Vampyrus, -i (m.)

But how do you say "Vampire"?

I myself say "vom-PEER," with an unplaceable European accent, making waggly finger-fangs in front of my mouth. Oh, but you're talking about in Latin. The problem here is that there is no one word that means, strictly speaking, "vampire"; not in classical Latin, anyway. Greek and Roman folklore and mythology contain stories of reanimated bodies that return from the dead to vex or even kill the living, or of various blood- or flesh-eating monsters that hunt by stealth, trickery, or seduction. One has the option of using several words. [I am indebted to The Mad Latinist for his helpful thoughts on this pressing matter.]

  • lamia, -ae (f.): Along with the empusae, which often seems to be a synonym, these are female monsters, sometimes assocated with the goddess Hecate (herself "blood-drinking" according to one Greek magical papyrus), often concealing their monstrous forms (snake tails, metal legs, what have you) until it was too late. Lamiae have been adopted by the vampire-fan set, thanks perhaps to the Greek writer Philostratus via John Keats (see Keats's poem here, although I cannot vouch for the rest of that website -- but horror gamers might benefit from a read), but lamiae are really snake-monsters with a seduce-and-eat m.o. (So I suppose you could use the word for your Setite. Whatever.) But dictionaries of medieval Latin (written, of course, in the last century or so) do define lamia as "a type of demon," "a vampire," although the sample passages they provide still reference the human-animal hybrid appearance. -- Individual creatures named Lamia, Mormo, Gello etc. tend to be former royal hotties who for whatever reason have lost their wee bairns and have somehow become baby-stealin' monsters, the threat of whom could be used to keep wayward Greek and Roman children in line ("you'd better eat those ostrich brains, little Gnaeus, or the Mormo will eat yours"). -- Lamia is also a place in Greece and a Roman name; you can pretend that Aelius Lamia, a notable senator who served as both governor of Syria (without ever going there) and Prefect of the City (Rome) under Tiberius, was really a Ventrue or something, and that his state funeral in 33 AD was in fact a sort of celebration of his Embrace. -- Speaking of Lamia and funerals, I assume that Aelius Lamia or his family must the source of the name of the "Lamian gardens" in Suetonius's Life of Caligula where the mad emperor's ghost was said to vex people until his sisters dug up his improperly buried body and burned it. -- Finally, there's the Lamia bloodline in White Wolf's Dark Ages Companion (for 1st ed. V:tDA; possibly elsewhere, but I haven't kept up), which shares only the name and general female-vampire-ness.
  • Okay. So that's Lamia.

  • strix (or stryx), strigis (f.): screech-owl, but also a harpy or female vampire-like creature. As Ovid tells it in Fasti Book 6, the striges are the descendants of the Harpies, and fly around at night in bird form (which they can assume either naturally or by spell) and, upon finding children alone, gash them open with their talons and drink their blood, which is, you'll have to admit, pretty gruesome stuff. Striges are, strictly speaking, more a species of shapechanging witch than an undead predator, but this word seems to have been applied "vampires" in a more modern sense in the scholarly debates of the 18th century (about which see below). I suppose, switching to White-Wolf-game-hood for a moment, it would be an apt word to use for the "Harpies" that make your life miserable at Elysium. -- Back in the real world, compare Italian strega, "witch," or the vampiric strigoi of Romania.
  • Then there are two "modern Latin" words for "vampire":

  • vampyrus, i (m.): a straight Latinization of vampyr etc., this word (so far as I have bothered to find out) appears in Latin at about the same time the word "vampire" first shows up in English -- specifically, in the 1730s, when some notorious cases of alleged vampirism in Eastern Europe were making news all over, which led to scholarly debate, particularly in Germany, about whether such a thing could exist: for instance Johann Heinrich Zopf's Dissertatio de vampyris serviensibus... ("discussion about Serbian vampires") of 1733. Not long after the future Pope Benedict XIV wrote "De vanitate vampyrorum" ("on the falsity of vampires" -- which I guess to mean, knowing only the title, that he didn't believe in them, rather than that they broke his heart) in his De servorum dei beatificatione et de beatorum canonizatione ("on the beatification of the servants of God and on the canonization of the blessed"). Vampyrus also shows up in the scientific names of certain bats (non-blood-sucking fruit bats, but what can you do?). So vampyrus, if not an ancient word, is still a word you can feel pretty good about using. But for god's sake spell it with an "I" in English, won't you?

