Lupus est homo homini
Plautus, Asinaria (c. 200 B.C.)
“They err, who write no wolves in England range;
Here men are all turned wolves, O monstrous change.”
James Howell, Epistolae Ho-elianae (1644).
Plautus was not the first to remark man’s inhumanity to man, but his apothegm has come down the centuries as a compact testament to the fact that “man is wolf to man.” The wolf is an emblem of everything stealthy, malignant and pitiless in this world, and man finds this age-old enemy not only skulking in the shadows of the circumjacent forest, but also seated with him at the fire in the very heart of the human camp. Wolves sit with him because men are wolves. How droll that “man’s best friend” was bred from his oldest enemy. How ironic that this shaggy symbol of misanthropy makes its lair in man’s own heart.
The unsentimental Arabs did not flinch from the fact. In the words of an old desert proverb,
“Men are wolves who devour one another; and he who is not a wolf is devoured by the rest.”
Rapacity may be especially pronounced in the Arab, for a nomad’s life comes closest to the Hobbesian war of all against all, but it is not only in the desert that men devour men. As James Howell said, the men of not so merry old England seemed “possessed with a pure lycanthropy, with a wolvish kind of disposition to tear one another.”
He should not have been surprised, having been warned by the greatest authority,
“I send you forth as lambs among wolves.” (Luke 10:3)
* * * * *
“In the fifteenth century, a council of theologians convoked by the Emperor Sigismund gravely decided that the loop garou was a reality.”*
Sigismund did not convoke the theologians to decide on the reality of the loup garou, since the existence of werewolves was (as it should remain) obvious to every sane and observant person. Sigismund asked the theologians to decide whether lycanthropy was a crime. They answered that it was, and moreover, that to teach otherwise was heresy. After all, it is wrong to teach the people that which is not true, especially when it comes to a matter as dire as their freedom to indulge in werewolfery.
That men could be wolves in spirit had been known since Cain slew Able. That their spirits could assume the form of animals had been taught by Pythagoras and was a doctrine of the medieval Church. In what amounted to the lecture notes that St. Thomas Aquinas used when he began teaching at Paris, we find this line.
“All angels, good and bad, have by natural virtue the power of transmuting our bodies.”**
It was thus generally believed that a sorcerer could call up a demon and request metamorphosis, the wolf and the owl being the shapes he most often asked for. As a wolf, he could escape from manhood into bestiality, and as such unleash his essential misanthropy in destruction of the lives and livelihoods of other men. In the words of a thirteenth-century poem about a werewolf,
“This savage monster in his mood
Roams through the wood in search of blood,
Nor man nor beast his rage will spare,
When wandering near his hideous lair.”***
As an owl, the sorcerer could escape his manhood into a sort of counterfeit spirituality, since the body of an owl allowed him to fly through the air and see in dark places where men were not meant to see. But he is in both cases actuated by hatred of manhood, whether in himself or in others, and his misanthropy is expressed in both the bloody orgies of a wolf and the dusky soaring of an owl. I suspect this may explain what Isiah is telling us when he describes the ruins of Babylon after all the men are gone.
“And their houses shall be full of doleful creatures, and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there.”
A satyr is not exactly the same as the wolf, but bloodlust is not so very different from lust of the satyric kind, and satyriasis is another bestial escape from manhood.
* * * * *
“Lycanthropy: a frenzy or melancholy, which causeth the patient (who thinks he is turned wolf) to fly all company, and hide himself in dens and corners.”†
Just as images of pointed hats and broomsticks have blinded us to the reality of witches, so moving-pictures of growing fangs and sprouting fur have blinded us the reality of werewolves. For what is a werewolf? He is a misanthrope who hates mankind and the manhood he finds in himself. Some werewolves express their hatred with the appalling violence that so shocked medieval peasants when they found the mutilated body of a child in the woods.††
More often, werewolves express their hatred through withdrawal and contempt. Thus one writer from 1609 tells us that the title of loup garou was applied to reclusive misanthropes who were “scornfully and cynically solitary,” and who spent their days in “too sullen and retired a fashion.”††
In other words, I am a werewolf; and there is a good chance you are too..
* * * * *
If a man knows the line from Plautus, it is most likely as the truncated tag Luppus est homo homini. But there is more to the line, which in its entirety reads:
Luppus est homo homini, non homo; quom qualis sit non novit.
This has been variously translated, but the clearest rendering may be, “a man is a wolf to another man whom he does not know.” The immediate suggestion is that werewolves are tamed by kindness, and that love will be enough to check the loping loup garou. But then we see that Bill Clinton had a point when he asked what the meaning of is is. Does the line in fact mean that a man ceases to be a werewolf, once you have gotten to know him; or does it only mean that he that he ceases to appear as a werewolf?
Oh, you poor little lambs!
*) Ebinezer Cobham Brewer, Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1898)
**) The line is from Aquinas’ Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard (c. 1252)
***) Marie de France, Lai de Bisclavret (12thcentury)
†) Thomas Blount, Glossographia (1661).
††) Hope Hood was a runaway servant in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. After he escaped into the woods, he terrorized the Puritans by kidnapping and torturing their children. Cotton Mather had the justice to call Hood a loup garou. See Decennium Luctuosum: A History of Remarkable Occurrences in the Long War which New England Hath with the Indian Savages (1699).
†††) Robert Dallington, The View of France (1604).