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Useful weblinks: Lycaon

The myth

  • A brief biography of Lycaon can be found here.
  • The myth is very similar to that of Tantalus, who also served up his murdered son (Pelops) to the gods at a banquet. This tale doesn’t appear in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, probably because it is so similar to that of Lycaon. The Lycaon myth is a replacement for this more well known tale.

Cannibalism

  • Cannibalism has had a long history; sometimes through desperation, sometimes as part of cult activity and sometimes because of mental instability. No matter the reasoning behind the act, it is always absolutely horrific. However, this hasn’t stopped different cultures from using it in popular stories, myths and fairy tales!
  • Cannibalism appears in another Greek myth about a woman called ‘Lamia’.
  • See also Creation 1: The Very Beginning, where Chronus ends up eating his own children to stop them from overpowering him!
  • The Fairy tale Hansel and Gretel (read a summary here) includes a cannibalistic witch as the villain. As does the Russian fairy tale Baba-Yaga, although in this version the witch ends up letting the child – Vasilisa the Fair - go!

Greed

  • Mankind in this myth have sunken into many different sins, but especially greed – the want for ‘More!’
  • Ivan Boesky, an American stock market trader who was sent to prison for insider trading, famously defended greed in his commencement address at the UC Berkeley's School of Business Administration, in which he said, “I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself”.
  • This speech inspired the 1987 film Wall Street, in which Gordon Gekko, a character based in part on Ivan Boesky says “greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.”
  • Yet the Christian Bible clearly holds a different view! Mark 8.36: “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world yet forfeit his soul?”
  • Take a look at these two opposing quotes about greed: for and against. What do students think about greed? Is it a positive driving force or a destructive desire?
  • This documentary on Greed (one of a series on the 7 deadly sins) examines the impact of greed on mankind throughout the ages, from a strongly Christian standpoint. It is interesting to see where the concept of these seven deadly sins originated and how they became personified.
  • Consider this personification of greed – it is wild and dangerous and the sharp teeth look lupine, just as Lycaon is presented.
  • This comic strip makes one think about the point of amassing goods. Envy and greed aren’t good driving forces if you want to be happy in the long run.

Gods in disguise

  • Gods often take on different forms and disguises when visiting the mortal world in myths. This could be for several reasons.
  • For instance, in the Baucis and Philemon story Zeus and Hermes wish to test how hospitable people are so they pretend to be poor humans asking for food and shelter (if they appeared as gods, probably everyone would give them anything they wanted).
  • Zeus is the most famous of the gods for disguising himself as he had a lot of affairs with mortal women, often in very strange guises (such as a swan for Leda or a bull for Europa or even a shower of golden rain for Danae!).
  • Zeus’ affair with Semele – and the tragic events that followed when Hera, Zeus’ wife, discovered the affair – provides another explanation as to why the gods might disguise themselves in front of mortals: Gods, in all their splendour, are too dangerous for mortals to gaze upon!

Xenia

  • You can find general information about the concept of xenia (hospitality) here.
  • Xenia as a concept often appears in ancient accounts/tales. Most of the time it is between rich friends when they travel (e.g. when Telemachus travels around mainland Greece searching for news of his father in Homer’s Odyssey) – perhaps in the hope that they will receive similar treatment when they visit in return! 
  • Take a look at this amusing comic (taken from Greekmythcomix, which includes many other great comic strips related to classical tales), which uses examples from Homer’s Odyssey of people adhering to the rules of xenia and people breaking them!

Lycanthropy

  • This video takes a look at the myth of the werewolf from antiquity to the modern day, explaining the changes in the tale and proposing theories as to why the idea developed in the first place.
  • In real life, there are cases of people believing that they can transform into a wolf – even to the extent that they see a wolf when they look in the mirror! This mental condition is often found alongside other disorders and is called ‘lycanthropy’.
  • There is also a disorder – hypertrichosis – which causes more hair growth than is normal and can affect any part of the body: consider the chest of this man and the face of this man. In extreme cases, the hair could cover most of the body and make a man resemble an animal. Perhaps this is linked with the origin of the man-wolf myths? 

Art

  • Herman Posthumus is the artist of this scene, where Lycaon brings human flesh for Zeus to eat. 
  • An engraving of Zeus turning Lycaon into a wolf, by Henrik Goltzius.
  • This carving shows the same scene, but this time Zeus is sitting on a cloud, clearly an immortal god.
  • Another depiction of Lycaon’s transformation, this drawing makes the meal look very obviously cannibalistic!
  • Focusing on the savage, cruel nature that foretells Lycaon’s metamorphosis, this picture shows a wolf-like man on all fours, devouring humans and leaving their corpses in his wake.