Friday October 13, 2017

Spirit apparitions, vampire attacks and other otherworldly happenings

By Joan Milligan

Seasonal search reveals spooky scholarship among rare books: A Benedictine monk's 18th-century treatise on the supernatural.

In honor of Halloween, I went looking in the Rare Books Collection for stories of strange creatures or magic spells. I was in luck. I found a 250-year-old book on spirit apparitions, vampire attacks and other supernatural happenings. Augustin Calmet, a Benedictine monk living in the 18th century, decided to re-examine cases of inexplicable events to determine their legitimacy. His book Dissertations sur les apparitions des anges, des demons & des ésprits was quickly translated into other languages and widely read. Events in the book appeared in Sheridan Le Fanu’s novella Carmilla, which in turn inspired Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula

Translated to English, the title of the tome is Treatise on the Apparitions of Spirits and on Vampires or Revenants of Hungary, Moravia, et al. Ours is a German translation published in 1752. The blackletter type of this edition seems a great fit for the subject matter.

Some chapter titles (in English from Open Library):

This book in the libraries’ catalog

Calmet, Augustin, 1672-1757. Gelehrte Verhandlung der Materi, von Erscheinungen der Geistern, und denen Vampiren in Ungarn, Mahren, &c. Augspurg: M. Rieger, 1752.

Harvard’s French edition online

Calmet, Augustin, 1672-1757. Dissertations sur les apparitions des anges, des démons & des esprits et sur les revenans et vampires de Hongrie, de Boheme, de Moravie & de Silesie … Paris: Chez de Bure l'ainé, 1746.

Photo Captions

Photo of page: Here, author Calmet relates one of the earliest stories of vampires, that of “Petro Plogoiowiss” (more commonly called Petar Blagojevich), a Serb who died in 1725. Within the next eight days, nine more people in the village, young and old, died. As they lay dying, all claimed that Blagojevich had throttled them during the night.

Detail: A close-up image of the word "Vampiren" on page.

Portrait: Antoine Augustin Calmet, O.S.B. (1672 –1757)

— Joan Milligan is a special collections cataloger; photos by Ryan O’Grady, digital projects manager

Photo Gallery

Previous Post

Next Post

Suggested Links

Social Media