The Wolf

The Wolf has a history. A predator that stalks forests, a silent killer, a hunter; perhaps inevitably the wolf features in history, mythology and literature. Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were suckled by a wolf as children. Lycaon, a kind of Arcadia, was turned into a wolf by Zeus as punishment (for feeding the god a dead child as a test of divinity). Lykos in Greek, Lupus in Latin, to become a wolf was a curse, but to possess the qualities of a wolf could make a man legendary.

Jupiter and Lycaon by Jan Cossiers (17th Century), Prado Museum. Source: Wikipedia

Jupiter and Lycaon by Jan Cossiers (17th Century), Prado Museum. Source: Wikipedia

In Christianity, wolves were a threat. In Matthew 10:16, Jesus calls upon his disciples and says:

Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves; be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.

In this verse, as in others, a shepherd warns his flock, the sheep needing protection from wolves, which were symbols of greed and destruction, and sometimes Satan himself. Whether this troubled Satan is best summed up by Virgil, who wrote about this in his Eclogues, though I like Frances Bacon’s paraphrase better:

It never troubles the wolf how many the sheep be.

And, as Christopher Hitchens wrote:

...the shepherd protects the sheep and lambs not for their own good but the better to fleece and then to slay them.

St Francis of Assissi saved the town of Gubbio from a wolf that preyed on the people and their livestock. In fact, St Francis brokered a treaty between the people and the wolf, who had “done evil out of hunger.” The people kept the wolf fed and he, in turn, left Gubbio unharmed.

I could go on to talk about fairytales but I’m not going to do that.

Instead, I’d like to share something I learned about Chechen lore. The culture of Chechnya holds wolves in high esteem. Amjad Jaimoukha wrote (p.153, The Chechens: A Handbook):

According to Chechen ethos, the wolf is the only animal that would enter into an unequal match, making up for any disadvantage by its agility, wit, courage and tenacity. If it loses a battle, it lies down facing the foe in full acceptance of its fate – Chechen poise equivalent to the famed British ‘stiff upper lip’.

It’s no wonder that warriors sought to acquire the characteristics of wolves before going into battle. Which, I have to say, brings us back to the Romans and a Latin proverb that reads Homo homini lupus est – man is wolf to man.

A hunter, a killer, silent and vicious. A curse, with qualities that are envied. A threat, a demon, a darkness that lurks at the edge of light, though not beyond reason. A courageous beast, stubborn, smart, courageous and determined. A man who preys on other men.

Sounds like the kind of qualities that could make an interesting protagonist in a thriller novel.

Thoughts?