Working on a separate article this week got me to chasing down this particular rabbit again. Specifically, when did the full moon appear as a common trope in werewolf mythology? I’ve written on the subject before, and I recall that the facts are shadowy; it’s impossible to say for sure when the trope first appeared that werewolves roamed beneath the light of the full moon. I expect it predates written language. That’s why it’s impossible to pin it down. But the scholar in me demands definitive facts. Also, it’s my job to know such things. So off I went running down rabbits again.
The first *written* account I can find of the full moon having some involvement in the transformation of a werewolf comes from around 1 AD and appears in the SATYRICON written by (probably) Gaius Petronius (or Titus Petronius, if we want to use his pen name), an advisor to the notoriously insane and bloodthirsty Roman Emperor Nero.
Here’s what Petronius had to say on the matter: “So we trotted off about cockcrow; the moon shone like high noon. We got among the tombstones: my man went aside to look at the epitaphs, I sat down with my heart full of song and began to count the graves. Then when I looked round at my friend, he stripped himself and put all his clothes by the roadside. My heart was in my mouth, but I stood like a dead man. He made a ring of water round his clothes and suddenly turned into a wolf. Please do not think I am joking; I would not lie about this for any fortune in the world. But as I was saying, after he had turned into a wolf, he began to howl, and ran off into the woods. At first I hardly knew where I was, then I went up to take his clothes; but they had all turned into stone. No one could be nearer dead with terror than I was. But I drew my sword and went slaying shadows all the way till I came to my love’s house. I went in like a corpse, and nearly gave up the ghost, the sweat ran down my legs, my eyes were dull, I could hardly be revived. My dear Melissa was surprised at my being out so late, and said, ‘If you had come earlier you might at least have helped us; a wolf got into the house and worried all our sheep, and let their blood like a butcher. But he did not make fools of us, even though he got off; for our slave made a hole in his neck with a spear.’ When I heard this, I could not keep my eyes shut any longer, but at break of day I rushed back to my master Gaius’s house like a defrauded publican, and when I came to the place where the clothes were turned into stone, I found nothing but a pool of blood. But when I reached home, my soldier was lying in bed like an ox, with a doctor looking after his neck. I realized that he was a werewolf, and I never could sit down to a meal with him afterwards, not if you had killed me first.”
Note, however, that while it is mentioned that the moon was full, nowhere is it stated that the moon’s fullness was the *cause* of the werewolf’s transformation.