Happy Halloween: Werewolves in Greek and Roman Culture

This week we charged full speed down a lykanthropic rabbit-hole. (Well, maybe I should call it a wolf-hole or something?).   One of the many reasons we started this site (in addition to combating all the false and unattributed quotations online, bringing lesser known material to wider audiences, and entertaining ourselves) is that we wanted the impetus and opportunity to explore material only tangentially connected to our work inside and outside the classroom. More often than not, these boundaries blur–sometimes the classroom spills over here.  Other times, our ‘discoveries’ and fleeting obsessions start here and end up back in the classroom.

Did the Wolf Win or Lose this FIght?
Did the Wolf Win or Lose this Fight?

Here are the sources I’ve gathered in rough chronological order. Most of the material is mentioned in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, although the entry says nothing about the medical texts.

  1. Herodotus’ Histories: A Description of the Neuri, a tribe near the Skythians who could turn into wolves and back.
  2. Plato’s Republic: Lycanthropy is used as a metaphor for the compulsive behavior of tyrants.
  3. Pliny the Elder’s Natural History: Pliny describes the origins of ideas about lycanthropy and blames the traditions on the credulity of the Greeks!
  4. Petronius’ Satyricon: A character tells the story of a companion transforming into a wolf at night and back at day.
  5. Pausanias’ Geography of Greece: Like Pliny, Pausanias tells the story of the human sacrifice performed by Lykaon as an origin of lycanthropic narratives.
  6. Greek Medical Treatises on the Treatment of Lycanthropy: Medical authors from the time of Marcus Aurelius to the fall of Byzantium treat lycanthropy as a mental illness.
  7. Augustine of Hippo, City of God:  St. Augustine (5th Century CE) gives an account similar to Pliny’s, but attributes it to Varro.
  8. Michael Psellus, Poemata 9.841:An 11th century CE monk wrote a book of didactic poems about medicine. His description of lycanthropy is clearly influenced by the Greek medical treatises.

What I have learned from these texts:

  1. The early Greek tradition is harmonious with some structural aspects of Greek myth.  Lycanthropy is related to sacrilegious eating–in a system where what you eat communicates who you are, human flesh is taboo (monsters eat it).  In the Greek lycanthropic tradition, this is non mono-directional. Werewolves who abstain from human flesh can turn back again.
  2. The later ‘folkloric’ tradition (e.g. Petronius) is separate from this structural logic. in the earlier tradition, men transform for 9-10 years (in something of a purificatory period). The other tradition has shorter periods (nightly) that don’t correlate with sacrilege: Petronius’ werewolf doesn’t eat human flesh (that we know of).
  3. The moon-association may be a later accretion on the tradition. All of the medical texts associate werewolves with the night; the Roman texts agree. The lunar cycle may be implied in the Petronius tale (where the transformation happens when the light is almost as bright as day) or in the later medical texts vis a vis the connection with menstrual cycles.
  4. There is one hint of a dog-bite being associated with lycanthropy, but no foundational notion that you contract lycanthropy from a werewolf.  In addition, there are no specific suggestions or methods for how to kill a werewolf.

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Werewolf Week, Religious Returns: St. Augustine on Lycanthropy

In discussing tales of Diomedes’ companions being turned into birds, Augustine in De Civitate Dei (City of God) discusses werewolves (18.17, the full text):

“In order to make this seem more likely, Varro reports other fantastic tales concerning the infamous witch Circe, who transformed Odysseus’ companions into beasts, and concerning the Arcadians, who were by chance transformed when they swam across a certain lake in which they were turned into wolves. Then, they lived as wolves in the same region. If they did not eat human flesh, then they would be returned to human form after swimming across the same lake again.

werewolf-histories

And he also specifies that a certain Demanaetus tasted of the sacrifice which the Arcadians used to make to the Lycaean god, after the child was burned on the altar, and that he transformed into a wolf and, once he became a man again, competing in boxing at the Olympian games and achieved a victory. Varro does not believe for this reason that Pan or Jupiter were given the name “Lykaios” in Arcadia for any other reason than their ability to turn men into wolves, since they did not believe that this could happen except through divine power. As you know, a wolf is called lykos in Greek, and this is where the name Lykaian comes from. Varro adds that the Roman Luperci arose from their own mysteries similarly.

But what can we who talk about these things say about this kind of deceit by the devil’s forces?”

Augustine goes on to object to these tales and discuss Apuleius’ Golden Ass. I started translating this, but it is a bit of a Halloween buzzkill..

