Real-life inspiration for Dracula cried tears of blood, letters suggest
Researchers have examined proteins found on three letters purported to be written by Vlad III, the ruthless real-life Romanian prince considered to be the inspiration for the fictional Dracula, and found evidence of his overall health, including that he may have cried tears of blood.
Before Spike, Edward Cullen, and Bill Compton entered the zeitgeist, there was the OG vampire: Dracula. Irish writer Bram Stoker’s fictional bloodsucker was reportedly based on the real-life 15th-century Romanian prince, Vlad III, Voivode of Wallachia, also known as Vlad Dracula the Impaler or Vlad Drăculea, which translates to ‘Son of the Dragon.’ Since the publication of Stoker’s book in 1897, the two have been inextricably linked.
Although Vlad’s bloody reign – he’s thought to have been responsible for more than 80,000 deaths, most by impalement – ended with his death more than 500 years ago, researchers have analyzed letters he penned at different points in his life to uncover some interesting information about his health.
Technological advances such as high-resolution mass spectrometry (MS) and the non-invasive, non-damaging technique known as EVA have enabled scientists to use proteomics, the analysis of ancient proteins, to reveal the secrets held by important paleontological, archeological and historical materials.
The researchers examined three letters, made of rag paper, written by a man who described himself as “prince of the Transalpine regions” and signed Vladislav Dracul. They harvested proteins from the letters using the EVA technique, films of ethylene vinyl acetate, which, when placed in contact with any surface, can harvest proteins, DNA and metabolites that can be identified using standard instruments. The proteins were then analyzed using high-res MS, allowing the researchers to characterize thousands of different peptides, the ‘building blocks’ of proteins.
They focused on proteins that showed the most advanced deamidation, degradation that occurs with age, as they were likely the oldest and, therefore, more likely to have come from Vlad himself than newer samples that could have originated from people who’d handled the letters more recently. Sixteen proteins were deemed to be of human origin and were investigated for their potential involvement in diseases and pathologies.
Peptides related to blood proteins or coming from proteins involved in the respiratory system were identified in all three letters. In all of the documents, some peptides related to proteins involved in retinal disease and ciliopathy, diseases of the hair-like projections that clear microbes and debris out of the airways, or belonging to proteins associated with inflammation, were also detected.
Interestingly, in two documents dated 1475, the researchers found proteins from the retina and tears, which might indicate the presence of hemolacria, a condition that causes a person to cry bloodied tears (perfectly fitting with Vlad’s reputation).
“Although proteomics data cannot be considered exhaustive alone, altogether, these identifications might indicate that Dracula ‘cried tears of blood’, i.e., he suffered from the condition of hemolacria, as reported by some stories,” said the researchers.
The researchers say that the information gleaned from these discovered proteins may give an overall picture of Vlad’s health.
“[T]he identification in all three documents of some peptides coming from breathing-related proteins and/or involved with some ciliopathies of the respiratory tract, together with peptides belonging to proteins associated with inflammatory processes, might provide a picture of the general health of Count Dracula who probably also suffered from inflammatory processes of the respiratory tract and/or of the skin,” they said.
In addition to human proteins, the researchers identified bacterial peptides that suggest that Vlad Dracula may have been exposed to Y. pestis, the bacterium that causes plague and led to the death of about 25 million people in Europe between 1347 and 1352.
According to the researchers, it’s the first time such research has been carried out that sheds light on the health of the legendary Romanian prince. While they’re cognizant that people other than Vlad may have touched the documents, they say that “it is also presumable that the most prominent ancient proteins should be related to Prince Vlad the Impaler, who wrote and signed these letters.”
Despite Vlad’s association with the Dracula character, there is no real evidence to suggest that he drank blood. Indeed, despite his cruel reputation, Vlad the Impaler is revered by Romanians as a national hero, remembered for defending the country against foreign invaders.
The study was published in the journal Analytical Chemistry.
Source: American Chemical Society