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Lycaon

by Dr Alena Trckova-Flamee Ph.D.

Lycaon was the son of Pelasgus, living in the region of Arcadia, which was called Pelasgia in ancient times. According to tradition, he raised civilization in this region to a higher level than previously during the period of his father's reign. He also was the founder of the town Lycosoura in the mountains of Lycaeon and there he became the first king, and started the cult of Zeus Lycaeus and the Lycaean Games.

It is said that Lycaon was the father of no less than twenty-two sons and sometimes this number was even increased to fifty; all of his sons were known as the founders of numerous towns in Pelasgia. Lycaon had also one daughter Callisto, who became one of the loves of Zeus and the mother of Arcas.

According to some ancient authors Lycaon made Zeus very angry because he sacrificed on the god's altar a boy in honor to Zeus himself. Other writers said that he invited Zeus to a banquet and offered him a meal, containing meat from a roasted human being. Finally, there is also a story about the sons of Lycaon, who cooked soup from the entrails of a sheep and a goat, together with the entrails of their brother Nictimos. They presented this meal to Zeus, who was visiting them as a simple traveler. Due to any of these reasons Zeus transformed Lycaon and his sons into wolves (in Greek lykos means "wolf") and also he sent a thunderbolt which struck Lycaon's house.

Pausanias noted that someone else was transformed into a wolf as well (in the same manner as Lycaon) during a sacrifice to Zeus Lycaeus. People believed that a person who became a wolf could be again changed into a man if he did not eat any human meat during ten years, otherwise he had to stay in the shape of a wolf for the rest of his life.

According to the myths, the story about Lycaon from Lycosoura and his sons happened before the great Flood, in the period when Cecrops was the Athenian king. Cecrops put on the sacrificial altar only pelanoi (home made cakes). They said that the primitive manners used by the Pelasgian tribes -- like human sacrifices -- were one of the reasons why Zeus decided to exterminate mankind by a Flood. Nevertheless, the people in Arcadia survived and gave raise to other mythical stories later on.

Mount Lycaeon in Arcadia became one of the most important places to worship Zeus. According to one version of the myth, Zeus was born or was educated there, close to the place called Cretea. A sanctuary was built near the summit of the mountain, with a sacred section reserved specially for Zeus; nobody could come or enter it, and cult ceremonies were performed there in great secrecy.

Unfortunately today only a few ruins of this sanctuary can be observed, together with a large place which functioned as the stadium for the Lycaean Games. Also numerous names associated with the mythological events are preserved unto this day in this beautiful region between the Arcadian mountains.


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