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Chapter 2
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Lupercalia

by Alberta Mildred Franklin

New York, 1921

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 4

p21 Chapter III
The Wolf-Deity in Greece

In examining the separate details of the Lupercalia, the first question that arises is, "What did the wolf have to do with the festival?" An overwhelming number of scholars feel that the names Lupercal, Lupercalia, and Luperci are all derived from lupus.1 Moreover, the cave of the Lupercal is too closely associated with Rome's sacred wolf, the foster mother of Romulus and Remus, for that name, at least, to be derived from anything but lupus. It was at that cave that the Luperci offered sacrifice, and from there they started on their course about the city.2 Assuming, consequently, that the wolf had some part in the Lupercalia, let us consider the rôle that the wolf played in the religion of early Greece.

We have evidence that the wolf was regarded as a sacred animal among the Pelasgians. Numerous seals of Minoan Crete bear the figure of a wolf,3 though it had no such important part in Cretan cults as had the snake and the bull. Yet a Mycenaean seal portrays two wolves standing in heraldic fashion on each side of a pillar, in a position similar to that of the lions over Mycenae's gate.4 In view of the sanctity of the pillar in Mycenaean cults, and the frequent representation of it with heraldic animals,5 the wolves that stand on each side of this pillar must be accepted as sacred.

Throughout the Peloponnesus the wolf‑god Lycaeus was highly venerated. The name Lycaeus is generally accepted as meaning wolf.6 Sometimes Lycaeus is used alone, but more frequently it becomes an epithet attached to the name of one of the more familiar deities, as Zeus Lycaeus, Pan Lycaeus, or Apollo Lycaeus. In Arcadia, above all other places, the cult of this god was deep-rooted and wide-spread. There, on Mount Lycaeus, the Lycaea was held in his honor every nine years. On this mountain was the city of Lycosura, the oldest, says Pausanias, in all Greece.7 Both the city and the festival were said to have been founded by Lycaon, the son of Pelasgus.8 In this mythological fashion the Greeks expressed their belief that the Lycaea was a religious ceremony of the Pelasgians. As the Lycaea was by most ancient authorities p22regarded as the prototype of the Lupercalia, it must be carefully examined.

The god in whose honor the Lycaea was celebrated was a dread and mysterious creature. His shrine was sacrosanct, and all men were forbidden to enter it. Anyone who disregarded this prohibition would surely die, it was believed, within the year. Consequently the precinct of Lycaeus was for animals a place of refuge, since no hunter would pursue them within its limits. The uncanny nature of the shrine is shown by the belief that within it all creatures lost their shadows.9 Close by the sanctuary there seems to have been a pool and an oak tree, where, in times of drought, the priest of Zeus Lycaeus was wont to take a branch of the oak tree, stir the water with it, and thus secure the desired rain.10

Lycaeus was for men a destructive power to be shunned; but he was the protector of animals. He was also the sender of rain. Since no shadow was cast within his sanctuary, his realm seems to have been beneath the earth, where the sun's rays might not penetrate.11 In all these elements we see the characteristic features of the earth‑god.

The Lycaea had the savage rites of many chthonic festivals. Pausanias tells us that even in his day a child was sacrificed, his blood sprinkled upon the altar, and his entrails tasted sacramentally by the priest. Thereupon, say the legends, he who had tasted of the entrails was transformed into a werwolf for the period of nine years.12 One account tells of a certain Demaenetus who, having partaken of the sacrifice and been changed into a wolf, swam across a pool (probably the one near the shrine of Lycaeus), and entered upon his nine-year exile. At the end of that time he was restored to human form and returned to Mount Lycaeus.13

The sacrifice at the Lycaea was evidently of the expiatory type, the child being offered to appease the savage wolf‑god and to divert his malignant power from the people. This is an especially common type of human sacrifice, and of frequent occurrence in the cults of chthonic deities.14 In ceremonies of this sort, the whole or a part of the victim is sometimes eaten, the idea being that, having been offered to the god, it partakes of his divinity; and so the priest, upon eating the victim, secures this magic power for himself.15 Yet, because the sacrifice is, in a measure, identified with the god, it becomes a sin to slay it and to eat of its flesh, even though those p23acts are necessary for the welfare of the people. Consequently the slayer seeks by flight to escape the result of his sacrilege.16 Often he must undergo some lustral experience.

