Most of us know vampires from Hollywood and, of course, the 19th Century Gothic horror novel “Dracula” by Bram Stoker. They are blood-thirsty people (or creatures) of the night. They are called “the undead” and they are still very feared in the Balkans and in Eastern Europe. Vampires are often depicted as being pale, aristocratic, and charming. Sometimes, they resemble frightening monsters. They always seek blood but, in certain occasions, they consume people’s energy and are therefore called energy vampires. All of them fear the sunlight, garlic, and certain metals. +What if I told you that ancient Greeks believed in vampires as well?
The Modern Greek “Vrykolakas”
The modern Greek vampire is called “vrykolakas”. A vrykolakas is an undead creature that resembles a zombie (at least in the way they are portrayed in Hollywood movies). They drink blood but they have cravings for flesh as well. According to legend, these supernatural beings were once humans. These people either got excommunicated by the Orthodox Church or followed a sinful lifestyle. After their death, they turn into horrific creatures that leave their tombs at night and scare or even hunt the living.
The fear of the vrykolakas spread among Greeks when the latter encountered some Slavic groups in the Balkan region. In fact, as many of you might already know, vampires are very popular among the Slavs. In Greece, the fear of the vrykolakas soon faded away and most Greeks are aware of vampires thanks to Stoker’s “Dracula”. What most people do not know is that stories of vampire-like creatures are way older than the Irish writer’s book and the 17th-century folklore.
Vampires in Ancient Greece | Ancient Greek Vampires
Ancient Greeks are known for being imaginative and creative when it comes to storytelling. If you have watched Helinika’s video series narrating Homer’s “Odyssey”, then you should remember that Odysseus had to perform a ritual to be able to talk to the souls of the dead in Hades. This ritual involved sacrificing an animal and offering its blood to the souls. It is clear that Ancient Greeks believed that the dead were thirsty for blood; thirsty for anything that keeps the human body alive.
This belief seemed to have led some ancient Greek cities to take protective measures when burying their dead. Neolithic graves discovered in Choirokoitia in Cyprus indicate that people were trying to stop the dead from exiting their graves. They would place rocks on the dead bodies’ chests, making sure that they would not escape during the night. Similar burial sites were found in other places across Greece.
Apart from these findings, ancient Greek mythology includes many stories of undead creatures that targeted people – especially at night. Empusa and Lamia were two vampiric monsters in ancient Greek folklore. Their origins are not clear; some believed they were the angry ghosts of two dead women, while other said that they were demons.
Embusa and Lamia would take the forms of beautiful women to attract young, energetic men who wandered alone at night. With their charming beauty, they would lure them into dark alleys and fields. There, they would attack these men, drinking their blood and sometimes eating their flesh.
A similar legend is the one of Mormolyceia or Mormo. A female ghost who targeted babies and young children instead. During the Byzantine times, Mormo and Lamia were considered to be the same supernatural being. In fact, it is believed that the original story of Lamia described her as a ghost that targeted infants.
According to the legend, Lamia was a Libyan queen who (unsurprisingly) became Zeus’ lover. Hera, Zeus’ sister and wife, started to harass the woman by abducting and killing her children as soon as they were born. Lamia became so enraged that started targeting other people’s babies. Ancient Greek women would often mention Lamia when their children were misbehaving to make sure that they don’t sneak out of their beds at night. Similar stories were told in other ancient communities around the globe.
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Marialena Perpiraki is a journalist and writer from Athens, Greece. In 2020, she founded Helinika as a cross-media platform.
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