A few days ago I found myself deeply involved in a casual conversation with my friends about legends and myths, and how people are more inclined to believe in such stories, rather than disregard them as ‘faux and ridiculous’. According to my Longman dictionary, a legend is ‘an old, well-known story, often about brave people, adventures, or magical events‘. But how exactly do we figure out the amount of truth in such legends? Especially since they’ve been passed around by word of mouth for centuries and there are few contemporary elements in position to sustain these allegations.
Legends and myths play a far too important role in today’s society, which is quite surprising. We supposedly live in the ‘era of technology’, with far more research possibilities than our ancestors had, yet we won’t let go of the hope that the delightful stories told by travel guides whenever we visit someplace new, are somehow real.
Let’s take for example, Romania, my home country. Tucked away in the Eastern part of Europe, this medium-sized country has a lot to be known and praised for, like a concentric disposition of all landforms or the Danube Delta. But whenever I happen to ask a foreigner about his knowledge of Romania, all I get is ‘Where Dracula’s legend originates from, is it?’. Therefore, I have decided to clear up the confusion around this particular legendary character and set the facts straight, even if that means disappointing some amateurs.
Dracula, the vampire that supposedly lived in Bran Castle, in the immediate vicinity of Brașov, is often mistaken by Vlad Țepeș (Vlad the Impaler), a three time Voivode of Wallachia, ruling in 1448, 1456-1462 and 1476, when he was killed following a plot of the great boyars. Vlad was the son of Vlad II Dracul, also a Voivode of Wallachia who bravely fought alongside Iancu of Hunedoara in order to regain the Giurgiu fortress from the Ottomans.
The father’s name, Dracul, is in no way related or a synonym for the Dracula term. In 1431, Vlad II was inducted as a member of the Order of the Dragon, a chivalric order. Even if in modern Romania, the term ‘drac’ means devil , back then it was a derivation of the word ‘dragon’. This word has roots in the Latin word ‘draco’, and ‘-ul’ is the suffixal definite article, meaning Vlad II the Devil. Because either the population did not know about the real meaning of the word ‘dracul’ or they chose to believe the fearful version of the story, the name went on to be passed from father to son, as a legacy.
Vlad the Impaler was a courageous leader, but his methods were a bit unorthodox. He hated corruption and dishonesty more than anything, and because of these, he was forced to take drastic measures against the great boyars and the Saxons who disobeyed him and sold their products in Wallachia. His main form of punishment was impaling those who had wronged him. His bloody custom was what helped him succeed in the battles against the Ottomans, who sought to conquer the land. Impaling the ottoman soldiers and hanging them in a forest for their Sultan to see was the decisive point of the battle – the Ottoman leader ordered a retreat. This unusual fighting style was called the ‘psychological weapon’ and was frequently used among the Romanian leaders, although not always in such terrifying manner.
His legacy, the name of Dracul, his thirst for justice, albeit quenched in a frightening, cruel way and people’s word of mouth, turned a historical leader into the worldwide famous legend – Dracula, the vampire.
So maybe there’s a recipe to be followed in order to create a believable, mysterious legend: take one historical fact, add a main character (preferably with a strong moral trait), spice it up with people’s own additions and bake for hundreds of years!