Arnont Paule

The Arnont Paule (Arnold Paole or Arnaut Pavle, as you can also find) was the man who brought up the Eighteenth century vampire controversy… Or, how should I say, 99% of the modern vampires are based on his not so sucessfull life.

Arnont was a Serbian hajduk who was believed to have become a vampire after his death, initiating an epidemic of supposed vampirism that killed at least 16 people in his native village of Meduegna, located at the Morava river near the town of Paraćin, Serbia. His case, became famous because of the direct involvement of the Austrian authorities and the documentation by Austrian physicians and officers, who confirmed the reality of vampires. Their report of the case was distributed in Western Europe and contributed to the spread of vampire belief among educated Europeans. The report and its significance for the subsequent Eighteenth century vampire controversy are nowadays explained with the poor understanding of the process of corpse decomposition at the time.

His first outbreak is only known from Flückinger’s report about the second epidemic and its prehistory. According to the account of the Medveđa locals as retold there, Arnold Paole was a hajduk who had moved to the village from the Turkish-controlled part of Serbia. He reportedly often mentioned that he had been plagued by a vampire at a location named Gossowa (perhaps Kosovo), but that he had cured himself by eating soil from the vampire’s grave and smearing himself with his blood. About 1725, he broke his neck (stupid.) in a fall from a haywagon. Within 20 or 30 days after Paole’s death, four persons complained that they had been plagued by him. These people all died shortly thereafter. Ten days later, villagers, advised by their hadnack (a military/administrative title) who had witnessed such events before, opened his grave. They saw that the corpse was undecomposed “and that fresh blood had flowed from his eyes, nose, mouth, and ears; that the shirt, the covering, and the coffin were completely bloody; that the old nails on his hands and feet, along with the skin, had fallen off, and that new ones had grown”. Concluding that Paole was indeed a vampire, they drove a stake through his heart, to which he reacted by groaning and bleeding, and burned the body. They then disinterred Paole’s four supposed victims and performed the same procedure, to prevent them from becoming vampires.

About 5 years later, in the winter of 1731, a new epidemic occurred, with more than ten people dying within several weeks, some of them in just two or three days without any previous illness. The numbers and the age of the deceased vary somewhat between the two main sources.

Glaser’s report on the case states that by 12 December, 13 people had died in the course of 6 weeks. Glaser names the following victims (here rearranged chronologically): Miliza (Serbian Milica, a 50-year-old woman); Milloi (Serbian Miloje, a 14-year-old boy); Joachim (a 15-year-old boy); Petter (Serbian Petar, a 15-day-old boy); Stanno (Serbian Stana, a 20-year-old woman) as well as her newborn child, which Glaser notes was buried “behind a fence, where the mother had lived” due to not having lived long enough to be baptized; Wutschiza (Serbian Vučica, a 9-year-old boy), Milosova (Serbian Milošova, actually “Miloš’s wife”, a 30-year-old wife of a hajduk), Radi (Serbian Rade, a twenty-four-year-old man), and Ruschiza (Serbian Ružica, a forty-year-old woman). The sick had complained of stabs in the sides and pain in the chest, prolonged fever and jerks of the limbs. Glaser reports that the locals considered Milica and Stana to have started the vampirism epidemic. According to his retelling, Milica had come to the village from Ottoman-controlled territories six years before. The locals’ testimony indicated that she had always been a good neighbour and that, to the best of their knowledge, she had never “believed or practiced something diabolic”. However, she had once mentioned to them that, while still in Ottoman lands, she had eaten two sheep that had been killed by vampires. Stana, on the other hand, had admitted that when she was in Ottoman-controlled lands, she had smeared herself with vampire blood as a protection against vampires (as these had been very active there). According to local belief, both things would cause the women to become vampires after death.

According to Flückinger’s report, by the 7th of January, seventeen people had died within a period of three months (the last two of these apparently after Glaser’s visit. He mentions Miliza, an unnamed 8 year old child; Milloe, Stana (a 20-year-old woman, died in childbirth after a three-day illness, reportedly said that she had smeared herself with vampire blood) as well as her stillborn child (as Flückinger observes, “half-eaten by the dogs due to a slovenly burial”), an unnamed 10-year-old girl, Joachim, the hadnack’s unnamed wife, Ruscha, Staniko, Miloe, Ruscha’s child (18 days old), Rhade, the local standard-bearer’s unnamed wife, apparently identical to Milošova in the other report along with her child, the 8-week old child of the hadnack and Stanoicka.  According to her father-in-law Joviza (Jovica), Stanoicka had gone to bed healthy 15 days previous, but had woken up at midnight in terrible fear and cried that she had been throttled by the late Miloe. Flückinger states that the locals explain the new epidemic with the fact that Miliza, the first to die, had eaten the meat of sheep that the “previous vampires” (i.e. Paole and his victims from five years prior) had killed. He also mentions, in passing, the claims that Stana, before her death, had admitted having smeared herself with blood to protect herself from vampires and would therefore become a vampire herself, as would her child.

