Werewolf Myths and Legends of Antiquity

So, werewolf stories have been around since oral tradition became a thing. They were scary stories to tell children to get them to behave, or warnings to God fearing Christians to keep away from anything having to do with the devil. Sometimes, however, the werewolves of these stories weren’t all bad and some actually did good deeds for humans. Here are just a few ancient tales of werewolves from around the globe.

King Lycaon – In the land of Arcadia lived a ruler known as King Lycaon. In the beginning of his reign, he did many good things for his people like erecting temples and monuments to the god Zeus and introduced culture to his people. After some time, however, Lycaon and his sons began to neglect the faith that they started out with. Zeus decided to test Lycaon after hearing rumors that the king was becoming a terribly tyrant. He descended from Mount Olympus and disguised himself as a countryman. He came to Lycaon’s palace, but the king immediately knew who the visitor was. (Here is where the story differs a bit and whether the king’s intentions were to present a sacrifice or insult Zeus is uncertain) King Lycaon served the god a portion of human flesh. When Zeus realized this, he grew enraged and brought destruction upon the palace. When Lycaon and his sons tried to escape, he transformed them into wolves.

Norse Werewolf Legend – The most widely known of the Norse myth of werewolves comes from the story of Sigmund and Sinfjotli. The father and son were walking in the woods and came upon a cabin with two wolf pelts. They donned the pelts and they were transformed into wolves. They roamed the woods together until they agreed to split up. But, if either of them came across seven men to battle, they would howl so they could fight together. The son, Sinfjotli broke this agreement and killed 11 men. When the father found out, he was angered and injured his son. The messenger of Odin, a raven, delivered a healing leaf to place on the son’s wounds. After 10 days, the two men turned back into humans and they burned the wolf pelts so they wouldn’t be tempted to wear them again.

The Luison – In South America (primarily Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Brazil) it was believed that the seventh son of the family would become a beast by the light of the full moon. The belief was so strong that the government in Argentina passed a decree that the seventh son of a family HAD to be baptized to avoid this issue. The origins of this superstition comes from the Guarani mythology that talks about a family of monsters. The seventh monster was particularly gruesome and deformed and although there is no reference to being similar in appearance to a wolf, it became known as the God of Death. When Europeans came, that myth altered to reflect the explorers’ myths of the werewolf.

The Nahual – Also spelt Nagual, but pronounced Na’wal in both spellings. This is one of those myths that weren’t tainted by European influence and remains in tact to this day in Mexico. Although, the myth differs from region to region. In some places, the nahual are considered to be helpful spirits of animals. In other places, they are powerful men who transform themselves into animals to cause harm.

The Wolf and the Priest – It happened that a priest was traveling in Ireland, from Ulster to Meath. One night, a wolf approached the priest and began talking of God. The priest was terrified. The wolf explained that he and his wife were under the influence of a curse that had been cast upon the Ossory people where a couple must take the form of wolves for the period of every seven years. After the seven years, a new couple was chosen at random. The wolf had approached the priest because his wife was very ill and dying. The priest, though still frightened, agreed to help administer the viaticum. When they came upon the wolf’s wife in her wolf form, she thanked the priest. But, seeing that the priest was still hesitant, the wolf peeled back his wife’s wolf pelt to reveal a frail old woman underneath. Convinced that the would not be committing a blasphemy, the priest gave the woman the viaticum. When the ritual was over, the woman returned into her wolf pelt.

Roman Werewolves – There are three myths regarding wolves from antiquity. The first being the foundation myth of Rome, where the abandoned twins Romulus and Remus were suckled by a she-wolf after being fished out of the River Tiber. Though they were not rumored to be werewolves, some may believe that the she-wolf’s milk infused them with special powers or abilities.
Another predates the tale of King Lycaon, told by the poet Virgil of a man neamed Moeris who could transform himself into a wolf and summon ghosts from the graves. Here is a link to the full poem. http://classics.mit.edu/Virgil/eclogue.8.viii.html
Another myth is found in the satirical novel, Satyricon, written in the first century by Gaius Patronious. A slave named Niceros narrates about a time when he was being escorted through the woods by his host. When they came upon a graveyard, the host striped naked and peed in a circle where he then turned into a wolf. The host ran off into a field were sheep were grazing and the shepherd stabbed him in the neck with his pitch fork. Later the next day, Niceros met up again with his host and found him to have a wound in his neck right where the shepherd claimed to stab the wolf.

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