  • sanguisuga, -ae (f. or m.): "blood-sucker." This perfectly good ancient word, usually meaning "leech," was applied to vampires by, among others, Johann Christoph Pohl(ius) and Johann Gottlob Hertel(ius) in a Dissertatio de hominibus post mortem sanguisugis, vulgo dictis Vampyren (Leipzig, 1732: "discussion about people sucking blood after death, commonly called 'vampires'"). Johann Christianus Stock wrote in the same year a Dissertatio ... de cadaveribus sanguisugis ("... about blood-sucking cadavers"). -- Grammatical notes: I take the word to be functioning in these two titles as an adjective, as if from "sanguisugus, -a, -um," although it could well be a noun in apposition, i.e., "a discussion about people [who are] bloodsuckers after death." -- The gender of the noun in ancient Latin is feminine, and with the meaning "vampire" is given as masculine in a lexicon of recent Latin compiled online, for this word drawing on Sigrid Albert's Imaginum vocabularium Latinum (Saarbrücken, 1998). But it seems to me you may justly use the feminine or the masculine, depending on the sex of the vampire in question.
  • Finally, two quasi-imaginary possibilities via different sorts of Greek:

  • haematopota (or haemopota), -ae (m. or f.): from the ancient Greek haimatopôtês or haimapôtês , "blood-drinker." I have no "authority" for this other than that I've always liked the Greek word, applied to various monsters or mythological beings, including a dragon in a mock prophecy about sausage-sellers in Aristophanes, as well as the goddess Hecate and the Moon. (The Technocracy and their NASA puppets have, of course, kept that last from the public; I run a great risk in mentioning it here, but I do it for you.) The Latinization is my own based on other Latin borrowings from Greek. It sounds "cooler" to me than sanguisuga, but strictly speaking you're probably better off with that one. But if you use haematopota and decline it correctly, I expect there are few who would quibble; or you could at least blame me.

  • While we're on the subject of making up Latin words from Greek ones, modern Greek folklore has a vampire-like creature called the vrykolakas, from which one could (following the suggestion of The Mad Latinist) create a word: brycolax, brycolacis (m.). While I told him the word made me think of Swiss throat lozenges, I discovered the other day, looking over old notes, that I had used it myself in a game context a year ago, inventing a treatise De brycolacibus, so it must be okay. -- You can read some folktales involving vrykolakes see this site.

  • I pause now to share with you some more fine Latin vampirological titles of yore culled from an online bibliography:

  • Philippus Rohr, Dissertatio de Masticatione mortuorum ("Discussion about the chewing of the dead"), 1679.
  • Gabriel Rzaczynski, "De cruentationibus cadaverum" ("on the blood-stainedness of cadavers"), in his Historia naturalis curiosa regni Poloniae ("Curious natural history of the kingdom of Poland"), 1721.
  • Karl Ferdinand Freiherr von Schertz, Magia posthuma ("posthumous magic"), 1706.
  • Joannis Wier, De lamiis liber: item de commentitiis ieiuniis. Cum Rerum ac verborumcopioso indice ("a book about lamiae, likewise about fictitious hungers [?], with a copious index of subjects and words"), 1577. -- I wish I knew more about this one.
  • Franz Anton Ferdinand Stebler, "Sub vampyri, aut sanguisugae larva a verae philosophiae et rationalis medicinae placitis detectum ac dejectum depravatae imaginationis spectrum" ("Beneath the mask of the vampire, or bloodsucker, the spectre of a depraved imagination detected and removed by those agreeable to true philosophy and rational medicine"), 1737.
  • And a recent book, presumably quoting an 18th-century skeptic in its title:

  • Klaus Hamberger, Mortuus non mordet: Dokumente zum Vampirismus 1689-1791, Vienna, 1992 ("--------------: Documents concerning Vampirism 1689-1791"). The Latin part might be fairly easy for you to translate yourself if you've worked diligently through part three of this series: what do you suppose it means? Check your answer below.

