What’s Scarier than Werewolves? Politics (Werewolf Week Continues)

From Plato’s Republic, Book 8 (565d)

“What is the beginning of the change from guardian to tyrant? Isn’t clear when the guardian begins to do that very thing which myth says happened at the shrine of Lykaion Zeus in Arcadia?

Which is? He said.

That once someone tastes a bit of human innards mixed up with the other sacrifices he becomes a wolf by necessity? Haven’t you heard this tale?

I have.

Is it not something the same with a protector of the people? Once he controls a mob that obeys him, he cannot restrain himself from tribal blood, but he prosecutes unjustly, the sorts of things men love to do, and brings a man into court for murder, eliminating the life of a man—and with tongue and unholy mouth that have tasted the murder of his kind, he exiles, kills, and promises the cutting of debts and the redistribution of land. Is it not by necessity that such a man is fated either to be killed by his enemies or to become a tyrant, to turn into a wolf from a man?”


Τίς ἀρχὴ οὖν μεταβολῆς ἐκ προστάτου ἐπὶ τύραννον; ἢ δῆλον ὅτι ἐπειδὰν ταὐτὸν ἄρξηται δρᾶν ὁ προστάτης τῷ ἐν τῷ μύθῳ ὃς περὶ τὸ ἐν ᾿Αρκαδίᾳ τὸ τοῦ Διὸς τοῦ Λυκαίου ἱερὸν λέγεται;

Τίς; ἔφη.

῾Ως ἄρα ὁ γευσάμενος τοῦ ἀνθρωπίνου σπλάγχνου, ἐν ἄλλοις ἄλλων ἱερείων ἑνὸς ἐγκατατετμημένου, ἀνάγκη δὴ τούτῳ λύκῳ γενέσθαι. ἢ οὐκ ἀκήκοας τὸν λόγον;


῏Αρ’ οὖν οὕτω καὶ ὃς ἂν δήμου προεστώς, λαβὼν σφόδρα πειθόμενον ὄχλον, μὴ ἀπόσχηται ἐμφυλίου αἵματος, ἀλλ’ ἀδίκως ἐπαιτιώμενος, οἷα δὴ φιλοῦσιν, εἰς δικαστήρια ἄγων μιαιφονῇ, βίον ἀνδρὸς ἀφανίζων, γλώττῃ τε καὶ στόματι ἀνοσίῳ γευόμενος φόνου συγγενοῦς, καὶ ἀνδρηλατῇ καὶ ἀποκτεινύῃ καὶ ὑποσημαίνῃ χρεῶν τε ἀποκοπὰς καὶ γῆς ἀναδασμόν, ἆρα τῷ τοιούτῳ ἀνάγκη δὴ τὸ μετὰ τοῦτο καὶ εἵμαρται ἢ ἀπολωλέναι ὑπὸ τῶν ἐχθρῶν ἢ τυραννεῖν καὶ λύκῳ ἐξ ἀνθρώπου γενέσθαι;

In ancient Greek myth, Lykaon (Lycaon, related to lúkos, “wolf”) was a king of Arcadia. According to Pausanias (8.31-5) , Lykaon sacrificed a newborn child to Zeus. In other sources he offers the infant mixed up with other food to test Zeus’ divinity (although some attribute the deed to his sons, see Apollodorus, 3.8.1). Zeus killed the sons with lightning; Lykaon was transformed into a wolf.

There may actually be physical evidence of human sacrifice in Arcadia now.

There are other sources (Pausanias, Pliny and Petronius) who mention other lycanthropies, but this one seems like an appropriate starting point

The Living Shouldn’t Eat Brains: The Story of Tydeus

In the spirit of the week before Halloween, below are the major accounts of Diomedes’ father, Tydeus, who was rejected by Athena after eating brains. The tale has simple symbolism that echoes modern associations with zombies (the dead need to steal life force from the living). The tale is equal parts about the impossibility of immortality and drawing boundaries about proper human behavior.

It is also about eating brains.

Hom. Il. 5.801

“Tydeus was a little man, but a fighter.”

Τυδεύς τοι μικρὸς μὲν ἔην δέμας, ἀλλὰ μαχητής·


Schol. AbT ad Il. 5.126

“They say that when Tydeus was wounded by Melanippos Astakos’ son, he got pretty upset. And Amphiarus, after he killed Melanippus, gave his head to Tydeus. Like a beast, Tydeus ripped it open and slurped up his brains to his fill. Athena happened to be there at that time, bringing some immortal medicine to him from heaven, and she turned back out of disgust. When he saw her, he asked that she favor his son with the divine favor. That’s Pherecydes’ story.”

