Versions of the Byronic Hero

Lord Byron, from The Giaour

Hassan’s curse of the hero

Pieced together, the fragments of Byron’s “Turkish tale” yield a story that combines doomed love with the clash of civilizations. A “Giaour” in the eyes of his antagonist (“Giaour,” Byron explains in a note, means “Infidel”), the Christian hero of this poem goes to battle with the Muslim Hassan. His aim is to avenge the memory of Leila, the slave girl whom Hassan has had drowned after learning that she had been unfaithful to him with his enemy. In a manner that marks Byron’s immersion in Gothic romances such as The Italian, the poem concludes with its hero’s impenitent confession to the monks among whom he has chosen to end his life—a confession in which, however, the crimes remain “unspeakable.” 

The excerpt that follows, which relates the dying Hassan’s curse of the Giaour, also represents a decisive moment in the early literary history of the vampire: a traditional figure in the oral folk culture of Europe’s eastern margins, whom Byron here helps to introduce into the print culture of the modern West.

         But thou, false Infidel! shalt writhe
Beneath avenging Monkir's scythe; >> note 1
And from its torment 'scape alone
To wander round lost Eblis' throne;
And fire unquench'd, unquenchable—
Around—within—thy heart shall dwell,
Nor ear can hear, nor tongue can tell
The tortures of that inward hell!—
But first, on earth, as Vampire sent,
Thy corse shall from its tomb be rent;
Then ghastly haunt thy native place,
And suck the blood of all thy race,
There from thy daughter, sister, wife,
At midnight drain the stream of life;
Yet loathe the banquet which perforce
Must feed thy livid living corse;
Thy victims ere they yet expire
Shall know their daemon for their sire, >> note 2
As cursing thee, thou cursing them,
Thy flowers are wither'd on the stem.
But one that for thy crime must fall—
The youngest—most belov'd of all,
Shall bless thee with a father's name—
That word shall wrap thy heart in flame!
Yet must thou end thy task, and mark
Her cheek's last tinge, her eye's last spark,
And the last glassy glance must view
Which freezes o'er its lifeless blue;
Then with unhallowed hand shalt tear
The tresses of her yellow hair,
Of which in life a lock when shorn,
Affection's fondest pledge was worn;
But now is borne away by thee, >> note 3
Memorial of thine agony!
Wet with thine own best blood shall drip,
Thy gnashing tooth and haggard lip;
Then stalking to thy sullen grave—
Go—and with Gouls and Afrits rave; >> note 4
Till these in horror shrink away
From spectre more accursed than they!

—From The Giaour: A Fragment of a Turkish Tale  (1813)


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