No Room For Werewolves in this city...
No Room For Werewolves in this city…

[XVII] Hoc Varro ut astruat, commemorat alia non minus incredibilia de illa maga famosissima Circe, quae socios quoque Vlixis mutauit in bestias, et de Arcadibus, qui sorte ducti tranabant quoddam stagnum atque ibi conuertebantur in lupos et cum similibus feris per illius regionis deserta uiuebant. Si autem carne non uescerentur humana, rursus post nouem annos eodem renatato stagno reformabantur in homines.

Denique etiam nominatim expressit quendam Demaenetum gustasse de sacrificio, quod Arcades immolato puero deo suo Lycaeo facere solerent, et in lupum fuisse mutatum et anno decimo in figuram propriam restitutum pugilatum sese exercuisse et Olympiaco uicisse certamine. Nec idem propter aliud arbitratur historicus in Arcadia tale nomen adfictum Pani Lycaeo et Ioui Lycaeo nisi propter hanc in lupos hominum mutationem, quod eam nisi ui diuina fieri non putarent. Lupus enim Graece *lu/kos dicitur, unde Lycaei nomen apparet inflexum. Romanos etiam Lupercos ex illorum mysteriorum ueluti semine dicit exortos.

Sed de ista tanta ludificatione daemonum nos quid dicamus…

Ritual Sacrifice and Lycanthropy: Pausanias for Werewolf Week

In the second century CE, Pausanias composed ten books on the sights and wonders of ancient Greece. His text provides some of the only accounts of architecture, art and culture that have been lost in intervening centuries.  In his eighth book, he turns to Arcadia and starts by discussing the rituals performed in honor of Lykian Zeus.

The story, mentioned by Plato too, is one of those ‘original sin’ tales from Greek myth–like the story of Tantalos and Pelops, it hearkens back to a golden age when gods and men hung out together. Its details about werewolves are similar to those offered by Pliny (especially the 9-10 year period as a wolf).

It turns out that recent archaeological studies may support human sacrifice at the site!

Hendrik Goltzius' 1589 engraving of Lycaon

Pausanias, 8.2.3-7

“Cecrops was the first to declare Zeus the Highest god and he thought it wrong to sacrifice anything that breathed, so he burned on the altar the local cakes which the Athenians call pelanoi even today. But Lykaon brought a human infant to the altar of Lykaian Zeus, sacrificed it, spread its blood on the altar, and then, according to the tale, turned immediately from a man into a wolf.

This tale convinces me for the following reasons: it has circulated among the Arcadians since antiquity and it also seems probable. For in those days men were guests and tablemates of the gods because of their just behavior and reverence. Those who were good received honor openly from the gods; divine rage fell upon the unjust—then, truly, gods were created from men, gods who have rites even today such as Aristaios, Britomartis the Cretan, Herakles the son of Alkmene, Amphiaros the son of Oicles and, finally, Kastor and Polydeukes.

For this reason we should entertain that Lykaon was turned into a beast and that Niobe became a stone. In our time, when wickedness has swelled to its greatest size and looms over every land and city, no god can come from men, except in the blandishment offered to rulers. Today, divine rage lies in wait for the wicked when they leave for the lower world.

In every age many ancient events—and even those that are current—end up disbelieved because of those who create lies by using the truth. Men report that since the time of Lykaon a man always transforms from a human into a wolf at the sacrifice of Lykaian Zeus, but that he doesn’t remain a wolf his whole life.  Whenever someone turns into a wolf, if he refrains from human flesh, people say he can become a man again ten years later. But if he does taste it, he will always remain a beast.”

ὁ μὲν γὰρ Δία τε ὠνόμασεν ῞Υπατον πρῶτος, καὶ ὁπόσα ἔχει ψυχήν, τούτων μὲν ἠξίωσεν οὐδὲν θῦσαι, πέμματα δὲ ἐπιχώρια ἐπὶ τοῦ βωμοῦ καθήγισεν, ἃ πελάνους καλοῦσιν ἔτι καὶ ἐς  ἡμᾶς ᾿Αθηναῖοι· Λυκάων δὲ ἐπὶ τὸν βωμὸν τοῦ Λυκαίου Διὸς βρέφος ἤνεγκεν ἀνθρώπου καὶ ἔθυσε τὸ βρέφος καὶ ἔσπεισεν ἐπὶ τοῦ βωμοῦ τὸ αἷμα, καὶ αὐτὸν αὐτίκα ἐπὶ τῇ θυσίᾳ γενέσθαι λύκον φασὶν ἀντὶ ἀνθρώπου.

