Lycaón, the first werewolf

Lycaón was a cultured and virtuous king, father of fifty children, loved by his people, founder of Licosura in which he erected an altar in honor of Zeus Lykaios. On that altar human beings were sacrificed. But on the other hand, Lycaon was a really bad king and a real disaster as a hotelier. In this other version, Lycaón and his people dedicated themselves to sacrificing human beings. In both stories we find the living eating meat from the slaughtered.

The other day I was watching a program on Canal Extremadura (and that lately I don’t see much on TV) in which they talked about the Extremaduran tradition of lobisomes (werewolves) in certain areas, especially in those near Portugal and in the Hurdes. If you are interested in the subject, I refer you to the program in question, which is called “After the Myth” and its presenter, the journalist Israel J. Espino. It is interesting to know these fantastic beings rooted in the most hidden of our lands, archaic figures who resist disappearing, devoured by mass cultures, by mere science and modernity. But I was struck by an anthropologist who spoke about the mythological origin of werewolf, focusing on Greek mythology. And we can find the first werewolf in history in Arcadia. Specifically, it was King Lycaon (also known as Lycaon). However, given the antiquity and vagueness of the history that reaches our days, I have found two versions that the reason why this king ended his days turned into one of the most fabulous monsters of popular imagery.

According to some, Lycaon was a cultured and virtuous king, who had fifty children (the same number of children of Danáo and Egypt if you remember the article on the Danaides). He was very loved by his people, whom he made to abandon the wild life that they had been carrying until then. Well, abandon it up to a point. Lycaon founded one of the oldest cities in Greece, Lycosura, and there erected an altar in honor of Zeus Lykaios on top of Lycaon Mountain (it had the same name as the king). The problem is that on the altar he made human sacrifices to please the god, breaking the necessary goodwill between people and the unwritten law of hospitality with foreigners. It turns out that Zeus, who should not have been very clear that this custom existed, went to stay at Lycaon’s home as if he were just any pilgrim. This realized that he was the god and instead of sacrificing and serving him in pepitoria (it would not have been very strange on the other hand), he preferred to invite him to dinner and served him what he played on the menu of the day: humans mixed with a little bit of animal meat. Zeus was extremely angry (the gods have a knack for angering and cursing the staff that I would already like) made him the first werewolf and not only him but the rest of his fifty sons, who were apparently wicked. However the Arcadians ignored the curse and continued to sacrifice Zeus Lykaios humans on their altar annually. When this happened one of those present became a wolf after tasting the meat that contained human remains. The transformation was not always final and if for nine years they did not consume human flesh they could regain their humanity, but if during that period they violated the norm they were condemned to howl and wander the rest of their existence like wolves.

The other legend does not leave Lycaón well at first, he describes him as an extremely evil king and a disastrous hotelier. Turns out he had a gorgeous daughter (plus forty-nine others) named Callisto. She had sworn an oath to the hunting goddess Artemis, to remain a virgin until the end of her days, like the goddess herself. However Zeus set his eyes on her (it is bad luck!) And began to woo her until the girl fell surrendered to his charms and that is that the gods can be very convincing when they propose (another version speaks of rape, what which further worsens Calisto’s situation). Hera, the wife of Zeus, a prisoner of jealousy (I do not understand it because Zeus was in trouble right and left and it was so that she was more than used to it) looked for the poor girl to take revenge on them. What happened? That the curse of three gods, in the form of a sour comedy, struck her down. Zeus wanted to protect her by hiding her from his daughter Artemis and his wife Hera and turned her into a bear so that they would not find her. Artemis angered by the betrayal of the sworn oath turned her into a bear (it seems like a joke). And Hera to harm her and turn the beautiful maiden into an animal that men feared and turned her into … yes, you guessed it, a bear. I don’t know if it’s a curse or an Olympic bad taste joke. When Lycaon learned what had happened to the poor girl, he ignored her, leaving her unprotected.

And this is how with changes, mutations, more or less voluntary bites and various variations, the legend of the werewolf has arrived to this day. The story wandered first by word of mouth, before the bonfires for amusement and horror of those who paid attention. Then werewolves lived (and live) in books that weave stories that keep you awake, and finally in movies, in which men and wolves are willing to twin in the curse of survival, with or without Zeus. , with or without Lycaon.

In the meantime, we will let the Extremaduran, Portuguese (and surely there are some Andalusian) lobisomes wander freely in our nightmares with the hand of those who want to remind us of them. You see that mythology bites, but it is boring. My wish for this week: that Lycaon, his children and devotees flee from your presence as from Zeus himself.