“Some werewolves are hairy on the inside” ― Stephen King
The werewolf lifestyle is often drawn in caricature. One has been led to expect a lot of ripping and tearing, cavorting in the moonlight, and generally acting rather bestial as the situation demands, while impressing the girls with overdeveloped abs or a manly beard. This lends itself to cool special effects in horror flicks and a certain sensual “bad-boy” reputation in contrast to those vampire fancy lads with whom they often share center stage, but does not exactly capture the subtlety of werewolf culture, particularly among those classically educated werewolves in Ancient Greece. We should never judge a werewolf until we’ve walked a mile on his paws.
Ancient Greek werewolves were not essentially “land sharks” that went hog wild once a month with the full moon, eating everything in sight, ravishing maidens, and generally acting like lupine Lotharios with an eye on human snack food. I guarantee, every werewolf Facebook page would insist “it’s complicated”. Now, every species of monster has its own origin story, often riddled with hearsay and pro-human propaganda that casts our lycanthropic friends in a less than positive light, but Ancient Greek werewolves had a much more sophisticated backstory, a tragedy instigated by those mercurial and vengeance-oriented Greek Gods, who themselves spent an inordinate amount of time screwing with humans, both literally and figuratively. Sadly, the cover-up often involved turning someone into a beast.
Our story begins with a successful Olympic boxer from Parrhasia (Arcadia, Greece) named Damarchus or Demaenetus. Every nine years or so, the Arcadians held the Festival of Lykaia on the slopes of Mount Lykaion, and the highlights of the festival seemed to involve a lot of human sacrifice, cannibalism and lycanthropy (kind of like Lalapalooza). Zeus himself was nominally the patron of the Festival, but seems to have taken a hands off approach. Apollo Lykaios was also a popular cult in the area (some scholars asserting that Apollo had an archaic wolf-form), not to mention there was an important sanctuary of Pan on Lykaion. That’s a fairly representative set of hirsute beast-gods lurking around the mountaintop looking for a good time. No wonder things got, well, hairy. The 2nd Century A.D. Greek geographer Pausanias was a bit skeptical about whether Damarchus was a werewolf, but nonetheless recorded the common lore regarding his complex fate as he travelled through Arcadia.
As to a certain boxer, Damarchus by name, an Arcadian of the Parrhasian district, the story told of him is to me incredible, except, of course, what relates to his Olympic victory. The story, as told by some humbugs, is this: he was turned into a wolf at the sacriﬁce of Lycaean Zeus, and in the tenth year afterwards he became a man again. I do not believe that the Arcadians themselves say this of him, otherwise it would have been recorded in the inscription at Olympia, which runs thus:—“This image was dedicated by Damarchus, son of Dinnytas, by birth a Parrhasian from Arcadia” (Pausanias, Description of Greece, Book 6:8.2)
Plato, in discussing how we end up with tyrants, alluded to the story of Damarchus, attributing his transformation to the ingestion of a single bite of human (among a cornucopia of human entrails, oddly), which seems rather odd given that the whole thing was about human sacrifice and culinary preparation anyway.
And what are the first steps in the transformation of the champion into a tyrant? Can we doubt that the change dates from the time when the champion has begun to act like the man in that legend which is current in reference to the temple of Lycaean Zeus in Arcadia? What legend? According to it, the worshipper who tasted the one human entrail, which was minced up with the other entrails of other victims, was inevitably metamorphosed into a wolf. Have you never heard the story?…In like manner, should the commons’ champion find the populace so very compliant that he need make no scruple of shedding kindred blood,—should he, with unrighteous charges, as is the wont of such persons, prosecute his victims and render himself blood-guilty, making away with human life, and tasting the blood of his fellows with unholy tongue and lips—should he banish, and kill, and give the signal for cancelling debts and redistributing the land—is it not from thenceforth the inevitably destiny of such a man either to be destroyed by his enemies, or to become a tyrant, and be metamorphosed from a man into a wolf? There is no escape from the alternative (Plato, The Republic, Book 8).
So Damarchus got changed to a wolf for a decade or so, but in order to become a real boy again, he was required to abstain from further consumption of human flesh while in wolfen form. Seems a little complicated a thought to retain in a wolf brain. Apparently he was successfully abstemious, and stepped right back into his previous career as a champion boxer. Everybody loves a comeback, or rather an “underdog”, so to speak.
So too, Agriopas, who wrote the Olympionics, informs us that Demaenetus, the Parrhasian, during a sacrifice of human victims, which the Arcadians were offering up to the Lycaean Jupiter, tasted the entrails of a boy who had been slaughtered; upon which he was turned into a wolf, but, ten years afterwards, was restored to his original shape and his calling of an athlete, and returned victorious in the pugilistic contests at the Olympic games (Pliny the Elder, Natural History, Book 8, Chapter 34).
Now, there are a few rules to be aware of if one is considering dating a Classical Arcadian werewolf: (1) You look delicious and the poor thing is probably trying to resist the temptation to take a bite; (2) You may have to wait a decade before you can consummate your love (unless you’re into that kind of thing); (3) Your werewolf is not an indolent, kibble-eating pet. They once had a day-job and probably hope to get back to it. You probably need to keep them apprised of the latest developments in their field; (4) the Greek Gods were insufferable jerks, so expect some setbacks; and (5) if you find yourself at a party for Lycaean Zeus, and you have no official role, you’re probably what’s for dinner.
Pausanias, active approximately 150-175. Pausanias’s Description of Greece. London: Macmillan and co., limited, 1913.
Plato. The Republic of Plato. [New York]: A. L. Burt Company, 1902.
Pliny, the Elder. The Natural History of Pliny. London: G. Bell & sons, 1856.
Werewolves really got their bad reputation after Christianity linked them to witches.
Wolves were greatly feared back then but they aren’t monsters, just big dogs with impulse control problems. Humans tend to demonize their competition.
I find Demaenetus’ story similar to the legend of the Wendigo. Both are transformed after eating human flesh.