The mythological figures of incubus and succubus, while today relatively obscure, once held dramatic power in folklore and the arts. Somewhat like the vampire, the succubus and incubus were known for draining and depleting their victims of their energy. However, unlike the vampire that bit its victims in the neck, the incubus and succubus would visit victims in the night and drain them of energy by taking sexual advantage of them. The incubus is a male demon, known to pray upon sleeping women while the succubus is its female counterpart that prayed upon males, most especially celibate ones such as monks.

Because of its peculiar nature dealing with sexuality and repression and the growing popularity of its close cousin the vampire featured in Baudelaire and Bram Stoker's Dracula, the succubus/incubus figure was commonly seen in Decadent works. However, earlier works also gave suggestions of the succubus/incubus (particularly the succubus) as the figure of the seductress. However, the roles of the various mythological figures was not always clearly expressed in artwork, and was subject to changes in time and interpretation.


1. Is the Vampire in Baudelaire's "Metamorphoses of a Vampire" better described a vampire or a succubus/incubus? What about the vampire in "The Vampire"? What is the difference between the two depictions? Is there a meaningful distinction between the vampire figure and the succubus/incubus figure?

2. The child in Klinger's The Dead Mother seems to be taking on the role of the incubus? How does this connection inform the reading of the image?

3. Are Von Stuck's depictions of the Sphinx supposed to be succubus figures? How does this differ from other interpretations of the Sphinx? Unlike the succubus, the sphinx was not seen as much as a sensual figure, but as a guardian, asker of riddles, and a strangler (hence the name). Why did the sphinx become like a succubus for Von Stuck and some other painters?

4. One of the most famous mythological succubi is Lillith, famous depicted by D.G. Rossetti in Lady Lillith How does Rossetti's treatment of the figure differ significantly from decadent representations? How does it inform the changing picture of the seductress?

5. What became of the succubus figure in more recent times? While the vampire has remained a popular figure, it has recently become less and less akin to the succubus as it has grown increasingly divorced from the notion of sexuality. Did changing societal mores kill the power of the succubus? .

Related Material

  1. Subjects in Nineteenth-Century Painting and Literature — The Sphinx

Aesthetes & Decadents paintings by artist

Last modified 9 May 2008