The classic Transylvanian-style vampire—male, nocturnal, fanged—is really a product of folklore and gothic horror after the middle ages (with garlic, mirrors, crosses and stakes coming at various times from various places). But human blood-eating creatures of pleasure were present in ancient folktales as well. They are not prominent, but the Lamia and the Empousa, both female creatures of death who live off the life-force of the young, are attested as early as the 5th century BCE. Our best references, however, come from later antiquity. For ease, I am just going to translate them both as ‘vampire’. (There will be a second post about Lamia.) Here are some facts about Empousa.
Vampires live in the East. They can be Frightened off with mockery.
Eusebius, Contra Hieroclem 382.11 4th Century CE
“These things are from the first book. Let us move on to the material in the second. The story picks up and follows the journey from Persia to India—there, they experienced something surprising—he says that [Apollodorus] saw something paranormal, what he calls a vampire [empousa], on the road and that they drove it away with mockery”
Καὶ ταῦτα μὲν ἀπὸ τοῦ πρώτου συγγράμματος, ἐπίωμεν δὲ καὶ τὰ ἐκ τοῦ δευτέρου. τὴν ἀπὸ Περσίδος ἐπ᾿ Ἰνδοὺς πορείαν ἄγει παραλαβὼν αὐτὸν ὁ λόγος. εἶτά τι πεπονθὼς ἀπειρόκαλον, ὥσπερ τι παράδοξον, δαιμόνιόν τι, ὃ καὶ ἔμπουσαν ὀνομάζει, κατὰ τὴν ὁδὸν ἰδόντα λοιδορίαις ἅμα τοῖς ἀμφ᾿ αὐτὸν ἀπελάσαι φησί,
Vampires are Shapeshifters
Philostratus, Apollonius of Tyana II, 4 2nd Century CE
“After they went over the Caucasus they saw people who were four-lengths tall and who already dark-skinned. Once they crossed the river into India, they saw others who were five lengths tall. In the journey up to this river, I have picked out these things as worthy of investigation. For they were traveling in the clear moonlight when a phantom of a vampire [empousa] met them, changing into this scary thing and then another and then nothing! Apollonius understood what thing it was and mocked the vampire himself and ordered his companions—for this is the response to this kind of attack. The apparition went into flight like a ghost.”
Παραμείψαντες δὲ τὸν Καύκασον τετραπήχεις ἀνθρώπους ἰδεῖν φασιν, οὓς ἤδη μελαίνεσθαι, καὶ πεντεπήχεις δὲ ἑτέρους ὑπὲρ τὸν Ἰνδὸν ποταμὸν ἐλθόντες. ἐν δὲ τῇ μέχρι τοῦ ποταμοῦ τούτου ὁδοιπορίᾳ τάδε εὗρον ἀφηγήσεως ἄξια· ἐπορεύοντο μὲν γὰρ ἐν σελήνῃ λαμπρᾷ, φάσμα δὲ αὐτοῖς ἐμπούσης ἐνέπεσε τὸ δεῖνα γινομένη καὶ τὸ δεῖνα αὖ καὶ οὐδὲν εἶναι, ὁ δὲ Ἀπολλώνιος ξυνῆκεν, ὅ τι εἴη, καὶ αὐτός τε ἐλοιδορεῖτο τῇ ἐμπούσῃ, τοῖς τε ἀμφ᾿ αὑτὸν προσέταξε ταὐτὸ πράττειν, τουτὶ γὰρ ἄκος εἶναι τῆς προσβολῆς ταύτης· καὶ τὸ φάσμα φυγῇ ᾤχετο τετριγός ὥσπερ τὰ εἴδωλα.
Vampires like to eat the young (their blood is better)
4.5-6 “She said “be quiet and go away” and seemed to be disgusted at what she heard. And, I think, she was mocking philosophers for always talking nonsense. When, afterward, the golden bowls and what seemed to be silver was shown to be unreal—when everything flew from our eyes as the cup-bearers, the cooks, and every kind of servant disappeared as they were cross-examined by Apollonios—then the apparition seemed to be crying and was pleading that he not test her or compel her to agree what kind of thing she was. But when Apollonius laid on the pressure, she confessed that she was a vampire [empousa] who had been fattening Menippus with delights to eat on his body since she typically ate fine young bodies because their blood was more vital.
