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December 9, 2009

Lycanthropy in Byzantine Times

What I find interesting about the contents of article below was the advanced methods of psychiatry in Roman (Byzantine) times which treated symptoms of lycanthropy as a mental disorder, while in the West centuries later, following the Fall of Constantinople in the 15th century, it was seen as a symptom of demonic possession.

"Lycanthropy in Byzantine Times (AD 330—1453)", 
History of Psychiatry, Vol. 20, No. 4, 468-479 (2009).

By E. Poulakou-Rebelakou, C. Tsiamis, G. Panteleakos, D. Ploumpidis 
(all from the University of Athens)


In this paper, the original Greek language texts of the Byzantine medical literature about lycanthropy are reviewed. The transformation of a human being into a wolf and the adoption of animal-like behavior, which were already known from mythology and had been presented in the scientific works of ancient Greek and Roman physicians, were examined by six Byzantine physicians and explained as a type of melancholic depression or mania. In spite of the influence of Byzantine medicine, its rationality in the interpretation of lycanthropy was forgotten in medieval and Renaissance times when it was replaced by explanations based on demonic possession and witchcraft. More recently psychiatry has treated the phenomenon as a subject of medical inquiry and has again explained the condition in terms of a mental disorder.