These ideas appear in other Greek rites. Every ninth year, at Delphi, occurred a ceremony known as the Stepteria, which was supposed to commemorate Apollo's slaughter of the Python and his consequent exile. A hut was built which represented the abode of the Python. A boy, escorted by other boys, set fire to this hut; then they all fled without looking back, and the leader pretended to go into exile. Later they went to Tempe, were purified, and on their way home partook of a feast.17 Another curious rite, known as the Bouphonia, was performed at Athens. At the sacrifice of an ox, one man felled the ox with an axe and immediately fled. Another man cut the throat of the ox with a knife and, it seems, also fled. Later a formal trial was held to discover who was guilty of the murder of the ox. Each of the participants in the sacrifice blamed someone else, until, finally, the axe and the knife were pronounced guiltya and thrown into the sea.18 Likewise, at Tenedos a newborn calf, having been treated as a baby, was sacrificed; the man who killed it was pelted with stones, and finally fled into the sea.19 Though these rites differ in detail, they have the same basic idea as the Lycaea: a holy victim has been slain, and the slayer flees from the scene of his crime and undergoes some form of penalty.

In the Lycaea this idea becomes mingled with another, as so often happens in early rites. The worshipper by partaking of the fare of the wolf Lycaeus is to some extent assimilated to the nature of the god,20 that is, he becomes "wolfish". In time this idea passed naturally enough into the belief that he became a werwolf. Furthermore, it has been suggested that the priests honored their deity by disguising themselves as wolves.21 This would have been in accord with the numerous animal disguises pictured on Cretan seals.22 Such a practice would aid in the development of the werwolf legend.

The deity of the Lycaea is usual given as Zeus Lycaeus, but Varro and Isidorus name him "Lycaeus, the especial god of the Arcadians."23 This recognition of Lycaeus as the original deity of the festival is certainly right. The ceremony is far removed from the seemly homage paid to the Olympian Zeus. The Lycaean Zeus is a composite of the Hellenic sky‑god superimposed upon the p24wolf-shaped spirit of Mount Lycaeus.24 Zeus, as usual, usurped the place of honor, and the name of Lycaeus was reduced to a mere appellative. But in all except the name Lycaeus remained unchanged; he was still the wolf‑god, demanding his tribute of human flesh. Of the struggle that ensued between the rival cults of Zeus and of Lycaeus, legend gives us a clear picture: the sons of Lycaon, desiring to propitiate Zeus, sacrificed to him a child and served the entrails to his priest; but Zeus in wrath destroyed by lightning Lycaon and all his sons except the youngest.25 This myth expresses the horror which the Hellenes had for a barbarous rite. They strove to abolish it, but the lightnings of Zeus had only temporary power. Ultimately the older cult prevailed, and Zeus accepted the strange sacrifice offered to him.

Pan, another Arcadian god, also became associated with Lycaeus. This seems to have been nothing more than the natural union of two deities worshipped in the same locality, for Pan, too, had his shrine and grove on Mount Lycaeus.26 By later writers, especially among the Romans, Zeus Lycaeus was almost wholly displaced by Pan Lycaeus. This was not strange. The wolf‑god was in time obscured, and his name became merely an adjective. Ancient scholars, when trying to explain that name, interpreted it as "he who keeps the wolves from the herds."27 This title was meaningless when applied to Zeus, but expressed a very natural part of Pan's functions. Thus in time, though thoughtful students like Varro, Pliny, or Pausanias knew that the Lycaea was in honor of Lycaeus or Zeus Lycaeus, less critical ones attributed it to Pan Lycaeus. In view of the fact that writers of the Empire regarded Pan Lycaeus as the god of the Lupercalia, it is important to understand him as merely the poetic equivalent of Zeus Lycaeus.