I have drawn out this tale, which happens to be the best known concerning Apollonius, out of necessity—most know that it occurred somewhere in the middle of Greece, but they have acquired only a summary account of how he once trapped a Lamia in Korinth. They don’t know what she was doing and that it was for Melanippus. The story is told by Damis and now by me from his records.”
Ἡ δὲ “εὐφήμει” ἔλεγε “καὶ ἄπαγε,” καὶ μυσάττεσθαι ἐδόκει, ἃ ἤκουε, καί που καὶ ἀπέσκωπτε τοὺς φιλοσόφους, ὡς ἀεὶ ληροῦντας. ἐπεὶ μέντοι τὰ ἐκπώματα τὰ χρυσᾶ καὶ ὁ δοκῶν ἄργυρος ἀνεμιαῖα ἠλέγχθη, καὶ διέπτη τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν ἅπαντα, οἰνοχόοι τε καὶ ὀψοποιοὶ καὶ ἡ τοιαύτη θεραπεία πᾶσα ἠφανίσθησαν, ἐλεγχόμενοι ὑπὸ τοῦ Ἀπολλωνίου, δακρύοντι ἐῴκει τὸ φάσμα καὶ ἐδεῖτο μὴ βασανίζειν αὐτό, μηδὲ ἀναγκάζειν ὁμολογεῖν, ὅ τι εἴη, ἐπικειμένου δὲ καὶ μὴ ἀνιέντος ἔμπουσά τε εἶναι ἔφη καὶ πιαίνειν ἡδοναῖς τὸν Μένιππον ἐς βρῶσιν τοῦ σώματος, τὰ γὰρ καλὰ τῶν σωμάτων καὶ νέα σιτεῖσθαι ἐνόμιζεν, ἐπειδὴ ἀκραιφνὲς αὐτοῖς τὸ αἷμα.
Τοῦτον τὸν λόγον γνωριμώτατον τῶν Ἀπολλωνίου τυγχάνοντα ἐξ ἀνάγκης ἐμήκυνα, γιγνώσκουσι μὲν γὰρ πλείους αὐτόν, ἅτε καθ᾿ Ἑλλάδα μέσην πραχθέντα, ξυλλήβδην δὲ αὐτὸν παρειλήφασιν, ὅτι ἕλοι ποτὲ ἐν Κορίνθῳ λάμιαν, ὅ τι μέντοι πράττουσαν καὶ ὅτι ὑπὲρ Μενίππου, οὔπω γιγνώσκουσιν, ἀλλὰ Δάμιδί τε καὶ ἐκ τῶν ἐκείνου λόγων ἐμοὶ εἴρηται.
Vampires like to have sex with mortals and then eat them
4.4 “What I was saying is that this woman is one of the vampires [empousai], whom most people think are the same as Lamiae or werewolves. Vampires feel desire, but they long for human sex and flesh most of all. They use sex to catch the ones they want to eat.”
ὃ λέγω, ἡ χρηστὴ νύμφη μία τῶν ἐμπουσῶν ἐστιν, ἃς λαμίας τε καὶ μορμολυκεῖα οἱ πολλοὶ ἡγοῦνται. ἐρῶσι δ᾿ αὗται καὶ ἀφροδισίων μέν, σαρκῶν δὲ μάλιστα ἀνθρωπείων ἐρῶσι καὶ παλεύουσι τοῖς ἀφροδισίοις, οὓς ἂν ἐθέλωσι δαίσασθαι.”
7.29 “King, would someone who is covetous enough of honor to appear to be a sorcerer seem to credit to a god what he had done himself? What awestruck audiences for his skill would there be if he were to hand the wonder to a god? What kind of a sorcerer would pray to Herakles? These wicked devils credit their kinds of acts to ditches and underworld gods from whom Herakles must be separated since he is cleansed and it good to people. I prayed to him at some point in the Peloponnese for there was some apparition of a vampire [lamia] there too eating the fine forms of young men….”
