Demystifying the history of vampires

The Penn Museum hosted a discussion on monsters in the Ancient World

· October 22, 2010, 3:04 am   ·  Updated October 22, 2010, 12:00 am

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These days, when an event is billed as vampire related, one might expect the target audience to be mostly made up of adolescent girls.

Not so for the considerable crowd that turned out to the Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology’s Rainey Auditorium on Thursday evening. The program, “Vampires, Demons and Mystical Creatures in the Ancient World,” was organized by Young Friends, a group of active volunteers that seeks to encourage Museum membership and participation among young professionals and students in the 21 through 45-year-old range — though Thursday’s crowd ranged from children to older adults.

The evening began with two speakers who presented on magic and monsters from ancient times. The first, associate professor of Classical Studies Peter Struck, spoke about the prevalence of magic in ancient Greece — and, indeed, throughout the ancient world.

“In Greece, everyone used magic, and believed it worked,” Struck said. The most prevalent method, he explained, was to “enlist the untimely dead” — young people who died early, violent deaths — to do one’s bidding by dropping spells into their graves.

Struck was followed by Jennifer Wegner, the associate curator of the Egyptian section and a regular of Young Friends programs, who spoke about the variety of ancient Egyptian deities and monsters.

“Animal life alone in Egypt is the stuff of nightmares,” Wegner said. But the deities that these creatures represented were “viewed as positive” in Egyptian culture.

Both speakers were well received.

“I thought it was really interesting, both were really good speakers,” said Becky Kolacki, a student from Drexel who, though not a member of Young Friends, said that she would definitely consider going to future events.

“The Egyptology was really fascinating, and they did a great job picking speakers,” said Stephanie Met, who was there with her father, a Penn professor.

After their presentations, people were given the opportunity to tour the Museums’s “FANG! The Killing Tooth” exhibit on the biology of the canine and the history of vampire myth.

Young Friends hosts two to three major events a year, and members of the group receive discounts on Museum events.

“There’s all this great research going on and great speakers here,” said Emily Goldsleger, the assistant director of membership and annual giving at the Penn Museum and a coordinator of the Young Friends program. “We try and make it more lighthearted and accessible.”

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