Rousseau and the
Vampires: Toward a Political
Philosophy of the Undead
Vampires have not always been works of fiction. At the start of the eighteenth century, reports came out of eastern Europe about plagues of vampires—the dead were rising from their graves in vast numbers to inflict terror and death upon the living. These epidemics began around 1670 and ended around 1770, throughout what was then the Hungarian Empire. The best source of information is the official reports written by representatives of political and religious powers sent to the regions afflicted by these outbreaks of “revenants,” as the Undead were called, to discover what was really going on.
One especially notorious case was that of Arnold Paole, a peasant who died in 1726, the subject of an official report published in 1732.1 According to that report Paole returned from the dead and tormented the people of the village of Medvegia, causing the death of four of them. The villagers decided to disinter his body, which they did forty days after his death. The report reads: “His flesh was not decomposed, his eyes were filled with fresh blood, which also flowed from his ears and nose…. His fingernails and toenails had dropped off, as had his skin, and others had grown in their place, from which it was concluded he was an arch-vampire.” The report continues that the villagers decided to drive a stake through his heart. As this was done,
1 Christopher Frayling, Vampyres: Lord Byron to Count Dracula (London: Faber and Faber, 1991), pp. 20–22.