  • Ghosts

    Similarly, "ghost" (or "wraith") is not straightforward; there are all sorts of words the Romans used interchangeably. (See D. Felton's Haunted Greece and Rome, Austin 1999, ch. 2, which I follow here). Possibilities include:

  • Lemures, Lemurum (m. plural, third declension): "ghosts," usually in a harmful sense. The Romans had a yearly festival called the Lemuria (not to be confused with the sunken continent), aimed at ridding their houses of ghosts. The related ritual involved walking around the house barefoot, making what we might call the "rock-'n'-roll shout to the devil" hand-sign and throwing beans around. -- No, really!
  • larva, -ae (f.): "ghost" (also "mask"), especially of the haunted-house variety, although this is largely interchangeable with Lemures. "Haunted (lit. disturbed, made unsafe) by ghosts" = larvis infestus (-a, -um).
  • manes, manium (m. plural -- a third-declension I-stem, as you'll have noticed): "spirits of the dead, shades, remains," but can also be used of a single ghost: e.g., manes Verginiae, "the ghost of Verginia" mentioned by the historian Livy (3.58.11). The writer Apuleius reserves the word for friendly or at least neutral spirits, but Livy's Verginia was decidedly not.
  • inferi, -orum (m. plural): "those below," the dead in the underworld. Also, by extension, the underworld itself, for example: apud inferos = "among the dead" / "in the underworld" / "chez Hades." -- You probably wouldn't say that your house was inferis infesta, but you might say that the apparition of Uncle Publius in the house had been "raised up from the dead" (ab inferis excitatus [-a, -um]). Zoinks!
  • umbra, -ae (f.): "shade," "shadow." Probably a familiar word for you gamer types. This word can be used in an "avaunt, foul shade!" sense, but more often describes what you find under, say, a tall, leafy tree.
  • imago, imaginis (f.): "image," "likeness," "appearance," "apparition." Depending on context this can also mean, for example, "ancestor bust," so it's not an inherently spooky word, unless those marble heads creep you out, and no wonder.
  • simulacrum, -i (n.): "image," "likeness," "effigy" etc. Also "pretence."
  • And there are others, largely synonyms to the last two (which, incidentally, can also be used of warning apparitions, visions, and other spectral presences that are not necessarily the spirits of the dead). One can also say mortuus (the dead man), monstrum (the monster, the apparition), and so on. -- If you want to look more into the world of Greek and Roman ghosts using the power of the Internet, start here.


    We're on safer ground with werewolves. Well, you know what I mean. The Greeks and Romans had werewolf legends -- even, I think, werewolf ghosts, like in Scooby Doo, where it's not bad enough that something has to be a horrible monster, it's the horrible monster's ghost, but anyway-- and words that went with them.

  • lycanthropus, -i (m.): this is the obvious one; from the Greek word, lykanthrôpos, "wolf-man," which appears in medical treatises of the late Roman empire (if only in the context of people who behave like wolves). -- Has anyone else noticed the recent trend in television commercials involving people raised by wolves? One's for a sandwich place, another's for some SUV or other. Huh. Maybe it's just me.
  • versipellis, versipellis (m. or f.): "skin-changer" (gen. pl. versipellium). This is also an adjective, versipellis, -e, meaning "of changeable appearance." Feel free to use this word for any of the shapeshifters. -- The word appears in a famous story in Petronius' Satiricon (61f.), where a character named Niceros tells of the time his soldier friend turned into a ravening wolf; it was so upsetting that Niceros could never bring himself to have dinner with the man again.
  • There is apparently also a medieval Latin word virlupus, "man-wolf," but it's kinda lame and unnecessary, if you ask me.

    Miscellaneous supernatural phenomena

    (Some of these words are repeated from earlier parts of this series.)

    Beyond the good old Latin dictionary and whatever I've picked up since my first year of high-school Latin in 1984-85, I rely here on Adkins and Adkins' Dictionary of Roman Religion, New York 1996, and the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3rd ed., Oxford 1996.

    This is simply a smattering of words that one might find useful in a "Latin for Gamers" context and is not meant as a serious introduction to Roman religion and ideas about magic; if so, it would be considerably longer and more complicated and would have forced me to do rather more research. -- Finally, I am myself largely ignorant about the use of Latin in the medieval magic tradition, which would certainly be a rich and probably more appropriate source of spiffy words for your Order of Hermes mage character or whatever. I have, however, included bits of what little I know or could find out; it's amazing what can be learned, for the purposes of imparting simple vocabulary, by skimming the titles of Latin treatises concerning magic and the occult.

