Tuesday, February 23, 2010
"On the Chewing Dead" – DE MASTICATIONE MORTUORUM
De Masticatione Mortuorum, translated from Latin as “On the Chewing Dead,” is an aged manuscript written in 1679 by Philip Rohr. The 330-year-old text discusses a common fear of the time: that some human corpses were capable of rising from the dead and feasting on the flesh of the living.
The creatures described in Rohr’s book consume the bodies of live humans, not only the blood, differing slightly from the modern conception of the vampire. Nevertheless, De Masticatione Mortuorum has played a vital role in the evolution of the vast vampire mythology canon.
Below, a manuscript excerpt is translated from its original Latin to English.
De Masticatione Mortuorum
[Last line of second page:] Our Common People attempt to avert the danger of chewing by placing under the chins of the dead a portion of recently excavated earth, lest they perhaps open their mouths and chew on the attached bands...
[Continued – full first page:] Others, who do not consider this a sufficiently safe measure, before the mouth of the dead is closed, also place a stone and a coin in the mouth, so that in the event that it begins to chew within the grave, it would find the stone and coin and would abstain from chewing. Which fact was witnessed in its time in a multitude of places in Saxonia by Gabriel Rollenhagen: Book IV Mirab. Peregrinat chapter 20, n. 5 in Kornmann. Among the first to bring to light the latter custom of the people is the Excell. Garm. (de Mirac. Mort. manuscript page 28.). Saying How well these follow Ethnic customs, for the Greeks (δανακήν) used to put a coin in the mouth of the dead, thereby paying Charon on behalf of those who were to cross the Stygian swamp. At this point you might say that these are prophylactic remedies of the common people, by which they think to prevent the evil before it falls upon them. For if they truly chew by the action itself of the dead, someone among us might try to drive a pin into them, but it would be a most unfortunate attempt. For they want the exhumed chewing cadavers to be punished by severing the heads, and for them to be transfixed through the middle of the body with stakes driven into the earth. Such was the fate that befell the above cadavers in the year 1345 and 1603, and lastly in the place mentioned. For such a remedy is indeed least approved by the intelligent, for it is morally, physically and politically evil. Morally inasmuch as one sins against God, who forbids [us] to act prejudicially against the dead; for it is indeed a kind of harm wrought to the dead, when they are exhumed, [avoiding which] the pestilential fluid might be prevented from spreading; one sins against the neighbor, whose reputation begins to decline when, having been dug up out of the grave, he is decapitated and transfixed with a stake. One falls into error, for none can benefit by this exhumation of the cadaver; inasmuch as (which are physical disadvantages) the nearby places may be filled with noxious vapors, and there takes place an increase of pestilence fomented by the Devil itself, who without doubt intends to achieve this end by means of the mastication. For which reason also the Theologians consulted by other experts regarding this evil gave their answers, lest anyone should presume to violate graves, and wanted them preserved intact and the cadavers to be unmolested.
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