Werewolf Wednesday: Jean Bodin on Lycanthropy, Part 4 (1580)

In recent weeks I’ve devoted not one, not two but three posts to the chapter on lycanthropy in Jean Bodin’s 1580 book De la Démonomanie des sorciers, partly through the abridged 2001 English edition by Randy A. Scott and Jonathan L. Pearl. Now, here’s one last post to round off my summary of the chapter…

I’ll start with another section that Scott and Pearl left out of their translation. This dips into classical mythology, with Bodin pointing to Ovid’s story of Lycaon becoming a wolf, and Homer’s account of how Circe turned Odysseus’ men into swine. The latter tale, argues Bodin, is not mere fable, as it was repeated by St. Augustine — who also recounted a story of Arcadian sorceresses turning passers-by into beasts to carry cheese.

Next, we read a story repeated by William of Tyre and Jacob Spranger of a witch in Cyprus who transformed an English soldier into a donkey. Wandering off-topic a little, Bodin then recounts an anecdote from Pierre Belon regarding a donkey in Cairo that had apparently been trained to communicate with people. Next comes an story that Peter Damian shared with Pope Leo VII concerning two German witches who turned houseguests into animals; Bodin indicates that, during this conversation, Leo cited The Golden Ass as evidence that such things can happen. Hippocrates is another authority who turns up in Bodin’s overview — albeit on the rather different topic of people reportedly changing sex. Bodin admits that all of this might be hard to believe, but he points to the Biblical account of Nebuchadnezzar and the Greek concept of metempsychosis as evidence that such things happen.

The English translation, having skipped over the above passages, resumes:

Many doctors observing such a strange thing, and not knowing
the reason for it, so as not to appear ignorant, have stated and
written that Lycanthropy is an illness of sick men who think they
are wolves, and go running through the woods. But it would take
many arguments and witnesses to refute all the peoples of the earth
and all the histories, and particularly sacred history since Paracelsus, Pomponazzi and especially Fernel, the foremost doctors and philosophers of their time, and for many centuries, considered
Lycanthropy an absolutely certain, true and undoubted thing. Thus it is really quite ridiculous to measure natural things against supernatural things, and the actions of animals against the actions of spirits and demons. Still more absurd is to cite illhess which would only be in the person of the Lycanthrope and not affect those who see the man change into a beast, and then return to his own shape. Saint Chrysostom says that the witch Circe had so stupefied the companions of Ulysses by bestial pleasures, that they were like pigs. Here it seems that he means only their reason was paralysed and deadened and not that their body was changed. However, all those who have written about Lycanthropy, both ancient and modern, are in agreement that the human form changes while the mind and reason remain intact…

There follows another section that was left out by Scott and Pearl. Here, Bodin brings up more religious references, including  Thomas Aquinas’ assertion that angels can change their form; the “saiyr” of Isiah 13:21; and the account in the apocryphal Acts of Peter and Paul in which Simon Magus uses illusion to pass a ram off as himself. Along the way, Bodin runs into a theological quandary: Can the Devil transform men into wolves? The author makes a case for God having given such power to Satan, citing Job 31:33-34 (“…there is no power so great on earth which can resist him.”).

He also seems to point to the ability of men to make cherry trees bear roses, to turn apples into cabbages, to turn iron into steel and to turn silver into gold; I’ll admit that Google Translate may have failed me here, but this would seem to be an appeal to alchemically-influenced science of the era.

After Bodin makes a brief return to the myth of Lycaon (the author has a habit of repeating himself), the translation resumes:

Also one notes that the person who was executed at Dole, who changed from man to beast, and the ones in Savoy confessed to have eaten numerous children. A just judgment of God permits them to lose their human shape and to become wolves as they deserve. For from earliest antiquity male and female witches have had the evil reputation of eating such meats, even digging up dead bodies and gnawing them to the bone. Pausanias commented on this and said that it was a terrestrial demon….

This is followed by more references to The Golden Ass and Circe in The Odyssey Skipping these, the translation resumes once more:

And whatever the cause, divine and human histories, and the assent of the soundest body of theologians, with the experience and judgments of so many centuries and peoples, and of the most learned, compel the most stubborn to acknowledge the truth, which I shall always relate to the soundest views of the theologians who do not agree with the canonists on the questions which we are treating. But in whatever way, it is clear that men are sometimes transmuted into beasts while their human shape and reason remain. Either it is done by the power of God directly, or He gives this power to Satan the executor of His will.

And if we admit the truth of the sacred story in Daniel, which cannot be called into doubt, and of the story of Lot’s wife changed into motionless stone, it is certain that the changing of man to ox or
to stone is possible as well as into so many other animals. This is
the argument which Thomas Aquinas invokes speaking of the
transport of the body of Jesus Christ onto the mountain, and onto
the temple. If it is possible in one instance, it is possible in all,
for it is stated that that was done by Satan.

And so concludes Jean Bodin’s scholarly argument that, yes, werewolves may indeed exist.

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