It was not easy to convince my colleagues that Vlad the Impaler was the only person who could not have been Count Dracula. One of the reasons was that in the 1970s and 80s, two History professors from Boston had launched several popular books claiming that Stoker's vampire was based on the Impaler's life. The capstone of their theory was that already one of Vlad's contemporaries, the German Meistersinger Michael Beheim (1420 – c. 1478), had described him as an actual blood-drinker in one of his poems.
In their 1989 book Dracula, Prince of Many Faces: His Life and His Times, they wrote:
[...] Beheim’s poem [was] the source for Van Helsing’s statement in the novel that he had
found a document in which Dracula was described as a blood-drinker – a clear reference to one
of Beheim’s verses.
They repeated this claim in their 1994 revised edition of In Search of Dracula - The History of Dracula and Vampires:
In one verse Beheim described Dracula as dipping his bread in the blood of his victims, which
technically makes him a living vampire – a reference that may have induced Stoker to make
use of this term.”
In the 1998 TV documentary The Real Dracula, the same statement was made once more:
Visually shocked and emotionally charged, the spectator is now ready for the climax of the story: McNally’s forceful assertion of Vlad’s “real” blood-drinking, which the historian expresses in the following words: “While he was dining amid his impaled victims, first he would have the blood from his victims gathered in bowls and he would dip the bread in the blood and slurp it down, basically.
A quick look the actual text of Beheim’s poem, however, quickly shows that the Boston authors were telling humbug:
Eß waß* sein lust und gab im mut
wann er sach swenden menschen plut;
wenn er dy gwonhait hete,
Daß er sein hend** darjnnen zwug,***
wann man im zu den tische trug
wann er sein malzeit tete.
In 2003, Elizabeth Miller, assisted by two German-speaking colleagues, discovered that the fourth line actually said that Vlad washed his hands in the blood of his victims. For McNally and Florescu, evidently, this was not gruesome enough: only drinking the blood of his enemies with the help of blood-soaked bread would make the historical voivode a real vampire. Even after Miler's critique was published, they refused to admit the error.
Looking into the matter independently, I found out that the "Dracula professors" not only made an inexplicable and inexcusable mistake in their rendering, but must have been aware of the correct translation of "hend" (hands) when their 1989 book went to press: their long-year research partner, Matei Cazacu from Paris, had published the accurate transcription one year before, in 1988, in French. It seems highly improbable that McNally and Florescu had not discussed this crucial issue with Cazacu. Far more logical seems that they decided to "improve" Beheim's text a bit, so that it would support their best-selling (but false) theories.
As I found out later, in his book In Search of Frankenstein (1975), Radu Florescu had equally been telling yarn to support his idea that Percy Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft would have visited Castle Frankenstein during their trip along the Rhine: he claimed that from their camping place near Gernsheim, one could "easily discern, even with the naked eye, the sinister silhuette of the two chief towers of Castle Frankenstein, profiled against the horizon and dominating the hill." My photo excursion to Gernsheim, together with two studio assistants, demonstrated that this was (and is) technically impossible.
* In some transcriptions: "Er waz" (Condratu, Cazacu) or "Es was (Bleyer)." The exact transciption is
"Eß waß," using the German "Eszett."
** hend = hands
*** zwug = washed