How are we to understand the vampire? Is it myth, a mere legend, the story of romantic, gothic writers? Or is the vampire based in fact -- at least to some extent?

The popular notion of the vampire is largely based on the classic 1931 film "Dracula" with Bela Lugosi. In our minds the vampire is sophisticated, European, a creature of the noble classes -- in short, a Count who lives in a castle and enjoys the finer things in life... but who never drinks... wine. The vampire has a taste for something else; and that is what really separates him from us. The blood. The vampire must drink the fresh blood taken from the living, for he has none of his own.

In more recent years the concept of the vampire has come to America, to New Orleans (although New Orleans can seem more European than American at times). Anne Rice's Lestat and other vampires from the film and novel Interview with the Vampire also have a sophistication about them not unlike Count Dracula. They are knowledgeable, elegant, cultured, but also savage. Additionally, they are sensual and alluring. This is another significant element of our modern view of the vampire, an element which separates them from all other fiends and ghouls: vampires have sex appeal.

But bloodlust and eroticism are not the only aspects of the vampire. And not the key. The key aspect of the vampire is death -- and everything that death conjures up in our minds. And the eternal human questions about death, our anxiety and our nightmares about this inevitability feed the story of the vampires.

"The blood is the life," says Bela Lugosi's Dracula (a phrase originally found in the Bible); later adding, "to die, to be really dead -- that must be glorious." And it is this ancient issue of life and death and blood that explains the antiquity of the vampire myth as well. For the first vampire was not Count Dracula. The first vampires had their origins in the centuries long before Christ, who in modern times is the ultimate adversary of the ostensibly Satanic vampire -- remember, the vampire shrinks before the sacred cross.

The vampire legend dates back to the earliest times of human civilization to the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and other peoples of the ancient Orient. The original vampire was not like the sophisticated, suave European aristocrat that we know of today. The vampire, at its origins, was a monster.