Monday, 19 March 2012

Myths & Legends: Zeus and Lycaon

I was wondering what would be a good way to start pouring over the contents of my old blog into this one. I decided to start off with a well-known ancient myth about the Arcadian king by the name of Lycaon. There exist two versions of this myth, slightly differing in details, so I submit both of them below.


In the heart of the Peloponnese, on the very tip of the Balkan Peninsula there once lay a land called Arcady. It was there, in the times when gods stepped down from Olympus to indulge in human pleasures, that king Lycaon had his reign. He was very intelligent and clever and introduced a high level of culture and civilisation to his land, and he was the one who ordered the erection of many temples and commanded his people to worship Zeus as the supreme deity. After some time, however, Lycaon and his sons began to neglect their responsibilities and their faith.

Zeus, worshipped by the king and his people, learned of this immediately and decided to put Lycaon to a speical test. He came down from Olympus dressed as a countryman and knocked on the palace doors. But, perceptive and intelligent as he was, Lycaon figured out who his visitor really was and so welcomed him generously and accommodated him as well as he could. However, among all this, he committed a heinous crime - he served Zeus his youngest son as a roasted dish in order to give the god a testament of his faith through this horrible sacrifice.

Zeus, however, noticed what it was that he had been served and raged at his host, filled with divine wrath. As punishment, he transformed Lycaon and the rest of his sons into wolves, while he resurrected the youngest son and made him king.


Zeus, having heard of the misdeeds of the folk not only in the aforementioned Arcadia, came down to earth to roam his lands and learn more of the situation in hopes of proving the rumours false. But it turned out that the rumours were true and at dusk, tired from learning of more and more of the crimes of the common folk, Zeus came to Arcadia and stayed "under the unwelcoming roof of the tyrant Lycaon". He gave a sign that he was a god, so the people fell to their knees before him, praying fiercely. Only Lycaon jeered at Zeus's divinity and announced that he was yet to confirm whether he was a god or a mortal. Having said that, he then sneaked up on Zeus and tried to kill him, but with no success. However, this was not enough proof for him and so he ordered that one of the slaves of the Molossi tribe should have his throat slit and then cooked a portion of the meat and roasted the rest. Such a dish he then served to Zeus who, seeing what he had been offered, became enraged and burned down the royal palace with thunder and lightning, so that the roof would crush Lycaon under its weight. When Lycaon tried to flee, Zeus transformed him into a wolf as means of punishment.

Below is the fragment describing Zeus's wrath towards Lycaon and the latter's transformation into a wolf from Publius Ovidius Naso's Metamorphoses:

The house with just revenging fire upon the owners hed,
Who seeing that, slipt out of doores amazde for feare, and fled
Into the wilde and desert woods, where being all alone,
As he endevorde (but in vaine) to speake and make his mone, 
He fell a howling: wherewithall for verie rage and moode
He ran me quite out of his wits and waxed furious woode.
Still practising his wonted lust of slaughter on the poore
And sielie cattle, thirsting still for bloud as heretofore,
His garments turnde to shackie haire, his armes to rugged pawes: 
So is he made a ravening Wolfe: whose shape expressely drawes
To that the which he was before: his skinne is horie graye,
His looke still grim with glaring eyes, and every kinde of waye
His cruell heart in outward shape doth well it selfe bewraye.

Publius Ovidius Naso, Metamorphoses, Arthur Golding, London, W. Seres, 1567


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  1. this's not the myth. this's the true story but not 100%.

    1. Well, of course, legends and myths typically have some grain of truth in them, since they are usually based on real-life events and personas, but embellished with supernatural or fantastic elements to make the story more interesting :)