The villagers complained of the new deaths to Lieutenant Colonel Schnezzer, the Austrian military commander in charge of the administration. The latter, fearing an epidemic of pestilence, sent for Imperial Contagions-Medicus Glaser stationed in the nearby town of Paraćin. On 12 December 1731, Glaser examined the villagers and their houses. He failed to find any signs of a contagious malady and blamed the deaths on the malnutrition common in the region as well as the unhealthy effects of the severe Eastern Orthodox fasting. However, the villagers insisted that the illnesses were caused by vampires. At the moment, two or three households were gathering together at night, with some asleep and others on the watch. They were convinced that the deaths wouldn’t stop unless the vampires were executed by the authorities, and threatened to abandon the village in order to save their lives if that wasn’t done. Failing Glaser consented to the exhumation of some of the deceased. To his surprise, he found that most of them were not decomposed and many were swollen and had blood in their mouths, while several others who had died more recently were rather decomposed. Glaser outlined his findings in a report to the Jagodina commandant’s office, recommending that the authorities should pacify the population by fulfilling its request to “execute” the vampires. Schnezzer furthered Glaser’s report to the Supreme Command in Belgrade (the city was then held by Austrian forces). The vice-commandant, Botta d’Adorno, sent a second commission to investigate the case.

The new commission included a military surgeon, Johann Flückinger, two officers, lieutenant colonel Büttner and J.H. von Lindenfels, along with two other military surgeons, Siegele and Johann Friedrich Baumgarten. On the 7th of January, together with the village elders and some local Gypsies, they opened the graves of the deceased. Their findings were similar to Glaser’s, although their report contains much more anatomical detail. The commission established that, while five of the corpses (the hadnack’s wife and child, Rade, and the standard-bearer’s wife and child) were decomposed, the remaining twelve were “quite complete and undecayed” and exhibited the traits that were commonly associated with vampirism. Their chests and in some cases other organs were filled with fresh (rather than coagulated) blood; the viscera were estimated to be “in good condition”; various corpses looked plump and their skin had a “red and vivid” (rather than pale) colour; and in several cases, “the skin on hands and feet, along with the old nails, fell away on their own, but on the other hand completely new nails were evident, along with a fresh and vivid skin”. In the case of Miliza, the hajduks who witnessed the dissection were very surprised at her plumpness, stating that they had known her well, from her youth, and that she had always been very “lean and dried-up”; it was only in the grave she had attained this plumpness. The surgeons summarized all these phenomena by stating that the bodies were in “the vampiric condition” (das Vampyrenstand, german). After the examination had been completed, the Gypsies cut off the heads of the supposed vampires and burned both their heads and their bodies, the ashes being thrown in the Morava river. The decomposed bodies were laid back into their graves. The report is dated 26th of January 1732, Belgrade, and bears the signatures of the five officers involved.

On the 13th of February, Glaser’s father, Viennese doctor Johann Friedrich Glaser, who was also a correspondent of the Nuremberg journal Commercium Litterarium, sent its editors a letter describing the entire case as his son had written to him about it already on the 18th of January. The story aroused great interest. After that, both reports (especially Flückinger’s more detailed version) and the letter were reprinted in a number of articles and treatises.

So, in the end, Arnont Paule brought uo the “Vampirism” Pathology Theory. Where people sometimes suspected vampirism when a cadaver did not look as they thought a normal corpse should when disinterred. However, rates of decomposition vary depending on temperature and soil composition, and many of the signs are little known. This has led vampire hunters to mistakenly conclude that a dead body had not decomposed at all, or, ironically, to interpret signs of decomposition as signs of continued life. Corpses swell as gases from decomposition accumulate in the torso and the increased pressure forces blood to ooze from the nose and mouth. This causes the body to look “plump,” “well-fed,” and “ruddy”, changes that are all the more striking if the person was pale or thin in life. Darkening of the skin is also caused by decomposition. The staking of a swollen, decomposing body could cause the body to bleed and force the accumulated gases to escape the body. This could produce a groan-like sound when the gases moved past the vocal cords, or a sound reminiscent of flatulence when they passed through the anus. After death, the skin and gums lose fluids and contract, exposing the roots of the hair, nails, and teeth, even teeth that were concealed in the jaw. This can produce the illusion that the hair, nails, and teeth have grown. At a certain stage, the nails fall off and the skin peels away, the dermis and nail beds emerging underneath could be interpreted as “new skin” and “new nails”. Folkloric vampirism has been associated with clusters of deaths from unidentifiable or mysterious illnesses, usually within the same family or the same small community. The epidemic allusion is obvious in the classical cases and in the vampire beliefs of New England generally, where a specific disease, tuberculosis, was associated with outbreaks of vampirism. As with the pneumonic form of bubonic plague, it was associated with breakdown of lung tissue which would cause blood to appear at the lips.

Nowadays we know that Arnont Paule, Glaser, Flückinger and the Eighteenth Century Vampire Controversy were wrong, and that all those symptoms are caused by decomposition. All of the phenomena described are normal characteristics of corpses at certain stages. Ruddiness is common, non-coagulated blood is often present and may be seen escaping from the orifices, and both nails and the outer layers of the skin peel off.

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