Who was the real Count Dracula?

Blood: Symbol of Life
Cannibalism is associated with madness in the modern, developed world. German Armin Meiwes was convicted of manslaughter for killing and eating another, willing human.
Cannibalism is associated with madness in the modern, developed world. German Armin Meiwes was convicted of manslaughter for killing and eating another, willing human.
Uwe Zucchi/AFP/Getty Images

Most Christians wouldn't infer vampirism from the story of the Last Supper. Christ offers the chalice containing wine to signify his blood to his disciples and directs them to drink it. But there is a parallel between the Eucharist and vampire legends: Both suggest that the consumption of blood is an act of obtaining vitality.

Christ told his disciples he'd shed his blood for their forgiveness. By drinking it, they were taking part in his everlasting divinity. Similarly, through ingesting the blood of others, vampires of lore may live eternally here on Earth.

According to some sources, blood is also reputed for its mythic ability to maintain beauty. When Bram Stoker's fictional Dracula fed on blood, his appearance reverted to a handsome, youthful version of himself. The 16th-century Hungarian countess Elizabeth Bathory is said to have used the blood of her murdered victims to promote her skin's health. Some Renaissance-era women believed applying the blood of doves to their skin could maintain beauty [source: McNally]. And even today, some women apply rouge or pinch their cheeks to create the appearance of a healthy flush.

Anthropophagy (cannibalism) is another example of the symbolic (and literal) vitality derived from eating the flesh or drinking the blood of others. Through cannibalism, symbolic vitality generally comes from two sources: kin and the vanquished. Endocannibalism refers to eating the flesh of a member of one's group. In some cultures, eating the flesh of a relative serves as a way of carrying on the line of ancestors [source: Goldman]. Exocannibalism is eating the flesh of one outside the eater's group, like a conquered foe. Tepes committed exocannibalism in one account when he ingested the blood of captured Turks, although there's no evidence he believed he gained any tangible power from the act. Rather, he ate blood-dipped bread from a bowl as a signal of what the future held in store for the Turks [source: West Grey Times].

Instances of nonritual cannibalism also produce vitality. Perhaps the most famous case of cannibalism took place in 1972, when an airplane carrying the Uruguayan national soccer team crashed in the Andes Mountains. Several members were left alive and resorted to cannibalizing their dead teammates to survive for more than two months [source: Walton].

It appears our ancestors took some time to develop mores -- cultural restrictions -- against cannibalism. Evidence of anthropophagy as recent as around A.D. 1100 has been uncovered at Anasazi settlements in the Southwestern United States [source: Melmer]. And genetic researchers have found a gene variant spread among humans throughout the world that suggests we descended from cannibals [source: BBC].

Vampire legends, then, may be allegories for real-life monsters -- perhaps like Vlad Tepes -- that have refused to honor the sacred taboo against consuming the vitality of other humans

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