The History of Werewolves


Bryce Ritchey

The werewolf is a mythological animal and the subject of many stories throughout the world and more than a few nightmares. Werewolves are, according to some legends, people who morph into vicious, powerful wolves. Others are a mutant combination of human and wolf. But all are bloodthirsty beasts who cannot control their lust for killing people and animals.

Early Werewolf Legends

It’s unclear exactly when and where the werewolf legend originated. Some scholars believe the werewolf made its debut in The Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest known Western prose, when Gilgamesh jilted a potential lover because she had turned her previous mate into a wolf. Werewolves made another early appearance in Greek mythology with the Legend of Lycaon. According to the legend, Lycaon, the son of Pelasgus, angered the god Zeus when he served him a meal made from the remains of a sacrificed boy. As punishment, the enraged Zeus turned Lycaon and his sons into wolves. Werewolves also emerged in early Nordic folklore. The Saga of the Volsungs tells the story of a father and son who discovered wolf pelts that had the power to turn people into wolves for ten days. The father-son duo donned the pelts, transformed into wolves and went on a killing rampage in the forest. Their rampage ended when the father attacked his son, causing a lethal wound. The son only survived because a kind raven gave the father a leaf with healing powers.

Werewolf Pop Culture

Werewolves were in a lot of movies and TV shows. The earlier films and television shows featuring werewolves were almost entirely monster horror films, often featuring attacks, murder and danger. They often represented a raw, bestial nature, which Guiley (2005) suggests, lacks the subtleties available to the fictional vampire. Szainberg (2012) offers that a difference between vampires and werewolves in early works was regret and guilt, whereby the werewolf often felt terrible remorse, only knowing what they had done through distant memory or evidence of blood and ripped clothing. This trend of difference between vampires and werewolves is echoed in many pieces of fiction, such as Underworld, Van Helsing and even the Twilight Saga, where vampires and werewolves are enemies and often depicted in gruesome and rewarding action scenes.