Dracula: Bloodthirsty Tyrant or Great Ruler? Pictures, Pamphlets, Legends

Stephen Reinert (History)

The historic Wallachian prince Vlad III Dracula (1448, 1456-1462, 1476) was not viewed by his contemporaries as an elegant, aristocratic vampire — foreshadowing the iconic performances of Bela Lugosi on stage and in film.  Contemporaries indeed had their views about Vlad ... and these were shaped and developed in quite remarkable ways from the mid-1460s into the 17th century. But a vampire he was not! In Germany and western Europe, Dracula comes to be typecast as the most evil, bloodthirsty tyrant ever known in the annals of human history. But in eastern eyes, especially those of Greeks at the court of the Ottoman sultan Mehmed “the Conqueror,” and Russians in the retinue of Grand Prince Ivan IV “the Terrible,” Vlad Dracula was indeed harsh, but his violence and brutality had a moral dimension which elevated him to the stature of a “great ruler.” In this course we will research how these competing imageries evolved, and carefully identify the evidence we have at our disposal to understand these evolutions — ranging from early printed pamphlets, to portraits and cryptoportraits, to humanist histories, to post-Byzantine and Ottoman historical texts, to old Slavic tales and legends. Our focus on the early printed pamphlet will involve a field trip to the Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia, to study up close the earliest German pamphlet vilifying Prince Dracula, and explore the nature of the earliest printed books and how they survive to the present.