“Τίς ἂν οὖν σοι, βασιλεῦ, δοκεῖ φιλοτιμούμενος γόης φαίνεσθαι θεῷ ἀναθεῖναι, ὃ αὐτὸς εἴργαστο; τίνας δ᾿ ἂν κτήσασθαι θαυμαστὰς τῆς τέχνης θεῷ παρεὶς τὸ θαυμάζεσθαι; τίς δ᾿ ἂν Ἡρακλεῖ εὔξασθαι γόης ὤν; τὰ γὰρ τοιαῦτα οἱ κακοδαίμονες βόθροις ἀνατιθέασι καὶ χθονίοις θεοῖς, ὧν τὸν Ἡρακλέα ἀποτακτέον, καθαρὸς γὰρ καὶ τοῖς ἀνθρώποις εὔνους. ηὐξάμην αὐτῷ καὶ ἐν Πελοποννήσῳ ποτέ, λαμίας γάρ τι φάσμα κἀκεῖ περὶ τὴν Κόρινθον ἤλυε σιτούμενον τῶν νέων τοὺς καλούς…”
Suda, Epsilon 1049 [=Hesychius in the beginning]
Empousa: A devilish apparition sent by Hekate and appearing to the unlucky. It seems to take on many different forms. In the Frogs, Aristophanes [mentions this]. The name Empousa comes from that fact that it goes on one leg [hen podizein]—for people think that the other one is bronze. Or, because she used to appear [eph-aineto] to the those initiated in the mysteries [muomenois]. She was also named Oinopôlê. But some say that she changed her form [to get this name]. She seems to appear in the middle of the day as people offer sacrifices to those who have died. Others claim that she is Hekate. There is also the name Onokôle because she has a donkey leg which they refer to as bolitinon because that is donkey-manure. Bolitos is the specific name for donkey feces.
Ἔμπουσα: φάντασμα δαιμονιῶδες ὑπὸ τῆς Ἑκάτης ἐπιπεμπόμενον καὶ φαινόμενον τοῖς δυστυχοῦσιν. ὃ δοκεῖ πολλὰς μορφὰς ἀλλάσσειν. Ἀριστοφάνης Βατράχοις. Ἔμπουσα δὲ παρὰ τὸ ἑνὶ ποδίζειν, ἤγουν τοῦ τὸν ἕτερον πόδα χαλκοῦν ἔχειν. ἢ ὅτι ἀπὸ σκοτεινῶν τόπων ἐφαίνετο τοῖς μυουμένοις. ἐκαλεῖτο δὲ αὕτη καὶ Οἰνοπώλη. οἱ δέ, ὅτι ἐξηλλάττετο τὴν μορφήν. δοκεῖ δὲ καὶ ταῖς μεσημβρίαις φαντάζεσθαι, ὅταν τοῖς κατοιχομένοις ἐναγίζωσιν. ἔνιοι δὲ τὴν αὐτὴν τῇ Ἑκάτῃ. Ὀνοκώλη δέ, ὅτι ὄνου πόδα ἔχει: ὃ λέγουσι βολίτινον, τουτέστιν ὄνειον. βόλιτος γὰρ κυρίως τῶν ὄνων τὸ ἀποπάτημα.
Cf. Aristoph. Frogs 285-295; Assemblywomen 1056.
Beekes on the uncertain etymology of both Empousa and Lamia:
Lamia is associated more frequently with attacking children. This, of course, merits a separate post.
We get by with a little help from our friends
5 thoughts on “Ancient Greek Vampires 1: Empousa”
Nice. I sure enjoyed reading this especially since I was born in Transylvania. I teach a course at Iowa State University called World Food Issues, Past and Present and, while it is not part of my course, I am planning to present a short lecture on food and vampires on Halloween. May I use some examples from this blog post? Obviously, I will give you credit. I might even have some students that would enjoy your blogs. Thank you, Sandy Andrews
Absolutely use them, I hope that people will find this material useful. And let me know what students think. Thanks!
Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.
It feels important to note that these classes of threat may correspond, metaphorically, to confidently identified categories of social pathology. With vampirism it’s typically narcissism that is being represented (apparently).
That’s just a personal observation, and I’m not saying it’s unquestionable–but more generally there are neglected themes in the ‘wisdom literature’, such as the warnings against hypocrisy and hypocrites, which seem to be vain attempts to pass on insight about destructive personality disorders.