Werewolf Wednesday: Loup Garou in Latin (1549)

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It seems safe to say that most people reading this post will be aware that loup garou is a French term for werewolf. However, it seems that the term may have once had a broader meaning as a loose description of sinister supernatural beings in general.

A while ago I found a citation from 1577 listing loup garou as a synonym for incubus. More recently, I’ve come across a French-Latin dictionary from 1549 that provides a few Latin synonyms for loup garou — and an intriguing lot they are. According to this volume, a Latin-speaker might refer to a loup-garou using any of the following terms: Lemures lemurum; Larua; Lycaon; Lycanthropos; Lucifugus; Solifugus; and Versipellis nycterobius.

Of these, lycanthropos scarcely needs comment, and I imagine that — again — most of my readers will be aware of the myth of Lycaon. The other terms warrent a closer look.

Lemures and lemurum are the plural and singular forms of a Latin word for spirits of the dead; I’m not sure why the listing lacks punctuation between the two words. Larva — or larua, as it’s spelt here — is likewise a term for a ghost.

Lucifugus translates literally as “light-shunning”, and I gather that it can be applied to any nocturnal life. The Grand Grimoire, which likely postdates this dictionary, lists a demon by the name of Lucifuge Rofocale; beyond this, I’m unaware of any use of the term or its derivatives in a supernatural context. Similarly, Solifugus means “sun-shunning”.

Finally, we have Versipellis nycterobius. I can find no uses of this term outside of similar such dictionaries, but the etymology is easy enough to trace. Versipellis means literally “changing the skin” and refers to transformations in general; both the Satyticon and Pliny’s Natural History use it in the context of men becoming wolves. Nycterobius is a Latnised form of a Greek term referring to nocturnal life (nykterinós, nocturnal; bios, life).

So, of the Latin synonyms for loup garou put forth by the dictionary, some refer specifically to human-wolf transformations, while others refer more generally to either ghosts of the dead or to creatures that come out after dark. Is this merely a case of loose translation, with the book acting more as a rather vague thesaurus than a proper dictionary? Or did the term loup garou once have a broader meaning, referring to werewolves in particular and nocturnal spooks in general?

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