I've heard the rabies creates some vampire-like symptoms, such as fear of water, photosensitivity, and an urge to bite.

Is rabies the origin of what we commonly now refer to as "vampires"?

  • 1
    I remember an 'X-Files' episode that blamed it on Porphyria.
    – Oliver_C
    Apr 13 '11 at 14:16

The first thing I did was look up just how old and widespread the disease of Rabies is, to figure out if it's even reasonable for the myth to originate from it. According to a paper titled Rabies in Byzantine Medicine it's a terribly old disease that has been around for thousands of years:

Known for at least 4,000 years in the Middle East, the disease spread into Asia and Europe. Rabies was present in Greece Homer's time (c. 800 B.C.), and Xenophon's in the early fourth century B.C., and it's described by Aristotele in Historia animalium, as well as by various other Greek writers.

So there's no shortcut to figuring this one out. It's also incredibly hard to research, because there's a ton of noise (vampire bats have rabies, fan fiction and all kinds of stuff) and a lot of the papers are paywalled without conclusions in their abstracts.

In a book titled The monster with a thousand faces: guises of the vampire in myth and literature the origins of the vampire myth is discussed.

By many names, and in a host of disparate guises, the vampire has been known to men of all nations throughout history. Indeed so immeasurable ancient is this polymorphic phenomenon that its origins can be traced back through all the ages of which there are records preserved, until they become lost in twilight of tradition and fable.

The book carries on to say vampires have been recorded down the Babylonians:

By the beginning of the historical era the vampire was a well-established denizen of the demon world, appearing in a variety of guises. Records left by the ancient Assyrians and Babylonians confirm that vampirish demons were a great menace to the people of those times. The most feared of all were the Seven Spirits, a consortium of tyrannical, blood-quaffing demon-gods who rampaged throughout the countryside causing havoc. A modern translation of cuneiform inscriptions describes them in the following colorful manner:

They range against mankind:

They spill blood like rain,

Devouring their flesh (and) sucking their veins.

The book the continues on to talk about occurances in the Hebrew Bible of Nergal a vampire, Nordic mythology and Greek history, but I'll spare you more block quotes.

Further there was a conference in 2004 on named Vampires: Myths and Metaphors of Enduring Evil that digested some of the littrature. One of the papers presented in the conference titled Vampire Dogs and Marsupial Hyenas: Fear, Myth and the Tasmanian Tiger’s Extinction talks about how there used to be a myth in Australia that the Tasmanian tiger is a vampire, it also offers a helpful quotation of a book titled The Vampire in Europe: True Tales of the Undead:

In tracing the origins of the European versions of these stories back to classical Greece and Rome, Montague Summers remarks that “often in modern accounts and Slav superstition it is difficult to distinguish the werewolf from the vampire.” Suffice to say that as sources of fear and anxiety in most folkloric traditions, the werewolf and the vampire are often closely allied.

Having scoured over a pile of research I think the only conclusion we can draw is that we don't know where the idea of vampires come from. It seem like something many different cultures around the world have believed in, in one way or another, since ancient times. It is - much like the ancient history of my home country - obscured by folk lore and myth.


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