Τυδέα τρωθέντα ὑπὸ Μελανίππου τοῦ ᾿Αστακοῦ σφόδρα ἀγανακτῆσαι. ᾿Αμφιάρεων δὲ κτείναντα τὸν Μελάνιππον δοῦναι τὴν κεφαλὴν Τυδεῖ. τὸν δὲ δίκην θηρὸς ἀναπτύξαντα ῥοφᾶν τὸν ἐγκέφαλον ἀπὸ θυμοῦ. κατ’ ἐκεῖνο δὲ καιροῦ παρεῖναι ᾿Αθηνᾶν ἀθανασίαν αὐτῷ φέρουσαν ἐξ οὐρανοῦ καὶ διὰ τὸ μύσος ἀπεστράφθαι. τὸν δὲ θεασάμενον παρακαλέσαι κἂν τῷ παιδὶ αὐτοῦ χαρίσασθαι τὴν ἀθανασίαν. ἱστορεῖ Φερεκύδης (FGrHist 3, 97). A b (BC) T


Schol. in Pind. Nem. 11.43b

“That Melanippos was Theban and stood in battle against Tydeus. It seems that Tydeus took his head in rage, smashed it, and gulped up his brains. For this reason, Athena turned back even though she was bringing him a revitalizing drug.”
(FHG I O M, I 117 J). ὁ δὲ Μελάνιππος οὗτος Θηβαῖος ἦν ἐπὶ τοῦ πολέμου συστὰς τῷ Τυδεῖ. τούτου δοκεῖ διὰ τὴν ὀργὴν λαβὼν ὁ Τυδεὺς τὴν κεφαλὴν καὶ ῥήξας ἐκροφῆσαι τὸν ἐγκέφαλον· διὸ καὶ ἀπεστράφη ἡ ᾿Αθηνᾶ τότε κομίζουσα αὐτῷ
τὴν ἀθανασίαν…


Schol. in Theoc. Proleg. 15-18b

“From man-eating Tydeus: For that Tydeus ate Melannipus’ brains down to the marrow.”

Τυδέως τοῦ ἀνδροβρῶτος—ἔφαγε γὰρ οὗτος ὁ Τυδεὺς τὴν κεφαλὴν τοῦ Μελανίππου καταρροφήσας τὸν ἐν αὐτῇ μυελόν.


Schol ad. Lyk. 1066 1-7

of the head-munching Tydeus: the story goes that during the Theban war, Tydeus ate up Melanippus’ head. Thus, Tydeus is called “head-muncher” and his child is Diomedes.”

τοῦ κρατοβρῶτος
τοῦ Τυδέως, ἐπειδὴ ἐν τῷ
Θηβαϊκῷ πολέμῳ λέγεται ὁ
Τυδεὺς τὴν κεφαλὴν τοῦ Μελα-
νίππου κατεδηδοκέναι. κρα-
τοβρῶτος οὖν ὁ Τυδεύς,
παῖς δὲ αὐτοῦ ὁ Διομήδης.


Kallierges (Etym. Magn.)

“Tydeus, from tuthon (“a little”); for he was small for his age group.”

Τυδεύς: Παρὰ τὸ τυτθόν· μικρὸς γὰρ ἦν τῇ ἡλικίᾳ.


Note the variations in the narrative Apollodorus introduces by bringing all the details together: Amphiarus becomes the villain here!

Apollodorus, 3.76-77

“Melanippus, the last of Astacus’ children, wounded Tydeus in the stomach. While he was lying there half-dead, Athena brought him medicine she had begged from Zeus in order to make him immortal. But when Amphiarus perceived this, because he hated Tydues for persuading the Argives to march against Thebes against his own judgment, he cut off Melanippus’ head and gave it to him (Tydeus killed him when he was wounded). He drew out the brains and gobbled them up. When Athena saw him, she was disturbed, and withheld and kept the medicine.”

