Saturday, March 05, 2011

The Werewolf Lycanthrope

The werewolf is so called from the Anglo-Saxon wer (Lat. vir) "man" and wolf. The word corresponds exactly to the Greek lycanthropos, Italian lupo mannaro, Portuguese lobis-homem, and means a wolf who is properly a man. Loup-garou, the name given by the French to the same fearful being, is a pleonastic compound, which they have made out of their Romance appellation for the wolf and their old Frankish word gerulf, i. e., werwlf, werewolf. The people of Bretagne have just such another mongrel term, bleiz-garou (from bleiz, wolf); but they have also the purely Celtic terms denvleiz and grekvleiz, meaning man-wolf and woman-wolf.

The werewolf tradition has not been discovered with certainty amongst the Hindus, but there is no European nation of Aryan descent in which it has not existed from time immemorial. Hence it is certain that the tradition itself, or the germs of it more or less developed, must have been brought by them all from Arya; and if Dr. Schwartz has not actually proved his case, he seems at least to have conjectured rightly in assigning, as one of those germs, the Aryan conception of the howling wind as a wolf.* The Maruts and other beings who were busy in the storm assumed various shapes. The human form was proper to many or all of them, for they were identical with the Pitris or Fathers, and it would have been a very natural thought, when a storm broke out suddenly, that one or more of those people of the air had been turned into wolves for the occasion.

It was also a primaeval notion that there were dogs and wolves among the dwellers in hell, and Weber, who has shown that this belief was entertained by the early Hindus,-f is of opinion that these infernal animals were real werewolves, that is to say, men upon whom such a transformation had been inflicted as a punishment.

The Werewolf LycanthropeThe Werewolf, A 18th century engraving depicting a werewolf attack Source: "The Werewolf Delusion" by Ian Woodward.

This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired. This applies to the United States, where Works published prior to 1978 were copyright protected for a maximum of 75 years. See Circular 1 "COPYRIGHT BASICS" PDF. Works published before 1923, in this case c18th century, are now in the public domain.

This image is also in the public domain in countries that figure copyright from the date of death of the artist (post mortem auctoris), in this case Henry Inman (1801–1846), and that most commonly runs for a period of 50 to 70 years from the last day of that year.

The oldest werewolf story on record is that of Lycaon, king of Arcadia, in which however the legend of the werewolf proper is mixed up with another, and apparently a less ancient one, relating to the practice of sacrificing human victims, which seems to have prevailed more extensively and to a later period in Arcadia than in other parts of Greece. Lycaon is said to have been turned into a wolf by Zeus Lycaios, as a punishment for having offered a human victim to the god ; and after Lycaon's time, according to a tradition recorded by Pausanias, Plato, and Pliny, similar transformations continued to be things of common occurrence on the same spot.. One of the race of Anthos (probably a priestly family) was periodically chosen by lot and taken to an Arcadian lake, where he hung up bis clothes on an oak. Then he swam across the lake, was changed into a wolf, and roamed the wilderness for nine years in company with other wolves. At the end of that time, if he had not tasted human flesh in the interval, he swam back again, found his clothes where he had left them,-and recovered his original form, only with this difference, that it was nine years older.

It is certain that in Greece as well as in Arya the wolf was in early times a symbol of the stormy winds. It was sacred above all other animals to Apollo, who was surnamed after it Lycaios, or the wolf-god. This fact has much perplexed many learned men, and given them a world of trouble in striving to explain why an animal that figures so often and so naturally as a type of winter, night and death, should have become the favourite of the radiant god of day.

TEXT RESOURCES: Curiosities of Indo-European tradition and folk-lore

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