Lord Byron’s “The Giaour-A Fragment of a Turkish Tale”[1] is a poem centralizing around the idea of “non-believers.” A giaour is defined as a “non-Muslin”, but its connotation has a much more negative meaning.[2] “Giaour” is used as an offensive term as one is punished in the poem by becoming a vampire in his next life. The fact that becoming a vampire serves as a punishment demonstrates the negativity associated with vampires and that the lives they live are filled with eternal loneliness and murder. It reveals the views that the Turkish had on non-Muslims and the ways that they wished to punish them.

The poem begins with the narrator cursing the protagonist to be sent to Monkir. In Islamic culture, Monkir or Munkar along with Nakir are angels that are said to ask three questions and the answers of the dead determine their place in the afterlife.[3] The narrator tells the protagonist he will be in a fire “unquenchable” and in Hell. He will be sentenced to become a vampire in his next life, to eternally haunt his native land and murder to drink the blood of his family members. The poem ends with the narrator sending the protagonist off to be with Gouls and Afrits, which are demons in Islamic culture. To the Islam culture, becoming a vampire in the next life is Hell itself. It is a stage in the condemning of a non-believer. 

The vampiric elements of this poem by Lord Byron are chilling and haunting to say the least. The first instance of this is the word "unquenched", which means a desire to satisfy one's urging thirst. The term invokes imagery of desperation, as if the vampire described in this tale wants nothing more than to drink from the blood of a corpse. This is further pictured in the line "And suck the blood of all thy race", which describes the unrelenting need to feast on members of the human race. another typical vampire trait that is mentioned in this text is the well-known resting place of such monsters: a coffin/tomb. One line in Byron's work reads, "Thy corpse shall from its tomb be rent". In this passage, the term "corse" refers to a dead body or corpse.[4] The phrase "from its tomb be rent" likely refers to the vacancy that is created when the living corpse exits its burial place, and resumes its dwelling among the living. The living quarters of vampires has been described in many ways, from giant castles to town churches, but the common trend always seems to be that the dead prefer to rest in some sort of coffin. Robin Scher from Van Winkle's believes that the reason for this is that coffins are air-tight, and provide great protection from light sources that could harm the creature[5]. Finally, a major element of vampire culture that is depicted in this poem is the brutal killing of a beautiful woman with gorgeous features by a bite to the neck/face area. This kind of attack can be seen in countless movies involving vampires, such as a certain scene from the 1992 film "Bram Stoker's Dracula".[6] Another detailed depiction of the classic bite can be seen in the 1931 film "Dracula", where we see the count leaning in to feast on a woman's neck.[7] These classic vampire traits are visible in this early work by Lord Byron himself, and they are expanded upon in many itterations of the monster throughout history. 

Byron claims that he heard the story the poem “by accident recited by one of the coffee-house story tellers who abound in the Levant.[8] He is noted to be one of the first authors to speak of vampires.[9] It is also believed that Edgar Allan Poe was inspired by Byron’s poem to write his famous poem “Tamerlane,” in which the style and approach resemble that of Byron’s.

  1. "The Giaour-A Fragment of a Turkish Tale"
  9. "The Poet, the Physician and the Birth of the Modern Vampire"

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