Μελάνιππος δὲ ὁ λοιπὸς τῶν ᾿Αστακοῦ παίδων εἰς τὴν γαστέρα Τυδέα τιτρώσκει.
ἡμιθνῆτος δὲ αὐτοῦ κειμένου παρὰ Διὸς αἰτησαμένη ᾿Αθηνᾶ φάρμακον ἤνεγκε, δι’ οὗ ποιεῖν ἔμελλεν ἀθάνατον αὐτόν. ᾿Αμφιάραος δὲ αἰσθόμενος τοῦτο, μισῶνΤυδέα ὅτι παρὰ τὴν ἐκείνου γνώμην εἰς Θήβας ἔπεισε τοὺς ᾿Αργείους στρατεύεσθαι, τὴν Μελανίππου κεφαλὴν ἀποτεμὼν ἔδωκεν αὐτῷ (τιτρωσκόμενος δὲ Τυδεὺς ἔκτεινεν αὐτόν). ὁ δὲ διελὼν τὸν ἐγκέφαλον ἐξερρόφησεν. ὡς δὲ εἶδεν ᾿Αθηνᾶ, μυσαχθεῖσα τὴν εὐεργεσίαν ἐπέσχε τε καὶ ἐφθόνησεν.


An Etruscan relief from Pyrgi

Sextus Empiricus, Pyrrhoniae Hypotyposes 3.208

“We consider eating human flesh to be wrong; but it is a matter of ambivalence among the barbarians. But why should we even speak of ‘barbarians’ when Tydeus is said to have eaten an enemy’s brains and when the Stoics claim it is not strange for someone to eat another’s flesh or his own?”

ἀγαθῷ τινι τούτῳ χρῆσθαι τῷ κακῷ πυνθανόμεθα. ἀλλὰ καὶ τὸ ἀνθρωπείων γεύεσθαι σαρκῶν παρ’ ἡμῖν μὲν ἄθεσμον, παρ’ ὅλοις δὲ βαρβάροις ἔθνεσιν ἀδιάφορόν ἐστιν.

καὶ τί δεῖ τοὺς βαρβάρους λέγειν, ὅπου καὶ ὁ Τυδεὺς τὸν ἐγκέφαλον τοῦ πολεμίου λέγεται φαγεῖν, καὶ οἱ ἀπὸ τῆς Στοᾶς οὐκ ἄτοπον εἶναί φασι τὸ σάρκας τινὰ ἐσθίειν ἄλλων τε ἀνθρώπων καὶ ἑαυτοῦ;

A Week Until Halloween? Time for some Werewolves!

Last year, before Halloween, we got all excited about ancient Werewolves. This year, we are doing it all over again. We will talk about therapeutic treatments for lycanthropy, the ritual origins of some Greek beliefs, and a Roman ghost story from Petronius.  Butlet’s start with the oldest reference to werewolves from classical antiquity, Herodotus’ description of the Neuroi.

Histories, 4.105

The Neuroi are Skythian culturally, but one generation before Darius’ invasion they were driven from their country by snakes. It happens that their land produces many snakes; and even more descended upon them from the deserted regions to the point that they were overwhelmed and left their own country to live with the Boudinoi.

These men may actually be wizards. For the Skythians and even the Greeks who have settled in Skythia report that once each year the Neurian men turn into wolves for a few days and then transform back into themselves again. People who say these things don’t persuade me, but they tell the tale still and swear to it when they do.”

Some Skythians were less civilized...

Some Skythians were less civilized…

Νευροὶ δὲ νόμοισι μὲν χρέωνται Σκυθικοῖσι. Γενεῇ δὲ μιῇ πρότερόν σφεας τῆς Δαρείου στρατηλασίης κατέλαβε ἐκλιπεῖν τὴν χώρην πᾶσαν ὑπὸ ὀφίων· ὄφις γάρ σφι πολλοὺς μὲν ἡ χώρη ἀνέφαινε, οἱ δὲ πλέονες ἄνωθέν σφι ἐκ τῶν ἐρήμων ἐπέπεσον, ἐς ὃ πιεζόμενοι οἴκησαν μετὰ  Βουδίνων τὴν ἑωυτῶν ἐκλιπόντες.

Κινδυνεύουσι δὲ οἱ ἄνθρωποι οὗτοι γόητες εἶναι. Λέγονται γὰρ ὑπὸ Σκυθέων καὶ ῾Ελλήνων τῶν ἐν τῇ Σκυθικῇ κατοικημένων ὡς ἔτεος ἑκάστου ἅπαξ τῶν Νευρῶν ἕκαστος λύκος γίνεται ἡμέρας ὀλίγας καὶ αὖτις ὀπίσω ἐς τὠυτὸ κατίσταται· ἐμὲ μέν νυν ταῦτα λέγοντες οὐ πείθουσι, λέγουσι δὲ οὐδὲν ἧσσον, καὶ ὀμνύουσι δὲ λέγοντες.

