Werewolves have been a part of the folklore of many different cultures since ancient times. Images of European werewolves in dark forests usually come to mind when the beasts are mentioned. However, stories of lycanthropes and shape changers have permeated the mythos of cultures as diverse and aged as Ancient Greece to Native American folklore. Modern countries all over the world from Latvia to Argentina have their own stories about werewolves. Famous among the Ancient Greeks and classical literature was the story of Lycaon from which lycanthropy likely gets its name. Lycaon is said to have been a cannibal, and turned into a wolf as a result of his crime.
Even Herodotus, the father of History, wrote of a people called the Neuri would turn into wolves every nine years. Ancient Rome also has many tales of werewolves with the pages of Ovid’s Metamorphoses to Gaius Petronius’ Satyricon. Both works feature stories about men who turned into wolves with Metamorphoses emphasizing that there were many, and not solitary. Werewolves in European lore are very prevalent with the belief that most werewolves were in league with Satan, and cursed. The medieval French poem, Bisclavret tells of a man who turned into a wolf every week.
But this is still a poem reflecting the people’s fears of the werewolf in literature. There are documented cases of werewolves. One of the more interesting stories is of the Gandillon family, which is detailed in Boguet’s Discours de Sorciers. The story begins with a girl Pernette Gandillon that one day walked around on all fours like a wolf and attacked another girl. The attacked girl’s brother helped her only to get his throat torn out by Pernette. The townsfolk quickly killed Pernette on the spot without trial. The story does not stop there, however. Pernette’s brother was also accused to have been a werewolf, and there were accusations that he used a salve given to him by Satan so that he could transform into a wolf.
His son, Georges also claimed to be a werewolf, and as well as his sister, Antoinette. The three ended up being arrested and then hung and burned to death. Historical figures as well have been accused of being a werewolf, such as King Harold I of Norway simply because his hair was wolf-like to more serious assertions that a prince from Belarus named Usiaslau was said to travel at night in the form of a wolf moving at incredible speed. Even more mysterious is the documented case of the Beast of Gevaudan where over 80 people in France were attacked and killed by what was described as a large wolf. The attacks stopped after wolves in the area were hunted down and killed. These are just a few examples of werewolves around the world from literature to actual historical accounts. One can believe the accounts of werewolves or not, but it is clear that the werewolf has had quite an impact on many different cultures and nations over the ages.