Werewolf Week Continues: Byzantine Verse on Lycanthropy

Surrounded by the Halloween spirit because I have small children and I like trashy television, I got interested (again) in continuities between ancient monsters and modern storytelling. Inadvertently, this week has become werewolf week. I started with a reference to turning into wolves in Plato. Then, led by the Oxford Classical Dictionary, I delighted in the werewolf tale from Petronius. This led of course to Pliny the Elder.

But the werewolf hunt does not end there.  I have some Pausanias (that shares some aspects with Pliny and Plato) for later in the week. Along the way, I have found a trove of late antique and Byzantine medical treatises on Lycanthropy. (Those are coming tomorrow). I could not wait to force this upon the world: a Byzantine didactic poem based on those medical treatises!

Master Psellos, What can you tell us about wolves about men and anything else you embellish?
Master Psellos,
What can you tell us
about wolves
about men
and anything else you embellish?

The poem is from a collection of didactic verses attributed to Michael Psellos of Constantinople who lived and worked in the 11th century CE. The text comes from the Teubner edition of his poems edited by L. G. Westernik (1982).

Poemata 9.841

“One kind of melancholy is lykanthropy.
And it is clearly a type of misanthropy.
Mark thus a man who rushes from the day
When you see him at night running round graves,
With a pale face, dumb dry eyes, not a care in his rage.”

Μελάγχολόν τι πρᾶγμα λυκανθρωπία·
ἔστι γὰρ αὐτόχρημα μισανθρωπία,
καὶ γνωριεῖς ἄνθρωπον εἰσπεπτωκότα
ὁρῶν περιτρέχοντα νυκτὸς τοὺς τάφους,
ὠχρόν, κατηφῆ, ξηρόν, ἠμελημένον.

9 thoughts on “Werewolf Week Continues: Byzantine Verse on Lycanthropy

  1. This is not a post re the subj but a couple of questions: I am an ancient studying Latin with a wonderful tutor after an interim of 50 plus years since superb school Latin. We are just about to finish Mason Hammond’s Aeneas to Augustus. We are wondering what next. The Hammond has been great for variety and organization. Any ideas? I am about to search to see if I can identify any Harvard classmates who did classics and ask what they went on to after Hammond, but thought I’d ask you first. Second question: I would like to make a modest (very) contribution to your efforts. How?? Paul Redmond, Marblehead

    Sent from my iPhone


    1. http://www.bolchazy.com/ Bolchazy-Carducci has some great intermediate readers for both Latin and Greek. If you have finished the Hammond, I would say the next step is to focus on some individual authors with assistance (B-C texts are perfect for this). I would suggest taking on a piece by Sallust, Cicero or Livy for prose and then trying out some Ovid. Try to pursue your interests!

      For intermediate and early advanced Latin-Greek students I always take this approach.

      As far as contributing to the madness on the blog, let me know what you have in mind. You can see the types of stuff we do here, from single lines to longer ruminations.

      The more the merrier.

      1. AS far as the how–give me a description of what you are thinking. If it seems like just a one-off, I will post and attribute to you. If it seems like something you want to do with frequency, I will invite you to be a contributor to the site.

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