De-Bunking Myths, Seeking Werewolves

For whatever reason, I’ve been seeing a lot of people bemoaning modern werewolf stories, whining that “werewolves have become sympathetic” as if this is both new and bad.

Rather than respond to each individually, I thought I’d do a list of werewolves in one place instead. Because this is an incomplete list, I’m limiting it to European, mostly named, and pre-modern (mostly to demonstrate a point):

Alphesiboeus & Moeris – werewolves in Greece, no ethical commentary given (Virgil, Eclogue VIII, 1st c. BCE)

Niceros’s Soldier – potentially violent werewolf, but no violent action in the story (Petronius, Satyricon, 1st c. CE)

Lycaon – man cursed by Zeus with a wolf shape for crimes against the gods (Ovid, Metamorphoses, 1st c. CE)

Demarchus – one of many werewolves of Arcadia, Olympic champion (Pausanias, The Description of Greece, 2nd c. CE; also mentioned by St. Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, 4th/5th c.)

——— – neutral discussion of werewolves (Isidore of Seville, 6th/7th c. CE)

Alphouns – sympathetic werewolf, prince of Spain (Guillaume de Palerne, 12th c.; translated to English as William of Palerne, 14th c.)

Bisclavret – sympathetic knight-werewolf (Marie de France, “Bisclavret”, 12th c.)

Ossory-Meath Werewolves – sympathetic werewolves, married couple (Gerald of Wales, History and Topography of Ireland, 12th c.)

Gorlagon – sympathetic werewolf, king (Anon., “Arthur & Gorlagon”, 14th c.)

Peeter Stubbe – monstrous werewolf, put on trial in Germany (1590)

Jean Grenier – monstrous, yet sympathetic, child werewolf, put on trial in France, deemed psychosis (1603)

Ferdinand – psychosis werewolf induced by incestuous desire (John Webster, The Duchess of Malfi, 1614)

Wolf – the monstrous wolf-man of Little Red Riding Hood (Charles Perrault, 1697).

As we can see, the sympathetic and monstrous varieties of werewolves have existed side-by-side for well over 2000 years. In fact, the sympathetic werewolf seems to trace back further in history (and pre-history) than the monstrous variety (see Adam Douglas, The Beast Within, for a good starting history of the figure).

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8 comments on “De-Bunking Myths, Seeking Werewolves

  1. calmgrove says:

    Useful — and fascinating — retrospective, thanks for this. I’m only familiar with a few: Bisclavret and Gorlagon seem to share an narrative ancestry, and I’d forgotten the Gerald of Wales episode. Don’t forget the original Welsh Merlin legends, which have a werewolf aspect to them (Nikolai Tolstoy’s The Quest for Merlin covers these, if I remember right).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bislcavret and Gorlagon have some similar elements in the unfaithful wife and wife trapping the werewolf in wolf shape. I’m not sure enough has been done with Gorlagon’s origins to determine similar roots. But, Gorlagon’s fairly obscure, when I was dissertating the most recent article I could find on it was published in 1933, and the most recently published edition of the story itself was 1989.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. calmgrove says:

    Thanks for this. I shall have to look up what I’ve got on it, but it probably won’t add anything to what you’ve summarised.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The list is by no means complete. There are several sources I left out because they speak in general terms, rather than specific examples. And there are hundreds of trials in the Early Modern/Renaissance era, plus conflation of werewolves and witches. The trials stretched into the Enlightenment (18th, in some places even early 19th, century).

      Liked by 1 person

  3. calmgrove says:

    OK, I shall have to seriously consider getting your book now despite a resolution to cut down on new book acquisition …

    Liked by 1 person

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