How and Wells’ Comment as follows on this passage (available on Perseus):

λύκος γίνεται. This earliest reference to the widespread superstition as to werewolves (cf. Tylor, P. C. i. 308 seq., and Frazer, Paus. iv. 189, for Greek parallels) is interesting, as the evidence is so emphatic. Others (e. g. Müllenhoff iii. 17) see in this story a reference to some festival like the Lupercalia.

Johnson’s Knowledge of Greek

From Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson:

“A very erroneous notion has circulated as to Johnson’s deficiency in the knowledge of the Greek language, partly owing to the modesty with which, from knowing how much there was to be learnt, he used to mention his own comparative acquisitions. When Mr. Cumberland talked to him of the Greek fragments which are so well illustrated in The Observer, and of the Greek dramatists in general, he candidly acknowledged his insufficiency in that particular branch of Greek literature. Yet it may be said, that though not a great, he was a good Greek scholar. Dr. Charles Burney, the younger, who is universally acknowledged by the best judges to be one of the few men of this age who are very eminent for their skill in that noble language, has assured me, that Johnson could give a Greek word for almost every English one; and that although not sufficiently conversant in the niceties of the language, he upon some occasions discovered, even in these, a considerable degree of critical acumen. Mr. Dalzel, Professor of Greek at Edinburgh, whose skill in it is unquestionable, mentioned to me, in very liberal terms, the impression which was made upon him by Johnson, in a conversation which they had in London concerning that language. As Johnson, therefore, was undoubtedly one of the first Latin scholars in modern times, let us not deny to his fame some additional splendour from Greek.”

A Few Dirty Poems from the Greek Anthology

The fifth book of the Greek Anthology is filled with ‘Erotic’ poems. Most are tame; some are funny; and a few are just dreadful.  Today, a few using  a fine Greek verb βινεῖν (binein).

5.29 Killaktoros

“Screwing is sweet: who claims otherwise? But when it costs
Money, it is bitterer than hellebore.”

῾Αδὺ τὸ βινεῖν ἐστι. τίς οὐ λέγει; ἀλλ’ ὅταν αἰτῇ
χαλκόν, πικρότερον γίνεται ἐλλεβόρου.

5.126 Philodemus

“He gives her five talents for one turn
and fucks her while shaking—and, dear god, she isn’t pretty.
I give Lysianassa five drachmas for twelve turns—
I fuck a better woman and do it openly.
Either I am completely insane, or all that remains
is to lop off his twin balls with an axe.”

Πέντε δίδωσιν ἑνὸς τῇ δεῖνα ὁ δεῖνα τάλαντα,
καὶ βινεῖ φρίσσων καί, μὰ τόν, οὐδὲ καλήν·
πέντε δ’ ἐγὼ δραχμὰς τῶν δώδεκα Λυσιανάσσῃ,
καὶ βινῶ πρὸς τῷ κρείσσονα καὶ φανερῶς.
πάντως ἤτοι ἐγὼ φρένας οὐκ ἔχω, ἢ τό γε λοιπὸν
τοὺς κείνου πελέκει δεῖ διδύμους ἀφελεῖν.

Our gentle readers will probably note the variation in the translation of βινεῖν.  It is a rather ancient verb, it appears in a fragment of Archilochus ( fr. 152.2L γυναῖ]κα βινέων[) and, of course, Aristophanes drops some b-bombs from time to time as in the Frogs (740):

“For how isn’t he noble, when he knows only how to drink and screw?”

ΞΑ. Πῶς γὰρ οὐχὶ γεννάδας,
ὅστις γε πίνειν οἶδε καὶ βινεῖν μόνον;

But if no one told you that βινεῖν is the equivalent of “fucking”, you’d have to look at the LSJ (which uses Latin “inire, coire of illicit intercourse.”), or an ancient Lexicographer who cites Solon (Hesychius):

βινεῖν:”In Solon, to have sex by force—to conjugate against custom”

βινεῖν· παρὰ Σόλωνι τὸ βίᾳ μίγνυσθαι. τὸ δὲ κατὰ νόμον ὀπύειν

But my favorite entry comes from the Byzantine Encyclopedia, the Suda.

Suda: “Binein: to have intercourse; or to chirp like a bird. It occurs in epigrams.”

Βινεῖν: τὸ συνουσιάζειν· ἢ τὸ πιπίζειν. ἐν ᾿Επιγράμμασι·

Does anyone want to take a stab at some broader etymologies for the verb?