καὶ ἐμέ γε ὁ λόγος οὗτος πείθει, λέγεται δὲ ὑπὸ ᾿Αρκάδων ἐκ παλαιοῦ, καὶ τὸ εἰκὸς αὐτῷ πρόσεστιν. οἱ γὰρ δὴ τότε ἄνθρωποι ξένοι καὶ ὁμοτράπεζοι θεοῖς ἦσαν ὑπὸ δικαιοσύνης καὶ εὐσεβείας, καί σφισιν ἐναργῶς ἀπήντα παρὰ τῶν θεῶν τιμή τε οὖσιν ἀγαθοῖς καὶ ἀδικήσασιν ὡσαύτως ἡ ὀργή, ἐπεί τοι καὶ θεοὶ τότε ἐγίνοντο ἐξ ἀνθρώπων, οἳ γέρα καὶ ἐς τόδε ἔτι ἔχουσιν ὡς ᾿Αρισταῖος καὶ Βριτόμαρτις ἡ Κρητικὴ καὶ ῾Ηρακλῆς ὁ ᾿Αλκμήνης καὶ ᾿Αμφιάραος ὁ ᾿Οικλέους, ἐπὶ δὲ αὐτοῖς Πολυδεύκης τε καὶ Κάστωρ.

οὕτω πείθοιτο ἄν τις καὶ Λυκάονα θηρίον καὶ τὴν Ταντάλου Νιόβην γενέσθαι λίθον. ἐπ’ ἐμοῦ δὲ—κακία γὰρ δὴ ἐπὶ πλεῖστον ηὔξετο καὶ γῆν τε ἐπενέμετο πᾶσαν καὶ πόλεις πάσας—οὔτε θεὸς ἐγίνετο οὐδεὶς ἔτι ἐξ ἀνθρώπου, πλὴν ὅσον λόγῳ καὶ κολακείᾳ πρὸς τὸ ὑπερέχον, καὶ ἀδίκοις τὸ μήνιμα τὸ ἐκ τῶν θεῶν ὀψέ τε καὶ ἀπελθοῦσιν ἐνθένδε ἀπόκειται. ἐν δὲ τῷ παντὶ αἰῶνι πολλὰ μὲν πάλαι συμβάντα, <τὰ> δὲ καὶ ἔτι γινόμενα ἄπιστα εἶναι πεποιήκασιν ἐς τοὺς πολλοὺς οἱ τοῖς ἀληθέσιν ἐποικοδομοῦντες ἐψευσμένα. λέγουσι γὰρ δὴ ὡς Λυκάονος ὕστερον ἀεί τις ἐξ ἀνθρώπου λύκος γίνοιτο ἐπὶ τῇ θυσίᾳ τοῦ Λυκαίου Διός, γίνοιτο δὲ οὐκ ἐς ἅπαντα τὸν βίον· ὁπότε δὲ εἴη λύκος, εἰ μὲν κρεῶν ἀπόσχοιτο ἀνθρωπίνων, ὕστερον ἔτει δεκάτῳ  φασὶν αὐτὸν αὖθις ἄνθρωπον ἐκ λύκου γίνεσθαι, γευσάμενον δὲ ἐς ἀεὶ μένειν θηρίον.

A Ghost Story from Petronius for Werewolf Week

Earlier  we saw how Plato makes being a tyrant equivalent to a type of lycanthropy. The Romans were also into that kind of thing. One of our oldest werewolf tales comes from Petronius’ Satyricon (61-62):

“Trimalchio turned to Niceros and said: “You used to be more pleasant company—I don’t know why you are now so quiet and subdued. If you want to make me happy, please tell us what happened to you.

Niceros, excited at his friend’s request, replied: “May all profit escape me, if I cannot deflate your joy—when I see how you are. Nevertheless, may happiness be ours, even if I am afraid that these scholars will laugh at me. Let them look on: I will tell the story nonetheless, what difference is it to me? It is better to tell a joke than be one.”

werewolf

Once he had uttered these words, he began the following tale:

‘When I was a slave, we were living in a narrow street where the home of Gavus is now. There is was where the gods decided I would fall in love with the wife of Terence the Innkeeper. You do remember Melissa from Tarentum—that most beautiful little package? By god, I loved her less for her body and sexcapades than I did for her fine morals. She didn’t deny me anything I sought. She made a penny, I got half! I put everything I had into her lap, and I was never cheated.

Her husband passed away at the inn one day. As you can imagine, I risked Skylla and Charybdis so I could get to her: for, as they say, Friends are present in times of need.

