Werewolf Wednesday: Homo Homini Lupus (1655)

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This week’s werewolf tidbit comes from Epistolae Ho-Elianae (Familiar Letters), specifically the collected edition of 1655. The volume is a compilation of letters (“Partly Historicall, partly Politicall, Partly Philosophicall”)  written by the historian James Howell.

One letter, purportedly sent by Howell in 1644 (I say “purportedly” as a long-running dispute surrounds the question of whether or not Howell fabricated his own correspondence), touches upon the topic of mental health. Towards the end of the letter, Howell uses lycanthropy as an analogy — giving us an idea of how the concept might have been discussed in the seventeenth century.

To Sir Ed. Sa. Knight.

Wer ther a Physitian that could cure the maladies of the mind, as well as those of the body, he needed not to with the Lord Major, or the Pope for his unkle, for he should have Patients without number; It is true, that ther be som distempers of the mind that proceed from those of the body, and so are cureable by Drugs and Dyets; but ther are others that are quite abstracted from all corporeall impressions, and are merely mental; these kind of Agonies are the more violent of the two, for as the one use to drive us into Fevers, the other precipitate us oftentimes into Frenzies; And this is the ground I believe, which made the Philosopher think, that the rational soul was infus’d into man, partly for his punishment, and the understanding for his executioner, unless wisdom sit at the Helm, and steer the motions of his Will.

I thank God I have felt both (for I am not made of stone or steel) having had since I was shut in here, a shrewd fit of the new disease; and for the other, ou must needs think that thirty one months close restraint, and the barbarousness of the times, mus discompose and torture the imagination, sometimes with gripings, of discontent and anguish, not as much for my own sad condition, as for my poor Countrey and friends, who have a friend share in my Nativity; and particularly for your self, whose gallant words I highly honor; and who have not been the least sufferer.

The Moralist tells us that a quadrant solid wife wish, should involve and tackle himself within his own virtue, and flight all accidents that are incident to man, and be still the same, Etiam fi fractus illabatur Orbis, ther may be so much virtue and valor in you, but I profess to have neither of them in that proportion. The Philosophers prescribe us Rules, that they themselves, nor any flesh and blood can observe; I am no statue, but I must resent the calamitics of the time, and the desperat case of this Nation, who seem to have faln quite from the very faculty of reason, and to be posses’d with a pure Lycanthropy, with a Wolvish kind of disposition to tear one another in this manner, insomuch, that if ever the old saying was verified, homo homini lupus, it is certainly now; I will conclude with this Distic,

They err, who write no Wolves in England range,
Her men are all turn’d Wolves, O monstrous change!

No more, but that I wish you Patience, which is a Flower that grows not in every Garden,

Your faithful Servitor,
From the Fleet, Decem. I. 1644

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