Stories of men turning into beasts go back to antiquity. In parts of ancient Greece, werewolf myths, stemming from prehistoric times became linked with the Olympian religion.
Lycanthropy (werewolfism) was named for Apollo Lycaeus, “Wolfish Apollo,” who used to be worshiped in the famous Lyceum or “Wolf-temple” where Socrates taught. Apollo was mated to Artemis as a divine Wolf Bitch at Troezen, where she purified Orestes with the blood of nine sacrificial victims. Pausanias said Apollo was originally an Egyptian deity, deriving his name from Up-Uat (Ap-ol), a very ancient name of Anubis.
In another myth, Lycaeus, or Lycaeon, was a Pelasgian wolf-king and father of Callisto, who reigned in a nine-year cycle as spouse of the Ninefold Goddess, Nonacris. Lycaon, decided to trick Zeus. He fed Zeus a banquet of meats in which he had included human flesh. Zeus became incensed, transformed Lycaon into the form of a wolf, but allowed him to keep his human mind so to be always aware of his doom and killed his fifty sons by lightning bolts (except possibly Nyctimus).
In Fabulae, the sons of Lycaon sacrificed their youngest brother to prove Zeus’s weakness. They served the corpse as a pseudo-feast and attempting to trick the god into eating it. A furious Zeus slayed the sons with a lightning bolt and transformed their father into a wolf. In Ovid’s version, Lycaon murdered and mutilated a protected hostage of Zeus, but suffered the same consequences.
Lycaon’s character defects are physically grafted onto his body, manipulating his human form until he becomes that which his behaviour suggests. And, perhaps most importantly, Lycaon begins the idea that to transform into a werewolf you must first be a monster.
In Arcadia, Mt. Lycaeus was the place for the cult of the Wolf-Zeus. Every year, gatherings took place at which the priests were said to prepare a sacrificial feast that included meat mixed with human parts. According to legend, whoever tasted it became a wolf and could not turn into a man unless he abstained from human flesh for nine years.
Virgil said the first werewolf was Moires, spouse of the trinitarian Fate goddess (Moera), from whom he learned secrets of magic, including the necromantic knack of calling up the dead from their tombs. Virgil is familiar with transformation of human beings into wolves. In the novel Satyricon, written about year 60 by Gaius Petronius, one of the characters recites a story about a man who turns into a wolf during a full moon.
The Roman Pliny the Elder, quoting Euanthes, says that a man of Anthus’ family was selected by lot and brought to a lake in Arcadia, where he hung his clothing on an ash tree and swam across. This resulted in his being transformed into a wolf, and he wandered in this shape nine years. Then, if he had attacked no human being, he was at liberty to swim back and resume his former shape.
Probably the two stories are identical, though we hear nothing of participation in the Lycaean sacrifice by the descendant of Antaeus. Herodotus in his Histories tells us that the Neuri, a tribe he places to the north-east of Scythia were annually transformed for a few days.
In Astronomica, Hyginus describes the victim of Lycaon as being Arcas, son of Jupiter (Zeus) and Callisto, the daughter of Lycaon. When saved and restored to life, Arcas was brought up to be a hunter. By mistake, he hunted himself and his mother (for the moment transmogrified to a bear) into a temple where entrance was punished by death. Both were saved by Zeus to constitute the constellations Arctophylax and Greater Bear.
It is to be observed that the chief seat of Lycanthropy was Arcadia, and it has been very plausibly suggested that the cause might he traced to the following circumstance: The natives were a pastoral people, and would consequently suffer very severely from the attacks and depredations of wolves.
They would naturally institute a sacrifice to obtain deliverance from this pest, and security for their flocks. This sacrifice consisted in the offering of a child, and it was instituted by Lycaon. From the circumstance of the sacrifice being human, and from the peculiarity of the name of its originator, rose the myth.