The turnskin or versipelles

The following quaint story is taken from Petronius, being told by one Niceros, at a banquet given by Trimalchio: “It happened that my master was gone to Capua to dispose of some second-hand goods. I took the opportunity and persuaded our guest to walk with me to our fifth milestone. He was a valiant soldier, and a sort of a grim water-drinking Pluto. About cock-crow, when the moon was shining as bright as midday, we came amongst the monuments. My friend began addressing himself to the stars, but I was rather in a mood to sing or count them; and when I turned to look at him, lo! he had already stripped himself and laid his clothes near him. My heart was in my nostrils, and I stood like a dead man; but he made a mark round his clothes and on a sudden became a wolf. Do not think I jest, I would not lie for any man’s estate. But to return to what I am saying. When he became a wolf he began howling and fled into the woods. At first I hardly knew where I was, and afterwards, when I went to take up his clothes, they were turned into stone. Who then was more like to die from fear than I? Yet I drew my sword, and cutting the air right and left came thus to my sweetheart’s house. When I entered the courtyard I was like to breathe my last, perspiration poured from my neck, and my eyes were dim. My Melissa met me to ask where I had been so late, and said, ‘Had you only come sooner you might have helped us, for a wolf came to the farm and worried our cattle; but he had not the best of the joke, for all he escaped, as our servant ran a lance through his neck.’ When I heard this I could not doubt what had happened, and as the day dawned I ran home as fast as a robbed innkeeper. When I came to the spot where the clothes had been turned into stone I could find nothing except blood. But when I got home I found my friend, the soldier, in bed, bleeding at the neck like an ox, and a doctor dressing his wound. I then knew he was a turnskin; nor would I ever have broken bread with him again, no not if you had killed me.” The expression turnskin or turncoat is a translation of the Latin versipelles, a term used to describe a werewolf.