    Mages, magicians, witches

  • astrologus, i (m.): astrologer, fortune-teller. Also mathematicus, -i (m.) and Chaldaeus, -i (m., after a people from the Mysterious [Near] East).
  • hariolus, -i (m.): prophet, soothsayer.
  • haruspex, -spicis (m.): a type of Etruscan diviner or soothsayer who worked by reading entrails, interpreting strange prodigies, and observing flashes of lightning.
  • magus, -i (m.) Persian wise men and dream interpreters; in a general sense, a magician, astrologer, sorceror, wizard. The related adjectives are magicus, -a, um and magus, -a, -um, hence the ars magica or maga, the magical art. The feminine is maga, -ae.
  • malefica, -ae (f.): witch, evildoer. The noun Kramer and Sprenger made famous.
  • pontifex, pontificis (m.): pontiff, high priest. I want to shout out here to whichever writer of Blood Magic: Secrets of Thaumaturgy made fun of the false plural "pontifexes" on p. 55. Yo! Keep the faith!
  • propheta, -ae (m.): "prophet," as seen in a Bible near you. From the Greek word that means "foreteller."
  • sacerdos, sacerdotis (m. or f.): priest(ess). Originally among the Romans a word for foreign priests (they had a whole set of different specialized words for their own religious officials). The regular word for "priest" in Church-Latin. -- "priesthood": sacerdotium, -i (n.).
  • saga, -ae: witch, soothsayer, wise woman. The masculine is sagus, -i.
  • sortilegus, -i (m.) (also as adjective -us, -a, -um): fortune-teller, reader of lots, soothsayer.
  • vates, -is (m.): prophet, bard. The general sense is "an inspired poet."
  • venefica, -ae (f.): poisoner, witch. Especially appropriate for a witch who works by means of drugs and potions.
  • Spells, rituals, and spell-casting:

  • alchemia, -ae (f.): alchemy. Also alchimia and chemia. This is a medieval word. The adjective appears to be chemicus, -a, -um; another way to say "alchemy" (overtly) is ars chemica.
  • ara, -ae (f.): altar.
  • carmen, carminis (n.): generally "song" or "poem," but also any sort of verse, including oracular responses or magical incantations, and so "spell."
  • defixio, -onis (f.): Curse tablets, usually lead, with requests to the gods and other spirits to influence people or the outcome of events; others promised a future curse to, say, anyone stealing certain property. These were usually buried or thrown into wells, for the convenience of the darker sort of deity; others were posted in a "no trespassing, and we really mean it" kind of way. -- For an example of an elaborate Greek defixio from Egypt (in translation), invoking a ghost to make a particular woman all hot for the 'caster,' see this site. (Disclaimer: "Latin for Gamers" does not advocate the use of necromantic love spells.)
  • devotio, devotionis (f.): Promising one's own life, or the life of a substitute, to gain the goodwill of the gods. (Larger-than-life images of the promised victim could be buried instead; that's lucky.) -- Also, wax effigies roughly equivalent to "voodoo dolls" used in love spells or to cause pain and death. -- Finally, as a synonym for defixio.
  • lapis philosophicus (m.; genitive is lapidis philosophici): philosophers' stone (lit. "philosophical stone"). Also lapis philosophorum ("... of the philosophers").
  • lustratio, -onis (f.): the performance of a purification ceremony (lustrum, -i, [n.]), involving a ritual procession around the object, person, or place to be cleansed of evil influences.
  • magia, -ae f.): "magic," "the art of the magi." A synonym for ars magica. In a negative sense, try veneficium, -i (n.), "sorcery, poisoning." -- Well, don't actually TRY veneficium; I mean use it. No, that doesn't sound right either.
  • opus magnum (n.; the genitive would be operis magni): "the great work"; alchemical transmutation. (Of course we also have the phrase today "magnum opus," meaning someone's masterpiece.)
  • philosophus, -i (n.): philosopher; alchemist.
  • praedictio, -onis (f.): prediction, prophecy. -- And praedictum, -i (n.), which can also mean, less eerily, a command or pre-arrangement.
  • quinta essentia (f.; genitive is quintae essentiae): "the fifth element," after earth [terra, -ae, (f.)], air [aer, aeris (m.)], fire [ignis, ignis (m.)], and water [aqua, -ae (f.)]; "quintessence" for you Mage fans; or Leeloo.
  • transmutatio, -onis (f.): transmutation, as you may have guessed.
  • vaticinatio, -onis (f.): prophecy, foretelling, prediction.
  • virga, -ae (f.): wand (especially of the magical variety).
  • voces magicae (f. plural, from vox, vocis, "voice"): magic words, "foreign" or nonsense syllables one uses in casting a spell.
  • Spirits, gods, and other supernatural critters

