This week’s historical werewolf tidbit comes from the Nomenclator of Hadrianus Junius, the 1585 edition of which can be found online here. A topical dictionary, the book contains the following entry for “Incubus”:
A kinde of disease called the night mare or witch, being a certeine pressing down and strangling of the bodie, hindering both the voice and the breath of free passage.
This is clearly a description of what would now be termed sleep paralysis, but what caught my eye is what accompanies the definition.
First, the book includes excerpts from classical sources in Latin and Greek, citing the thoughts of authors like Dioscorides Pliny on the phenomenon. And then, after the excerpts and just before the definition, the phrase “Le loup garou.”
Why is the French term for werewolf included here? There’s no context or explanation in the 1585 edition. However, I dug into the earlier editions of the book — which lack English — and found that the reference to “Le loup garou” seems to have first appeared in 1577. Here, it forms part of a multilingual glossary:
So, we can see Le loup garou listed alongside the words for “nightmare” in various languages, including the Spanish nachtmerrie and the Dutch nachtmerrie amongst others. Why the other languages were removed from the 1585 edition but Le loup garou kept is unclear, but at least its presence here makes sense.
I have to say, though, this is the first time I’ve seen werewolves associated specifically with nightmares or sleep paralysis. Can any French-speakers confirm whether this is, or was, a common connection?