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The Origin of Werewolves

Werewolves are fascinating yet horrifying creatures. Part wolf, part man, they have been both demonized and romanticized in United States popular culture. Teen Wolf is the first television series that comes to mind, as the entire show revolves around the lives of teenagers who also happen to be werewolves.

All supernatural creatures fascinate us, but werewolves are ones that we romanticize and dread in equal measure. But why do we romanticize werewolves? Perhaps part of the allure comes from their ability to access primal qualities we can never known ourselves. Perhaps part of it comes from their supposed origin.

According to Ovidís Metamorphoses, werewolves came into existence when Lycaon, the King of Arcadia, decided to test the gods Ė to test Zeus, the all-knowing King of Olympus, and the most powerful deities among the gods. One day, Zeus attended a feast that King Lycaon held in Zeusís honor. But King Lycaon didnít believe that Zeus was really the all-knowing King of Olympus Ė King Lycaon believed that the deity was an impostor. To test Zeus, King Lycaon prepared one of the banquet dishes with human flesh Ė an incredible insult. To make matters worse, the human flesh within the dish consisted of his own son, Nystagmus, and forty-nine other men.

Zeus noticed right away that his host had tried to feed him human flesh, and his ire at the discovery was immense. Murder and cannibalism, especially of oneís own kin, was highly frowned upon. As punishment, Zeus turned King Lycaon into a werewolf. He chose the punishment to fit the crime Ė Zeus believe that if King Lycaon was willing to eat human flesh, then the body he wore needed to reflect that willingness. So, he became a werewolf. Zeus also restored Nystagmus to life, and Nystagmus succeeded King Lycaon as the King of Arcadia.

No mention was made as to whether Nystagmus was also turned into a werewolf, but it is unlikely, as he was human before his father killed him and tried to feed him to Zeus. Whether King Lycaon had any children after being cursed by Zeus to be a werewolf is also not mentioned, but the potential for him to have had children after being turned into a werewolf has definitely lent itself well to the stories and legends we have today about werewolves.

King Lycaon, as well as being the first werewolf, is also responsible for the name of the condition. Lycanthropy comes from King Lycaonís name, and the disease was inflicted upon him as a divine punishment from Zeus for the murder and cannibalism of King Lycaonís own son.

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Content copyright © 2013 by Ky Greene. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Ky Greene. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Korie Beth Brown, Ph.D. for details.



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