Tony's Secret Cabinet
Dracula's Charity Ball
Vlad the Imapler
His was a warped way to end poverty.
You’d think even the most eager partygoer would hesitate to accept a dinner invitation from someone known as “Vlad the Impaler” (1431-1476). The Central European warlord got his catchy nickname as a young sadist in his 20s, soon after he assumed the throne of Wallachia, next door to Transylvania: After entertaining 500 boyars (nobles) at a sumptuous feast, he had most of the guests executed with his signature method, driving sharpened wooden stakes through the nether regions and leaving them squirming like insects until they died.
He evidently enjoyed the visual effect and the slow torture of their demise. Stocky yet thin-faced, his sinister emerald eyes glowing beneath bushy eyebrows, Vlad III Tepes Dracul (“of the Order of the Dragon”) was just as direct when dealing with his subjects, implementing social programs that Anne Coulter could only dream of today. On one famous occasion recorded in the chronicles, he invited all the elderly, the poor, and the sick of his realm to gather in a splendid wooden banquet hall, where he plied them (a bit suspiciously) with roast meats and fine wine. As the grateful peasants were digesting their repast, Vlad’s soldiers sealed the doors and windows and set the building on fire, incinerating all inside. “I did this so that no one will be poor in my realm,” explained Vlad, an early pioneer of compassionate conservatism.
In the 19th century, the author Bram Stoker would make Vlad’s dining habits immortal in the novel Dracula. Stoker combined elements of the historical Vlad — who according to legend enjoyed dipping his bread into victims’ blood — with the Eastern European vampire myth to give the old sadist a lasting place in Western dining culture. • 19 June 2009
Tony Perrottet's new book, Napoleon's Privates: 2,500 Years of History Unzipped, is a literary version of a Cabinet of Curiosities (HarperCollins, July, 2008; napoleonsprivates.com). He is also the author of Pagan Holiday: On the Trail of Ancient Roman Tourists and The Naked Olympics: The True Story of the Ancient Games.