Unknown and feared, the wolf terrorized our medieval ancestors for a long time. When this wolf became a wolf-man, baptized as a werewolf, the fright redoubled. Legends about men who turn into wolves have been known since antiquity. The very term “lycanthropy” comes from the Greek king Lycaon – sovereign of Arcadia – transformed by Zeus into a wolf for daring to serve human flesh at a banquet .
The myth of the werewolf is ancient and common to many peoples. As early as the fifth century BC, Herodotus reported that the Greeks who settled on the shores of the Black Sea considered the inhabitants of these countries as “magicians capable of transforming themselves into wolves . “
The severity of winters at the end of the Middle Ages, the fear of wolves (still very present in European forests in the 15th and 16th centuries), can explain the “epidemic” of wolves that occurs at this time and which transforms the myth into a religious superstition . They also explain the appearance of the philtres, magic ointments and other pacts with the Devil that accompany the legend.
That said, the conviction that a man can transform into a predatory animal is not unique to the Western world, far from it! These include the tiger-man, the leopard-man or the crocodile-man, who play a similar role in Indian and African legends . In Scandinavian mythology, to hunt, human beings looked like a bear. The origin of the myth comes perhaps from Nordic mythology, with its gods, which are transformed into bears or wolves.
Transformation in itself may have different causes, such as the bite of a wolf or other lycanthropist, a curse or a voluntary ritual. It usually starts during the night and at each full moon, condemning the lycanthropus to wander like a wolf screaming until morning . Lycanthropists are predominantly described as malevolent wolves possessing wolf and human abilities, colossal strength, and great ferocity since they are capable of killing many people in one night; which they do not usually recall after they have resumed their human form.
The physical transformation of men into wolves being – apart from the problems of genetic difference, surgery or the use of disguises – completely impossible, there is little reason to believe that these creatures really existed as they were are described. However, the people believed it for a long time , and sometimes continues to believe (or watch stupid films exploiting the concept endlessly).
Today, lycanthropy is only scientifically recognized as a symptom of mental illness: it is called clinical lycanthropy (the patient thinks he is transformed into a wolf).