By chance, my master was visiting Capua in pursuit of some business. I took my chance and compelled a guest to accompany me to the fifth milestone. He was a soldier and as strong as Orcus. We blundered off around the time of the cock’s crow while the moon was shining as bright as midday. We went among the graves and my friend went among the stones to defecate. I sat singing and counting gravemarkers. And then, as I looked for my companion, he appeared and placed all his clothes near the road.

My breath nearly jumped out my nose—I was standing like a corpse. But he pissed around his clothes and suddenly became a wolf! Don’t you dare imagine I am joking, that I am lying. I make up nothing for such an inheritance as this! But, back to what I started to say, after he turned into a wolf, he began to howl and fled into the forest. At first, I didn’t remember where I was: then I went to gather up his clothes, but they had transformed into stones! What could I do but die from fear?

I drew my sword and struck all the shadows before me until I made it to my girlfriend’s home. I entered as pale as a ghost with sweat rushing down to my groin, my eyes nearly dead. I could hardly regain myself. My Melissa was at first surprised because I had gone out so late. And then she said “I wish you had come earlier, you could have helped us: a wolf entered the house and loosed more blood from the ship than a butcher! He escaped, but he didn’t laugh: an older slave tore his throat with a spear.”

Once I heard these words, I could not sleep any longer. At first light I fled the home of Gaius like an angry landlord. But once I came to the place where his clothing had turned into stone, I found nothing but blood. Honestly, I went home and my soldier was lying like a bull on his bed as a doctor was tending to his neck. I knew that he was a shapeshifter* then, and I wouldn’t have been able to share a meal with him even if you threatened to kill me. Let these men believe what they want about this, but if I am lying, let the gods hate me.”

*”shapeshifter”: Latin, versipellis (lit. “pelt-changer”) is used several times for form-changing in Latin literature. Often, this example and that of Pliny EN 8.80 (cf. LSJ s.v.) are translated as “werewolf”. I chose the more general sense.

[LXI] … Trimalchio ad Nicerotem respexit et: “Solebas, inquit, suavius esse in convictu; nescio quid nunc taces nec muttis. Oro te, sic felicem me videas, narra illud quod tibi usu venit.” Niceros delectatus affabilitate amici: “Omne me, inquit, lucrum transeat, nisi iam dudum gaudimonio dissilio, quod te talem video. Itaque hilaria mera sint, etsi timeo istos scolasticos ne me rideant. Viderint: narrabo tamen, quid enim mihi aufert, qui ridet? satius est rideri quam derideri.”

Haec ubi dicta dedit talem fabulam exorsus est:

“Cum adhuc servirem, habitabamus in vico angusto; nunc Gavillae domus est. Ibi, quomodo dii volunt, amare coepi uxorem Terentii coponis: noveratis Melissam Tarentinam, pulcherrimum bacciballum. Sed ego non mehercules corporaliter aut propter res venerias curavi, sed magis quod benemoria fuit. Si quid ab illa petii, nunquam mihi negatum; fecit assem, semissem habui; in illius sinum demandavi, nec unquam fefellitus sum. Huius contubernalis ad villam supremum diem obiit. Itaque per scutum per ocream egi aginavi, quemadmodum ad illam pervenirem: nam, ut aiunt, in angustiis amici apparent.

[LXII] “Forte dominus Capuae exierat ad scruta scita expedienda. Nactus ego occasionem persuadeo hospitem nostrum, ut mecum ad quintum miliarium veniat. Erat autem miles, fortis tanquam Orcus. Apoculamus nos circa gallicinia; luna lucebat tanquam meridie. Venimus inter monimenta: homo meus coepit ad stelas facere; sedeo ego cantabundus et stelas numero. Deinde ut respexi ad comitem, ille exuit se et omnia vestimenta secundum viam posuit. Mihi anima in naso esse; stabam tanquam mortuus. At ille circumminxit vestimenta sua, et subito lupus factus est. Nolite me iocari putare; ut mentiar, nullius patrimonium tanti facio. Sed, quod coeperam dicere, postquam lupus factus est, ululare coepit et in silvas fugit. Ego primitus nesciebam ubi essem; deinde accessi, ut vestimenta eius tollerem: illa autem lapidea facta sunt. Qui mori timore nisi ego? Gladium tamen strinxi et umbras cecidi, donec ad villam amicae meae pervenirem. In larvam intravi, paene animam ebullivi, sudor mihi per bifurcum volabat, oculi mortui; vix unquam refectus sum. Melissa mea mirari coepit, quod tam sero ambularem, et: ‘Si ante, inquit, venisses, saltem nobis adiutasses; lupus enim villam intravit et omnia pecora tanquam lanius sanguinem illis misit. Nec tamen derisit, etiamsi fugit; senius enim noster lancea collum eius traiecit’. Haec ut audivi, operire oculos amplius non potui, sed luce clara Gai nostri domum fugi tanquam copo compilatus; et postquam veni in illum locum, in quo lapidea vestimenta erant facta, nihil inveni nisi sanguinem. Vt vero domum veni, iacebat miles meus in lecto tanquam bovis, et collum illius medicus curabat. Intellexi illum versipellem esse, nec postea cum illo panem gustare potui, non si me occidisses. Viderint quid de hoc alii exopinissent; ego si mentior, genios vestros iratos habeam.”

