bodies whose blood is pure and strong. I need them to live!
In that dramatic fashion, the great philosopher Apollonius saved his follower from the clutches of a powerful Empusa. And the eerie tale of how he caught and overcame a empusan vampire was told and retold for centuries.
• Excerpted and expanded from an entry in How to Mellify a Corpse.