The ancient origins of werewolves

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The dogman is a staple of supernatural fiction, whether or not or not it’s movie, tv, or literature. You would possibly assume this snarling creature is a creation of the Medieval and Early Fashionable durations, a results of the superstitions surrounding magic and witchcraft.

In actuality, the dogman is much older than that. The earliest surviving instance of man-to-wolf transformation is present in The Epic of Gilgamesh from round 2,100 BC. Nonetheless, the dogman as we now understand it first appeared in historical Greece and Rome, in ethnographic, poetic and philosophical texts.

These tales of the remodeled beast are often mythological, though some have a foundation in native histories, religions and cults. In 425 BC, Greek historian Herodotus described the Neuri, a nomadic tribe of magical males who become wolf shapes for a number of days of the 12 months. The Neuri have been from Scythia, land that’s now a part of Russia. Utilizing wolf skins for heat will not be outdoors the realm of risk for inhabitants of such a harsh local weather: that is seemingly the rationale Herodotus described their observe as “transformation”.

A dogman in a German woodcut, circa 1512.
Wikimedia

The dogman fantasy turned built-in with the native historical past of Arcadia, a area of Greece. Right here, Zeus was worshipped as Lycaean Zeus (“Wolf Zeus”). In 380 BC, Greek thinker Plato advised a narrative within the Republic in regards to the “protector-turned-tyrant” of the shrine of Lycaean Zeus. On this quick passage, the character Socrates remarks: “The story goes that he who tastes of the one little bit of human entrails minced up with these of different victims is inevitably remodeled right into a wolf.”

Literary proof suggests cult members blended human flesh into their ritual sacrifice to Zeus. Each Pliny the Elder and Pausanias talk about the participation of a younger athlete, Damarchus, within the Arcadian sacrifice of an adolescent boy: when Damarchus was compelled to style the entrails of the younger boy, he was remodeled right into a wolf for 9 years. Latest archaeological proof means that human sacrifice might have been practised at this website.




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Monsters and males

Essentially the most fascinating side of Plato’s passage considerations the “protector-turned-tyrant”, often known as the legendary king, Lycaon. Expanded additional in Latin texts, most notably Hyginus’s Fabulae and Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Lycaon’s story comprises all the weather of a contemporary dogman story: immoral behaviour, homicide and cannibalism.

An Athenian vase depicting a person in a wolf pores and skin, circa 460 BC.
Wikimedia

In Fabulae, the sons of Lycaon sacrificed their youngest brother to show Zeus’s weak spot. They served the corpse as a pseudo-feast and making an attempt to trick the god into consuming it. A livid Zeus slayed the sons with a lightning bolt and remodeled their father right into a wolf. In Ovid’s model, Lycaon murdered and mutilated a protected hostage of Zeus, however suffered the identical penalties.

Ovid’s passage is likely one of the solely historical sources that goes into element on the act of transformation. His description of the metamorphosis makes use of haunting language that creates a correlation between Lycaon’s behaviour and the bodily manipulation of his physique:

…He tried to talk, however his voice broke into

an echoing howl. His ravening soul contaminated his jaws;

his murderous longings have been turned on the cattle; he nonetheless was possessed

by bloodlust. His clothes have been modified to a shaggy coat and his arms

into legs. He was now remodeled right into a wolf.

Ovid’s Lycaon is the origin of the fashionable dogman, because the bodily manipulation of his physique hinges on his prior immoral behaviour. It’s this that has contributed to the institution of the “monstrous dogman” trope of contemporary fiction.

Lycaon’s character defects are bodily grafted onto his physique, manipulating his human kind till he turns into that which his behaviour suggests. And, maybe most significantly, Lycaon begins the concept that to remodel right into a dogman you need to first be a vampire.

The concept there was a hyperlink between biology (i.e. look) and “immoral” behaviour developed absolutely within the late twentieth century. Nonetheless, minority teams have been extra typically the goal than legendary kings. Legislation enforcement, scientists and the medical neighborhood joined forces to seek out “cures” for socially deviant behaviour equivalent to criminality, violence and even homosexuality. Science and drugs have been used as a car by which bigotry and concern could possibly be maintained, as proven by the remedy of HIV-affected males all through the Nineteen Eighties.

Nonetheless, dogman tales present the thought has historical origins. For so long as authors have been altering unhealthy males into wolves, now we have been searching for the organic hyperlink between man and motion.

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