Davanzati, Giuseppe

Davanzati, Giuseppe (1665–1755)

(pop culture)

Giuseppe Davanzati, an archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church and vampirologist, was born on August 29, 1665, in Bari, Italy. He first attended the Jesuit College in Bari but left at the age of fifteen to enter the University of Naples. Three years later, his parents having both passed away, he entered the University of Bologna with the idea of becoming a priest. He was a distinguished student in science and mathematics, and upon completion of his course of studies commenced a period of travel using Paris as his home base. At some point he was ordained to the priesthood by the bishop of Salerno. Soon after the turn of the century, Pope Clement XI called him back to Italy to become treasurer of the Sanctuary of St. Nicolas at Bari. Several years later he was entrusted with the particularly difficult and sensitive task of representing the pope in Vienna before the throne of Emperor Charles VI. His success was rewarded by his elevation to the episcopacy as archbishop of Trani, a town north of Bari. He served that post with distinction until 1745 when Pope Benedict XIV named the aged archbishop patriarch of Alexandria.

Davanzati’s years as an archbishop coincided with waves of vampirism reported around Europe in the first half of the eighteenth century. However, he did not encounter the subject until 1738, when he was brought into discussions initiated at the request of Cardinal Schtrattembach, the bishop of Olmütz (Germany), who wanted the church’s advice. Schtrattembach had been presented official reports on outbreaks of vampirism in various parts of Germany beginning in 1720, highlighted by the account of Arnold Paul in Serbia in 1831. Davanzati spent the next few years studying these reports and other pertinent texts, and in 1744 published his Dissertazione sopra I Vampiri. Davanzati concluded that the vampire reports were human fantasies—though possibly of a diabolical origin. A major part of Davanzati’s argument centered on the tendency of the vampire to appear among the illiterate and lower-class peasants—people who were believed to be more easily deceived by such appearances than those who were educated. Davanzati emerged as the leading Italian authority on vampires. His work was reprinted in 1789, and his opinion came to be accepted by most people in power, both within the church and in political control. However, his work was soon overshadowed by the treatise of his learned French colleague, Dom Augustin Calmet. Calmet’s scholarly work, published just two years after Davanzati’s, did not support Davanzati’s harsh conclusion. Through Calmet, the subject of vampirism reached both the intellectual community and the policymakers of Europe in ways Davanzati’s dismissal of the topic could not. Davanzati died on February 16, 1755.

Sources:

Davanzati, Giuseppe. Dissertazione sopre I Vampiri. Naples, Italy: Presso i fratelli Raimondi, 1744. Rept. Bari, Italy: BESA Editrice, 1998. 159 pp. (The first reprint since 1744.)
Imbruglio, Girolamo. Naples in the Eighteenth Century: The Birth and Death of a Nation State. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. 220 pp.
Introvigne, Massimo. La strippe di Dracula: Indagine sul vampirismo dall’antichita ai nostri giorni. Milan: Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 1997. 474 pp.
Summers, Montague. The Vampire: His Kith and Kin. Rept. New York: University Books, 1960. 356 pp.