The Etruscan Roots of The Twilight Saga

Were there vampires in Volterra? Probably not, but the Etruscans had their own brigade of gods and demons representing night, death and resurrection.

'The Twilight Saga: New Moon' release fuels vampire mania around the world. While teenagers go completely nuts over the film's hunky vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) – one wrote 'bite me' on her face as she queued with 5,000 others to see him in London last week – other die-hard fans of the Twilight books, written by Stephenie Meyers, are also descending on the small hill-top town of Volterra, in Tuscany, where some of the action of the film is set (even though filming actually took place in Montepulciano, 70 miles away). As a result, hoards of teenagers have been visiting Volterra – a town with Etruscan roots and its own heritage of Etruscan demons, gods and goddesses associated with death, resurrection and the night.

The Twilight Saga isn't the only vampire story to grace our screens lately. The popular US series True Blood – about a young woman in Louisiana who also falls in love with a vampire – based on the The Southern Vampire Mysteries series of novels by Charlaine Harris, also gathered cult status, adding to the growing body of vampire fiction on our bookshelves and on our screens. The nineties saw the likes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Interview with a Vampire, Bram Stoker's Dracula as well as From Dusk Till Dawn. The 21st century has seen vampire fever take over with Van Helsing, more Buffy and now Twilight and True Blood.

In fact, Dracula is the most often-portrayed fictional character in film. So what is it about vampires? There must be something about the blood-sucking, garlic-fearing, sun-dodging demons that strikes a chord with modern audiences – and indeed audiences since the early 18th century, when, following a vampire craze in the 1720s and 1730s, a poem called The Vampire, by Heinrich August Ossenfelder, was published in 1748. Vampires soon became a stock part of gothic fiction but they also had a romantic and erotic side to their personae, seducing women at night with their vampire's kiss of death.

To this day vampires are often portrayed as being quite sexy – think Robert Pattinson or True Blood's Stephen Moyer. However, the modern romantic vampire hero has more in common with figures from ancient mythology, rather than the vampire of Eastern European folklore (an altogether more corpse-like and unappetising kind of creature). The Incubus and the Succubus, dating back to the Sumerian kings of Mesopotamia (under the name of Lilu and Lilitu), were demons that appeared at night and seduced dreamers, often into erotic acts against their will.

Other figures from ancient mythology share some of the vampire's traits. In ancient Egypt, Sekhmet, the lion-headed goddess of Upper Egypt, was associated with blood-lust and with drinking blood (mythology has it that she drank a liquid resembling blood to quench her thirst for violence). The ancient Greeks and Romans also had their share of supernatural figures and demi-gods, including Hecate the witch-like figure and her daughter Empusa, who sucked the blood of the men she seduced while they slept. The Lamia was another demon in female form, renowned for sucking the blood of children and young men, while the Strixes were nocturnal bird-like creatures of Greek and Roman mythology, who ate human flesh and blood.

Closely connected with Greek and Roman mythology was the Etruscan pantheon, which also had its dark side. The Etruscans had several gods, goddesses and demons associated with death, the underworld, the night and resurrection. Some of the gods and goddesses included Artume, Vetis, Mania and Tvath. Etruscan demons of death include the Charontes, Tuchulcha (a grotesque demon from the underworld with donkey's ears and snakes for hair and hands) and Vanth (a herald of death with eyes on her wings).

Given the rich Etruscan mythology with many figures associated with death and the underworld, it's fitting that Volterra – an important Etruscan centre, known as Velathri to the Etruscans – is the setting for the new Twilight film. Volterra was a settlement since neolithic times and was then colonised by the Etruscan Velathri during the 8th century BC, while the city wall was built in the fourth century BC. It became one of the 12 important Etruscan city states but in the third century BC came under Roman control. An impressive Augustan-era amphitheatre, some fourth century AD baths as well as an Etruscan acropolis, are some of the important heritage sites in Volterra.

Think vampires are scary? What about the demons from the Book of the Dead? http://heritage-key.com/blogs/sean-williams/book-dead-colloquium-2009-seans-top-ten-facts-theories

How Humans Invented Death http://heritage-key.com/publication/buried-soul-how-humans-invented-death

Arts and Entertainment
Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL are releasing Plectrum Electrum next month

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus brought her Bangerz tour to London's O2 Arena last night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
film
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
    Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

    From strung out to playing strings

    Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
    The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
    Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

    Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

    The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
    On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

    On the road to nowhere

    A Routemaster trip to remember
    Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

    Hotel India

    Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
    10 best pencil cases

    Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

    Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
    Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

    Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

    Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
    Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

    Pete Jenson: A Different League

    Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
    This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

    The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

    Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis