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The Tale of Dracula the Voivode | сказанїе ѡ дракоулѣ воеводѣ

Introduction to the Text

The story of Dracula has become a signature piece of the Western literary canon thanks to Bram Stoker’s rendition of the centuries-old Eastern European tale. However, the original narrative, whose roots are believed to be from the Southern Slavic-speaking regions of Eastern Europe, is not a tale of love and everlasting life. It is an account of the life of Dracula’s prototype, the 15th-century Wallachian prince Vlad Tepes, whose merciless behavior as a voivode (warlord) led to the moniker Vlad the Impaler. The epithet Dracula is used in the text rather than the name Vlad. The origins of the moniker Dracula are still debated. The two leading explanations are that it is either a title denoting his father, Vlad Dracul’s, membership in the Order of the Dragon, or it is a derivation of the Romanian term drac with the meaning “son of the Devil.”[1]

The earliest Old Russian version of Vlad the Impaler’s life dates to 1486, when an Orthodox Monk, Efrosin, copied the story into one of his notebooks. There is no consensus on the origin of the story, but it is accepted that Efrosin’s is the earliest surviving copy. Specialists hypothesize that he could have received the source text from the infamous 15th-century Muscovite diplomat and heretic Fedor Kuritsyn. Kuritsyn could have taken the story from the court of the Hungarian king, Matthias Corvinus. Others argue that Kuritsyn’s brother, Ivan Volk Kuritsyn, translated the story and passed it on to Efrosin. We know for sure that Efrosin’s rendition is the first Russian/East Slavic narrative of Vlad the Impaler’s devious deeds.

Efrosin’s manuscript demonstrates the diverse reading and writing culture of the Russian Orthodox monks at the Kirillov-Beloozersky (St. Cyril-Beloozero) monastery in northern Russia. Efrosin became a focus of Soviet and Russian medievalists when his collection of religious and secular texts was transferred from the St. Petersburg Theological Academy and placed in the Russian National Library in St. Petersburg in 1918 (then the Russian Public Library). The manuscript in which Dracula is found is one of only six miscellanies that have survived to the present day from Efrosin’s library. The manuscript represents the secular and private writings of the monk whom scholars describe as the monastery’s “academic bookman.”[2] Efrosin’s considerable personal collection of writings includes multiple secular tales. Furthermore, Robert Romanchuk, a specialist in philology, has argued that Efrosin’s secular manuscripts are unique and represent an “individual with an interest in ‘forbidden knowledge,” rather than an overarching intellectual trend among the Orthodox monks in the monastery. Another example of Efrosin’s interest in forbidden knowledge is The Tale of Solomon and Kitovras, which was later added to the same notebook.

Efrosin’s Dracula story highlights some of the most devilish and cunning examples of Vlad the Impaler’s rule as a warlord, including burning an entire group of people alive during a meal. The text underlines his cruelty and ascribes his damnation to his renunciation of Orthodoxy in favor of the Catholic “heresy.” The narrative also includes the seeds of what would become the modern vampire story: locals tell of Vlad the Impaler hunting, and purchasing mice and birds to impale, torture, and eat while he was imprisoned. The narrative highlights how he used his wit and intelligence to punish both the innocent and the guilty.

Beyond its connections to the modern Dracula lore, the text gives readers a glimpse of how Vlad the Impaler was viewed by his contemporaries in the region. The Efrosin manuscript was written less than two decades after Vlad’s death. The Russian version of the tale is unique because it includes significantly more details than other premodern versions. Additionally, the story became popular in Muscovy as an example for the consequences of religious heresy, and for its emphasis on obedience to the prince, regardless of the maliciousness of the ruler’s behavior.

[1] Matei Cazacu Ed. Stephen W. Reinert. Trans. Nicole Mordarski, Stephen W. Reinert, Alice Brinton, and Catherine Healey. Dracula. Boston: Brill, 2017, xv.

[2] See Robert Romanchuk, Byzantine Hermeneutics and Pedagogy in the Russian North: Monks and Masters at the Kirillo-Belozerskii Monastery, 1397-1501, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007) 8.

Introduction to the Source

The Tale of Dracula the Voivode was produced in 1490 in the Kirillov-Beloozersky monastery near Beloozero (Belozersk), Russia. The monk Efrosin adapted the text from an unknown source. At the end of the text, he notes that he wrote an earlier version of the story in 1486 and rewrote it in 1490 (the 1486 version has not survived). The Tale is part of a 500-folio manuscript codex in which Efrosin copied secular tales and diverse texts of encyclopedic content. Scholars consider the Tale one of the first historical novels in Russian literature. Some believe that this text, along with Efrosin’s other writings, shows a Renaissance-like movement in Russian Orthodox religious culture in the late 15th century. The book in which the Tale is included is one of only seven surviving manuscripts by Efrosin. They are held in the Russian National Library in St. Petersburg. For the text’s transcription and translation, I have used a digitization of the original manuscript #11/1088, fond 351, folio pages 204-217 of the Efrosin Collection at the Russian National Library. This digitization is available to view online here:

About this Edition

The transcription retains the original elements of the manuscript. The goal of the transcription is to render the manuscript as closely as possible, including the superscript letters, abbreviations, spelling errors, and punctuation. Efrosin relied on commas, periods, and diacritic marks on certain letters to mark the beginning of a new word. Personal and geographic names have been translated in the context of 15th-century history. I referenced Matei Cazacu’s monograph Dracula to verify these names.

I’d like to thank Dr. Julia Verkholantsev of the University of Pennsylvania for her assistance in this project.

Further Reading

Cazacu, Matei. Dracula, edited by Stephen W. Reinert, translated by Nicole Mordarski, Stephen W. Reinert, Alice Brinton, and Catherine Healey, Brill, 2017.

  • A monograph that examines the life of Vlad Tepes, exploring his influence on Stoker’s Dracula and contemporary Eastern European vampire lore.  

Nandris, Grigore. “The Historical Dracula: The Theme of His Legend in the Western and in the Eastern Literatures of Europe.” Comparative Literature Studies 3, no. 4, 1966, pp. 367-396.

  • This dated yet fascinating article discusses the history of the Dracula narrative, from Bram Stoker’s impact on Western literature to the folkloric and historical origins of the vampire tale. Nandris also compares the Western and Eastern European renditions of the story.

National Library of Russia. “Fifteenth-Century Euphrosynus Manuscripts.”

  • English-language version of the National Library of Russia’s website on the Efrosin Collection. This page includes descriptions of the material culture of the collection including how the manuscripts were bound and used in the monastery.

Romanchuk, Robert. Byzantine Hermeneutics and Pedagogy in the Russian North: Monks and Masters at the Kirillo-Belozerskii Monastery, 1397-1501. U of Toronto P, 2007.

  • Romanchuk’s discusses the origins of the Dracula story and how Efrosin may have obtained the now lost original Old Russian tale (pp. 8-25).

Romanchuk, Robert. “ ‘Intellectual Silence’ and Intellectual Endeavor in Medieval Slavia Orthodoxa.” Russian History, 46, 2019, pp. 193-212.

  • This article uses the manuscripts produced by Orthodox monks, including Efrosin of the Kirillov monastery, to show how the academic needs of the monastic institutions shaped their book production.

Suggested citation: Efrosin. "The Tale of Dracula the Voivode." Trans. Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon. Global Medieval Sourcebook. Retrieved on July 21, 2024.