Wolf
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Source: British Library Images Online Copyright Copyright 2004 British Library / Used by permission Manuscript description British Library, Royal MS 12 F. xiii, Folio 29r


 

Wolf

Latin name: Lupus

Other names: Leu, Lou, Loup, Lup

If a wolf sees a man before the man sees the wolf, the man will lose his voice

 

 
General Attributes

If a wolf sees a man before the man sees the wolf, the man will lose his voice. If the man sees the wolf first, the wolf can no longer be fierce. If a man loses his voice because the wolf saw him first, he should take off all his clothes and bang two rocks together, which will keep the wolf from attacking.

The wolf lives from prey, from the earth, and sometimes from the wind. When the wolf sneaks into a sheep fold, it approaches like a tame dog and is careful to approach from upwind so that the farm dogs do not smell its evil breath. If it steps on a branch and makes a noise, the wolf punishes itself by biting the offending foot.The wolf is cunning: it does not hunt for food for its cubs near its lair, but goes far away to find prey. If a wolf is caught in a trap, it will mutilate itself to escape rather than allow itself to be captured.

Wolves have strength in their feet, and anything they trample dies. They are also strong in their mouths and shoulders, but weak in their loins. They are unable to turn their necks backwards, but must turn their whole body to look behind them. Their eyes shine in the dark like lamps. At the tip of a wolf's tail is a tuft of hair that can be used for love potions; if the wolf is about to be captured, it bites off the tuft so that no man can get it. The wolves of Ethiopia are said to have manes in such a range of colors that no hue is left out, and to be able to leap so high that one might think they had wings.

Wolves mate only twelve days in the year. The female gives birth at the beginning of spring, in the month of May, when it first thunders.


Allegory/Moral

Like the wolf, the devil always sees mankind as prey and circles the sheepfold of the faithful, that is the Church. As the wolf gives birth when thunder first sounds, so the devil fell from heaven at the first display of his pride. The shining of the wolf's eyes in the night is like the works of the devil, which seem beautiful to foolish men. As the wolf cannot turn his neck, so the devil never turns towards the correction of penitence. Like the man who, because of the wolf has lost his voice, can save himself by removing his clothes and banging two rocks together, so can the man who is lost in sin be saved by stripping off, through baptism, his worldly self and then appealing to the saints, who are called "stones of adamant".

Prostitues are called she-wolves (lupae) because they lay waste their lover's riches.


Sources (chronological order)

Pliny the Elder [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 8, 34): If a wolf looks at a man before the man sees the wolf, the man will temporarily be unable to speak. The wolves of cold regions are cruel and fierce, but those of Africa and Egypt are weak. It is not true that men can be turned into wolves and back into men (werewolves), though the Greeks believed it. If a wolf while eating looks away from its food, it forgets what it is eating and goes to look for something else. The tail of the wolf contains a love potion in a small tuft of hair, which is only effective if the tuft is plucked from the wolf while it is still alive; for this reason a wolf when caught will shed the tuft of hair, rendering it worthless. Wolves breed only twelve days of the year. It is considered to be the finest of omens if a wolf eats large mouthfuls of earth when barring the way of travellers who come upon it on their right hand side.

Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 2:23-24): The name wolf (lupus) comes from the Greeks, who call the animal lukos this word also indicates the morals of wolves, which rapaciously kill whatever they encounter, and always desire blood. Some say lupus is from leo-pos because like the lion the wolf has its strength in its feet. Country folk say that a man will lose his voice if a wolf sees him first. If a wolf senses that it is being watched, it loses its ferocity. Wolves can go a long time without eating, but then they eat a great deal. They mate only twelve days in a year.

Bartholomaeus Anglicus [13th century CE] (De proprietatibus rerum, book 18): Churls speak of him and say that a man loseth his voice, if the wolf seeth him first. Therefore to a man that is suddenly still, and leaveth to speak it is said, "Lupus est in fabula," "The wolf is in the tale." And certainly if he know that he is seen first, he loseth his boldness, hardihood, and fierceness. The wolf is an evil beast, when he eateth, and resteth much when he hath no hunger: he is full hardy, and loveth well to play with a child, if he may take him; and slayeth him afterward, and eateth him at the last. It is said, that if the wolf be stoned, he taketh heed of him that threw the first stone, and if that stone grieveth him he will slay him: and if it grieveth him not, and he may take him that throweth that stone, he doth him not much harm, but some harm he doth him as it were in wrath, and leaveth him at last.... The wolf may not bend his neck backward in no month of the year but in May alone, when it thundereth. And when he goeth by night to a fold for to take his prey, he goeth against the wind for hounds should not smell him. And if it happeth in any wise that his foot maketh noise, treading upon anything, then he chasteneth that foot with hard biting.... I have read in a book that a string made of a wolf's gut, put among harp strings made of the guts of sheep, destroyeth and corrupteth them, as the eagle's feathers put among culvours', pulleth and gnaweth them, if they be there left together long in one place. (Mediaeval Lore from Bartholomew Anglicus (London, 1893/1905) Steele edition of 1905)


Illustration

The most common illustration of the wolf has it approaching a flock of sheep or a sheepfold, and sometimes biting at its paw. British Library, Royal MS 12 F. xiii (f. 29r) shows the scene of the man who has lost his voice; the wolves are in the upper register with the man below, standing on his cloak and holding a rock in each upraised hand. British Library, Royal MS 2 B. vii (f. 120v & 121r) shows the man seeing the wolf first, and the wolf seeing the man first, in two separate drawings.


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