Nosferatu

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The frightening and disturbing Graf Orlock (Max Schreck) in Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens.

Nosferatu

(pop culture)

Nosferatu is a modern word derived from Old Slavonic word, nesufur-atu, borrowed from the Greek nosophoros, a “plague carrier.” Vampires were associated in the popular mind with the spread of disease (such as tuberculosis whose cause was otherwise unknown) and by, extension with the idea of spreading the infection of vampirism through its bite. It is not a Romanian word, and it is not found in Romanian dictionaries. It was originally a technical term in the old Slavonic that filtered into common speech. It has erroneously been reported to mean “undead,” a concept developed by Bram Stoker for Dracula (1897), and elsewhere as a reference to the devil. It appears to have entered literature through the popular travelogue of Emily Gerard’s The Land Beyond the Forest (1885) in which she said, “More decidedly evil is the nosferatu, or vampire, in which every Romanian peasant believes as he does in heaven or hell.” From Gerard, Stoker picked up the term for Dracula. In his famous determinative speech on the vampire in chapter 18, Abraham Van Helsing said, “The nosferatu do not die like the bee when he stings once. He is only stronger; and being stronger, have yet more power to work evil.” The term, though used by Stoker, is not prominent.

The term first gained real prominence when it was used by Freidrich Wilhelm Murnau in his attempt to create a disguised version of Dracula for the screen. Murnau’s film, Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens, made the term part of the popular language about vampires, especially after its rediscovery in the 1960s and the new release in 1972. Over the last several decades, it has commonly appeared in novels and films as a term synonymous with the vampire. In his two books about vampires, Leonard Wolf relied on Gerard, repeated her mistakes, and then contributed one of his own when he said in his The Annotated Dracula that nosferatu was a Romanian word meaning “not dead.”

Sources:

Gerard, Emily. The Land Beyond the Forest. 1885. 2 vols. Edinburgh & London: Will Blackwood & Sons, 1888.
Senn, Harry A. Were-Wolf and Vampire in Romania. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982. 148 pp.
Stoker, Bram. The Annotated Dracula. Edited by Leonard Wolf. New York: Clarkson N. Porter, 1974. Rept. New York: Ballantine, 1976. 362 pp.
Wolf, Leonard. A Dream of Dracula: In Search of the Living Dead. Boston, MA: Little Brown, 1972. Rept. New York: Popular Library, 1977. 326 pp.