In other parts of Hellas, Lycaeus was absorbed by Apollo. The Pelasgian city of Argos28 venerated its shrine of Apollo Lycaeus as the most ancient and noteworthy of all,29 and stamped its coins with the image of Apollo Lycaeus.30 There, we are told, a wolf was sacrificed to Apollo "the wolf slayer".31 Porphyrius seems to indicate that at times a wolf was eaten sacramentally; for he cites various animals sacred to different deities, among them, the wolf to Apollo Lycaeus. Then he goes on: "And when persons sacrifice and eat these animals, they give a foolish reason".32 Very rarely do we hear of a wild animal being sacrificed in Greece.33 p25It is often interpreted as a relic of totemism, the animal embodiment of the god being sacrificed as the god's most acceptable victim, and being eaten sacramentally by the worshippers.34

In Athens traces of the wolf's sacred character remained in the law that anyone who killed a wolf must erect at his own expense a tomb in its honor.35 There was also a cult of Apollo Lycaeus and a priest devoted to his service.36 His abode was the cave at the foot of the Acropolis; and it continued in the historical period to be sacred to Apollo.37 In time the sacred wolf seems to have been reduced to a local hero, Lycus, whose statue was of wolf-form.38 It is easy to trace in this material the development of religious belief. First, the deity was pure wolf, Lycaeus; then, grafted upon the Olympian god, he became Apollo Lycaeus; ultimately legend explained the honor shown to the wolf by creating a hero, Lycus.

At Delphi one of the months was named Lycaeus;39 and close by Apollo's altar stood a great bronze statue of a wolf, which was said to have saved the temple treasures from a thief.40 The wolf was not a strange figure at an oracle; in other places, too, it was believed to have oracular power.41

In Asia Minor and on the Aegean islands we find survivals of Apollo, the wolf‑god. Lycia, whose name is believed to have been derived from Lycaeus,42 was the center of the worship, and there Apollo kept his primitive wolf-form.43 Later he was regarded as the god who drove away the wolves, and his shrine in Lycia gained great fame on this account.44 In Tarsus coins similar to the Mycenaean seal mentioned above45 portrayed Apollo standing between two wolves and holding their paws in his hands.46 Latona, when fleeing from Juno, was guided by wolves to Lycia, or to Delos, and, to escape detection, she herself assumed the form of a wolf.47 In Crete Apollo on various occasions disguised himself as a wolf.48 There he employed wolves to protect and feed his infant son Miletus, who had been exposed in the woods.49 This story offers a close parallel to the tale of the wolf-nurse of Romulus and Remus.

In the majority of cases Lycaeus, when absorbed by one of the higher gods, became kindly and gracious. A legend of Temesa in Southern Italy shows him in his true character. A drunken sailor of Ulysses, the story runs, had ravished a maiden of Temesa, and was in punishment stoned to death by the people. He became p26a vengeful ghost, preying upon the inhabitants of that place. They appealed to the Pythian oracle, and were directed to appease the creature by giving him every year the fairest maiden of Temesa for his wife. But one year the maiden to be sacrificed had a lover who fought with the ghost, and drove him into the sea. In an old painting this ghost, named Lycas, is portrayed as black and wearing a wolf-skin.50 In this tale the wolf‑god is frankly a creature of the underworld, who devours men as his prey.

The same conception appears in a legend of Apollo Lycaeus which is told by Phlegon.51 A Roman commander at Naupactus prophesied that he would be devoured by a red wolf, and bade his followers offer the beast no resistance. The wolf came and devoured the Roman, leaving only his head. When the people approached to bury it, the head forbade them to touch it, saying that Apollo through the wolf, his minister, had led the dead man to the seats of the blessed. Though this tale is late, Dr. Reinach believes that it reflects very ancient beliefs. The wolf, he says, typifies death; he was a power that none might withstand, hence the command of the Roman to his soldiers that they witness his death in passive acquiescence.52 It is in accord with this interpretation that Hades appeared at times clad in a wolf-skin,53 which indicates that he was once thought of as wolf-shaped.54

The cult of the wolf‑god in Greece had its oldest centers in regions whose Pelasgian stock mingled but slightly with the Aryans, that is, Arcadia and Lycia. In other places that held tenaciously to their earth-cults, as Argos, Attica, and Delphi, the wolf‑god remained, though he was often modified or absorbed by an Olympian god. Sometimes he was reduced to the wolf-formed spirit that kept the wolves from the fold. But in more primitive times the wolf, prowling in darkness and preying upon men and cattle, was an embodiment of the destructive power of the earth. His worship, therefore, arose largely from fear; and sacrifices were offered to him in order to appease him, that he might not slay the people. Thus he was a characteristic earth‑god of the Pelasgians.


The Author's Notes:

p27 1 See pp36‑7, ,º 45 n. 6364; 46 n. 69.