Hesiodic Passages on Autolykos

Fragment 64 .15-19

“….Divine Philonis
Who bore Autolykos and Philammon*, famous for his voice;
She gave birth to the first after she was impregnated by Apollo,
And then, after she had lovely sex with Hermes too,
She gave birth to Autolykos with the Kyllenian slayer of Argos.”

[                          ]δ̣ῖ̣α̣ Φι̣λ̣ων̣[ίς
ἣ τέκεν Αὐτόλυκόν τε Φιλάμμονά τε κλυτὸν αὐδήν,
τὸν μὲν ὑποδμηθεῖσα ἑκηβόλωι ᾿Α]π̣όλ[λ]ω̣νι,
τὸν δ’ αὖθ’ ῾Ερμάωνι μιγεῖσ’ ἐρατῆι] φιλ[ό]τητι̣
Αὐτόλυκον τίκτεν Κυλληνίωι ᾿Αρ]γεϊ[φ]ό̣ντ̣[ηι

*Philammon became a powerful singer thanks to his father, Apollo, and in some traditions is credited with founding the practice of singing hymns to Leto, Artemis and Apollo. He has a son with the nymph Argiope, Thamyris, who challenges the Muses in a singing competition and loses. Autolykos’ daughter, Antiklea, is Odysseus’ mother.

Fragment 67

Aeidelon means unseen. Eido is to recognize something, whence we derive “I know” (oida) Eidelos is formed the way pempelos is from pempô. Formed with a suffix, aeidelos is someone that is not seen. In the work of Nicander, it comes from that which is always apparent. He explains about this that it is derived from aeidêlon with a shortening of the eta to an epsilon. But a very clear meaning has been established for aeidelos. For Hesiod uses the word concerning Autolykos to indicate what is unseen:

“Whatever he took with his hands, he made it all unseen” (fr. 67 MW)

For, since he was a thief, he would steal horses and make them look different. He changed their colors. Cf. to aidêlon.

ἀείδελον σημαίνει τὸν ἀόρατον. ῎Εστιν εἴδω τὸ γινώσκω· ᾧ ἀντιπαράκειται τὸ οἶδα. Γίνεται εἴδελος, ὡς πέμπω πέμπελος· καὶ συνθέσει ἀείδελος, ὁ μὴ θεωρούμενος. Παρὰ δὲ Νικάνδρῳ ἐπὶ τοῦ ἀεὶ φανεροῦ κεῖται. Περὶ οὗ ἐστὶν εἰπεῖν, ὅτι ἀπὸ τοῦ ἀείδηλον γέγονε κατὰ συστολὴν τοῦ η εἰς ε·

Τοῦ δὲ τέρας περίσημον ἀείδελον ἐστήρικτο. Νίκανδρος. ᾿Επὶ δὲ τοῦ ἀοράτου ἐχρήσατο τῇ λέξει ῾Ησίδος περὶ τοῦ Αὐτολύκου. Φησὶ γὰρ, ῞Οττι κε χερσὶ λάβεσκεν, ἀείδελα πάντα τίθεσκεν. Καὶ γὰρ ὁ αὐτὸς, κλέπτης ὢν, ἔκλεπτε τοὺς ἵππους, καὶ ἀλλοιοφανεῖς αὐτοὺς ἀπετέλει· ἐνήλλασσε δὲ τὰς χροιὰς αὐτῶν. Ζήτει εἰς τὸ ἀΐδηλον.

Interested in ἀΐδηλον? I wrote a little piece about it.



The Aeneid vs. The Odyssey

From Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson:

“No man reads a book of science from pure inclination. The books that we do read with pleasure are light compositions, which contain a quick succession of events. However, I have this year read all Virgil through. I read a book of the Aeneid every night, so it was done in twelve nights, and I had great delight in it. The Georgicks did not give me so much pleasure, except the fourth book. The Eclogues I have almost all by heart. I do not think the story of the Aeneid interesting. I like the story of the Odyssey much better; and this not on account of the wonderful things which it contains; for there are wonderful things enough in the Aeneid;—the ships of the Trojans turned to sea-nymphs,—the tree at Polydorus’s tomb dropping blood. The story of the Odyssey is interesting, as a great part of it is domestick. It has been said, there is pleasure in writing, particularly in writing verses. I allow you may have pleasure from writing, after it is over, if you have written well; but you don’t go willingly to it again. I know when I have been writing verses, I have run my finger down the margin, to see how many I had made, and how few I had to make.'”