  • daemon, daemonis (m. or f.): "demon." The Greek word daimôn had, anciently, if "anciently" is a word, a variety of meanings, but was basically a lesser divine spirit, not automatically either good or bad. The Christians, well, demonized the daimones, and the word and its Latinized equivalent became the regular word for those malevolent infernal guys. -- Also: daemonium, -i (n.).
  • deus, -i (m.) or dea, -ae (f.): god, goddess. Some odd forms to the declension: Deus: Vocative (address form) deus (cf. meus; nominative and vocative plural di; occasional ablative plural (especially in poetry) dis. -- Dea: The dative and ablative plural is deabus, to avoid confusion (deis being the regular form, but not readily distinguishable from the non-poetic masculine). -- From the adjectives infernus, -a, -um and superus, -a, -um come the handy phrases di inferni ("gods below") and di superi ("gods above"). Use them wisely!
  • draco, draconis: serpent, dragon. Hic sunt dracones = "Here be Dragons."
  • dryas, dryadis (f.): dryad, tree-spirit. Also hamadryas.
  • genius, -i (m.): a personal guardian spirit and fertility principle. (The female equivalent was called a iuno, iunonis [f.]). The Romans often worshiped them alongside lares (see below). It would be nice to say that lares watched over places and genii over people, but as the unknown "spirit of a place" was referred to as the genius loci, that's clearly not the case.
  • lar, laris (m.): a guardian spirit of the home and other places. The Romans had little shrines for them and did their utmost to keep them happy; worshiped alongside genii and probably the Penates (see below; although the Oxford Classical Dictionary says there is no evidence that they were regularly linked with them). Lares watched over the household, roads, crossways, and the Roman state as a whole. Possibly originally deified ancestor spirits; possibly not.
  • numen, numinis (n.): divine power, spirit, godhead. Spirits of woods, places, ideas, etc. The dividing line between numina and full-on gods is a blurry one. -- See below for World of Darkness misuse.
  • nympha, -ae (f.): nymph, spirit of woods or water. (Also a word for "bride," incidentally.)
  • Penates, Penatium (m.) (also di Penates): Roman household gods (cf. Lares). Their proper area of their influence seems to be the hearth, the pantry, and the interior of the home; they were also worshiped at the temple of the goddess Vesta (the goddess of the hearth). Don't ask me to tell you exactly how they differed from Lares; maybe there's some provider/protector division of labor, but I'm just making that up.
  • prodigium, -i (n.): prodigy, omen, monster -- anything unnatural that seems to indicate the gods are wicked pissed.
  • satyrus, -i (m.): satyr. Your basic half-man, half-goat sex-machine (machina sexualis).
  • semivir, -i (m.): on the subject of "half-men," this means "half-man," either in a mythological hybrid sort of way, or to refer to someone who just isn't very manly.
  • spiritus, -us (m.), "breath," "breeze"; but from meaning "breath of life" comes the later meaning "spirit" (for example, in Spiritus Sanctus, the Holy Spirit), and may be used without serious difficulty for any incorporeal entity. -- You may look askance at that genitive form, expecting spiriti, but that is not the, uh, case. With this word you can, if you dare, Enter the Fourth Declension! (On that website, the "Umlaut" is meant to represent a long-vowel mark; for our purposes, you can probably ignore it.)
  • Obviously some of these words are more useful in a World-of-Darkness context than others. For the fae, except where obvious (satyrus), you're largely on your own, at least for now; I am vaguely aware that the word "fae" is supposed to be related to fatum, -i (n.), "fate," and one sees the plural fata in a "fair-folk" sense now and again. I wouldn't be surprised if there were some (medieval?) word in Latin that means "Changeling" in the original meaning of "something the fairies traded for my baby," but I don't know it.

  • Return to the beginning .
  • Go on to the next part (a critique of White Wolf Latin).
  • Other Latin Links:

  • Perseus Project searchable Latin-to-English and English-to-Latin dictionaries.
  • Lexicon of recent Latin.
  • Study guide to Wheelock's Latin textbook.
  • Allen and Greenough's Latin Grammar online (mostly).

  • Mortuus non mordet: "A dead man does not bite." Return.