2 Var., L. L., 5.85; Serv. ad Verg., Aen., 8.343.

3 Evans, Scr. Min., 209.

4 Farnell, IV.116 n. 6.

5 Evans, J. H. S., vol. XXI, 153‑63.

6 Farnell, IV.113; Wernicke, in Pauly-Wissowa, II.59.

7 Paus., 8.2.1; 8.38.1.

8 Paus., 8.2.1.

9 Paus., 8.38.6; Polyb., 16.12.7; Schol. ad Callim., Hym. in Iov., 13.

10 Paus., 8.38.4; Aug., de Civ. Dei, 18.17.

11 Immerwahr, Die Kulte und Mythen Arcadiens, 18; Fick, 132.

12 Paus., 8.2.3, 6; 8.37.8; Plat., de Rep., 565D; id. Minos, 315; Theophr. ap. Porphyr., de Abst., 2.27.

13 Plin., N. H., 8.82; Aug., de Civ. Dei, 18.17.

14 These statements are based upon the analysis of human sacrifice made by Dr. Westermarck, I.65‑70, 437‑72.

15 Westermarck, I.63, II.562‑4.

16 Farnell, III.93; Harrison, 111 n. 1, 112‑14.

17 Plut., de Defect. Orac., 14; Ael., Var. Hist., 3.1. See also Harrison, 113‑14.

18 Porphyr., de Abst., 2.29 fol.; Ael., Var. Hist., 8.3. See also Smith, The Religion of the Semites, 304‑6; Harrison, 111.

19 Ael., N. A., 12.34.

20 Nilsson, Griechische Feste, 10.

21 Frazer, The Golden Bough, IV.83; Reinach, Cultes, II.211.

22 See p6.

23 Var., ap. Aug., de Civ. Dei, 18.17; Isid. Orig., 8.9.5.

24 Klausen, Aeneas und die Penaten, II.1232. For a full survey of Zeus Lycaeus, see A. B. Cook, Zeus, 63‑99; Immerwahr, 1‑24.

25 Apollod., Bibl., 3.8.1.

26 For the character and history of Pan, see p49.

27 Serv. ad Verg., Aen., 8.343.

28 Smith, Dictionary of Geography, I.202.

29 Paus., 2.19.3; Schol. ad Soph., Elec., 6.

30 C. I. G., I.1119.2.

31 Schol. ad Soph., Elec., 6.

32 Porphyr., de Abst., 3.17.

33 At Brauron a bear was sacrificed to Artemis (Schol. ad Aristoph., Lysist., 645). At Patrae in honor of Artemis Laphria wild animals of many kinds were cast alive upon the altar fire (Paus., 7.18.12).

34 This is the view of Dr. Frazer (VIII.310‑12) and of Dr. Farnell (I.41). The limited compass of the present study makes it necessary to omit any consideration of the vexed question of totemism, inasmuch as it was possible for the wolf to be worshipped as a god without its being a totem animal (Farnell, in Year's Work in Classical Studies, 1908, 71).

35 Schol. ad Ap. Rhod., 2.124.

p28 36 Ath. Mitth., 1901, 213; C. I. A., III.1.292.

37 Eur., Ion, 10.

38 Paus., 1.19.3; Aristoph., Vesp., 389.

39 Bull. Hell., V, 1881, 429.5, Inscr. 43.

40 Paus., 10.14.7; Plut., Pericl., 21; Ael., H. A., 10.26.

41 Farnell, IV.117; Furtwängler, in Roscher, I.443.

42 Farnell, IV.112.

43 Bode, Scriptores rerum mythicarum, Cellis 1834, III.16, page 209.

44 Paul. ex Fest., 119.

45 See p21.

46 Farnell, IV.309.

47 Ael., H. A., 10.26; Aristot., Hist. Anim., 6.35; Ap. Rhod., 2.124; Anton. Liber., 35.

48 Serv. ad Verg., Aen., 4.377.

49 Anton. Liber., 30.

50 Paus., 6.6.7‑11; Strab., 6.1.5.

51 Mirab. ch. 3.

52 Reinach, Cultes, I.296 n. 4.

53 In the tomb-paintings of Etruria, Hades wears a wolf-skin helmet (Cook, Zeus, Fig. 72, 73).

54 Reinach, Cultes, I.295.


Thayer's Note:

a In modern parlance, this is like blaming guns for murders, and getting rid of guns.


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