Werewolf Week In Rome: Don’t Look a Wolf in the Eyes!

Here is the rather famous account of Werewolves from Pliny the Elder’s Natural History 8.34) (for the full text: see Perseus). The Latin text on Perseus is incorrect, but fortunately Lacus Curtius is there to save the day.

wolfboys

Pliny, NH 8.34 80-83

“But in Italy they also believe that the gaze of a wolf is harmful—specifically that it will take the voice from any man they see first. Africa and Egypt have wolves that are slow and small, while the colder climates produce fierce and wild animals. We ought to believe with certainty that accounts of men turning into wolves and then back to themselves again are false; or we should be prepared  to believe all the tales that are fantastic from as many generations.

Nevertheless, since the tale is popular enough that it has earned the curse-term “versepellis”, I will explain its origin. Euanthes, not unknown among Greek authors, reports that the Arcadians hold that a member of a family of a certain Anthus is selected by lot, transported to a certain lake in the region, and, after he hangs his clothes on an oak tree, he crosses the lake and enters the desert where he turns into a wolf and joins with others of his kind for nine years.

If he keeps himself from humans for this period of time, he returns to the same lake and once he has crossed it regains his form, except that nine years of age have accumulated. Fabius adds to this tale that he also regains his clothing. It is amazing how far Greek gullibility will go! There is no lie so shameful that it will lack partisans.

Similarly, the author Apollas who wrote the Olympionics, claims that Demaenetus of Parrhasia, when the Arcadians were still performing human sacrifices to Jupiter Lycaeus, sampled the entrails of a child who had been sacrificed, and transformed into a wolf. That same man transformed back 10 years later, became an athlete, and returned to the Olympic games as a victor.

It is also believed that there is a thin tip of hair on the tail of this animal which acts as an aphrodisiac—when the animal is caught, it has no force unless it is plucked while the animal is still alive.”

Sed in Italia quoque creditur luporum visus esse noxius vocemque homini, quem priores contemplentur, adimere ad praesens. inertes hos parvosque Africa et Aegyptus gignunt, asperos trucesque frigidior plaga. homines in lupos verti rursusque restitui sibi falsum esse confidenter existimare debemus aut credere omnia quae fabulosa tot saeculis conperimus. unde tamen ista vulgo infixa sit fama in tantum, ut in maledictis versipelles habeat, indicabitur.

Euanthes, inter auctores Graeciae non spretus, scribit Arcadas tradere ex gente Anthi cuiusdam sorte familiae lectum ad stagnum quoddam regionis eius duci vestituque in quercu suspenso tranare atque abire in deserta transfigurarique in lupum et cum ceteris eiusdem generis congregari per annos VIIII. quo in tempore si homine se abstinuerit, reverti ad idem stagnum et, cum tranaverit, effigiem recipere, ad pristinum habitum addito novem annorum senio. id quoque adicit, eandem recipere vestem.

mirum est quo procedat Graeca credulitas! nullum tam inpudens mendacium est, ut teste careat. item Apollas, qui Olympionicas scripsit, narrat Demaenetum Parrhasium in sacrificio, quod Arcades Iovi Lycaeo humana etiamtum hostia facebant, immolati pueri exta degustasse et in lupum se convertisse, eundem X anno restitutum athleticae se exercuisse in pugilatu victoremque Olympia reversum.

quin et caudae huius animalis creditur vulgo inesse amatorium virus exiguo in villo eumque, cum capiatur, abici nec idem pollere nisi viventi dereptum.

The Real Horror Show is Politics: Plato on Lykanthropy (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?”

werewolf-1

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;

῎Εγωγε.

῏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. Stay tuned for more of this in coming days.

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

Halloween is Next Week: Werewolf Week Begins!

Last year, before Halloween, we got all excited about ancient Werewolves.  Last year, we also added some brain-eating in for good measure. 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.  And, we have already mixed in some vampires (Lamia and Empousa) and a few posts on ghosts and fear.

But let’s start it all out with the oldest textual reference to werewolves in the western tradition:

Herodotus, 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.