By: Lori Keefe
Throughout the course of history, multiple myths have been born regarding the wolf. Some, such as the Roman tale of Romulus and Remus (Plutarch, A.D. 70) have shed a very positive light upon the wolf. However, there are others that have earned the wolf animosity and fear, such as werewolves, and the ever-popular tales of man-eating wolves. Tales that shed neither good nor bad include multiple reports of children raised by wolves, and much of Norse mythology. And so, I undertook it upon myself to shed some light on many of these myths, to sort out the fiction from the facts, including the origin and culture the world was steeped in at any given point in history.
Famous rulers Raised by Wolves
Though it originated somewhere around the fourth century, B.C., the most popular version of this story was written by Plutarch in A.D. 70. The account of Romulus and Remus is perhaps one of the first recorded wolf myths, and shed a very positive light upon the wolf. Romulus and Remus, sons of a Vestal Virgin, were banished to the wilderness and raised by wolves, until rescued. As legend has it, they went on to found ancient Rome.
That is but one account of legendary figures raised by wolves. It was repeated in Turkey by the tale of Tu Kueh, and became so widespread it included Ireland and the Aztec cultures of South America.
Sadly, this phase soon wore off, and the wolf’s image as a nurturer faded into fear and uncertainty.
European beliefs, changes, and authors
Perhaps what started the change can be attributed to Aesop (600 B.C.), whose fables show the cunning side of the wolf. Aesop was a slave whose fables actually ended up bringing him to a bitter end. He was accused of being sacrilegious, and thrown over a cliff once convicted. Even today, however, his fables live on, including the ever popular “The Boy Who Cried Wolf??.
Around the same time, the Greeks had created tales involving the wolf. Charon, the Ferryman of the Underworld, had wolf’s ears. The goddess Ishtar had the power to turn enemies into wolves. Hecate, goddess of death, had three wolf heads. And Zeus, king of the gods, turned a king named Lycaon. (Ironically enough, the name survives today in the terminology of the eastern timber wolf.) The Greeks even went so far as to pay for a funeral should one be killed.