wolves and goats

I find it quite interesting that gods who have strong associations with wolves, share similar associations with goats in both Hellenismos and Religio Romana. In this there seems to be a natural order taking place symbolically in which the two are intricately tied. Take for instance (in honor of this day of Lupercalia) the Roman gods Mars.

Lupercalia crosses over into three specific areas symbolically in the sacrifice in the Lupercali cave, a sacrifice carried out in honor of the place where Remus and Romulus (the founders of Rome and sons of Mars) were nursed by the she-wolf. First and foremost we must keep in mind in this ritual that its importance is connected to the birth of Rome and the prosperity of the Republic (and later the Empire). It therefore stresses the lineage through Mars. Though Mars shares many similarities to the Hellenic god Ares, there are scholars who cast him in a stronger assocation with Apollon in his more ancient aspects when speaking of relationships of cults than with Ares, from whom he later adopted much of his myths and characteristics. However the indigenous cultus of the god stresses his association to the fields (in which he shares association with Apollon as both gods are those that ward off “rust” which attacks grains) and there protection foremost from which it is believed that his more war-like characteristics developed in extention. Therefore it is natural that the god be associated with creatures of the feild, unlike his Hellenic counterpart Ares who shares less associations. Mars, for instance, is directly associated with wolves, and the wolf of the Lupercali cave was one that was sent by him to nurse his sons until a shepherd found them so that they would not freeze from exposure or starve. In that cave a cast of boys (all from noble families) were chosen to play the part of the Lupercii (as Lupus is latin for wolf we can infer that they are playing the part of wolves). The sacrifice carried out in the cave is one of goats and dogs (the latter being a traditional sacrifice to both Ares and Mars…in the case of Mars it was red dogs). Previously in a post on goats and deer I spoke of how the female goat is associated with nursing, as a goat was a nurse of Zeus, and the male is associated with fertility, it can be inferred that this ritual sacrifice is intended on two parts. One, it honors the nurse of the two heroes but the sacrifice of an animal associated with nursing. The second we see directly in the purpose that is carried out…the strapping of women with the strips of goatskin to promote fertility. This would appropriately honor both Mars, the father of Rome, and Faunus, the rustic god of Italy indirectly in one ritual. I say indirectly only because the description of the ritual itself does not directly mention Faunus (nor does it directly mention Lupercus) but I cede the point that in accordance to the lore of Italy that he may very well have been present indirectly and symbolically in association with the sacrifices carried out in the cave and the legendary roots of the sheperds being the original lupercii, that in ritual were actually the youths of patrician (noble) families in Rome specifically connected to the sphere of the children of Mars. It can be said that in mythology the origins of the Lupercalia lay with Faunus and his shepherds (from Romulus and Remus took part and upon being engaged in the festivities, according to Livy, were captured by Numitor’s people) but that these origins lay in the mythic history of the festival and the primary portion of the festival is in honor of the she-wolf of Mars. However, regardless of whether we are speaking of Mars or Faunus, the sacrifice of the goats (and dogs) at the cave of the wolf is very important symbolism. Therefore the wolf which destroys and protects is part of the cycle of the fertile and nursing goat, an idea which we see carried out in the cults of very closely related Hellenic gods Zeus, Apollon, and Pan, and slightly with Artemis via her epithets Lykeia (wolfish) and Kourotrophos (nurse), the latter of which I had discussed in my previous post on goats and deer.

Lupercalia, according to Roman legend, is said to have sprung from the Lykaia of Arkadia, upon the mountain of which on three hills there were three temples. The temple of Zeus Lykaia in the middle surrounded by the temples of Pan and Apollon to either side. Despite the emphasis given by later Italian recorders to the prominence of Pan on Lykaion, it is indisputable that Zeus Lykaia was the prominent figure in the Arkadian cult…one which was echoed in Kyrene, in Libya, where there was a second mountain called Lykaion were Zeus Lykaia was honored following the Arkadian aspect. According to myth Zeus assumed the form of a wolf for nine years and on the 10th year (one divine year) was restored, a pattern that was followed by Demaenetus when he tasted of the sacrifice to Zeus. This form of Zeus supposedly may have been related to the myth in which Arkadians took the form of wolves for nine years after swimming across a pond, after which, if they hadn’t consumed human flesh, would regain their state. All of which must be tied to the king Lykaon, coincidentally the father of Callisto who became a bear. He was the first to be transformed into a wolf by Zeus for the punishment of offering Zeus (in human disguise) human flesh, that of a child, to feast upon. Zeus’ tasting of human flesh may be related to this form of Zeus, as Lykaon is credited with having sacrificed a child to Zeus which was what transformed Zeus into a wolf for nine years. Though there is no direction mention of Pan in the myth, it is wide known that Pan was an important deity among the Arkadians and the fact that both Pan and Apollon had temples joining that of Zeus Lykaia is an important feature in which we see three wolfish gods honored together, and of whom have important features as gods associated with shepherds, the fertility of feilds (to which bees can be connected) and livestock, and oracles. And all three of whom are represented in association with goats, as both Apollon and Pan are called Tragoidos, and as bearing goat, or ram, horns in Peloponnese and its associated colonies…such as that in Libya in which Apollon-Ammon (called Karneios in Peloponnese) and his wife Kyrene are ram-horned, and Zeus-Ammon is likewise horned at his oracle near the Egyptian border.

The goat/ram appears to have a direct relationship in imagery to an idea to a sovereign divinity who brings prosperity by interacting with and fertilizing the world. Such imagery in relationship to sovereignity can also be recalled by a certain myth related to Atreus in which a golden lamb was to confer kingship upon whomever possessed it. Likewise the flying golden-fleeced ram, the son of Poseidon who rescued Phrixus and Helle, the children of king Cretheus, from being sacrificed (the latter whom fell into the sea…that place being called Hellespont after her) and upon carrying Phrixus across the Black Sea to king Aeetes in Colchis, was sacrificed to Zeus (or in some versions to Ares) and his fleece hidden in the holy grove of Ares, was the object of the heroic quest of Jason and the Argonauts for the pleasure of King Pelias. The associations with fertility are of course significant because this ram became the constellation Ares which signifies the time of year when grain is sown according to Psuedo-Hyginus in his Astronomica. This certainly aligns too with imagery of Apollon and Pan together greeting the rising of Semele which would be likewise associated with ideas of sowing and the return of vegetation. Thereby we see the the goat associated with fertile masculine deities of some regard as a divine king, yet of the Lykaion trinity of Zeus, Pan and Apollon we see three levels at work. First we have the high king Zeus, ruler of the world and aether, from whom all things issues. Second we have Apollon, the bright king, the king of light, the king who walks across all the earth. And we have Pan who is the rustic king (recognizably set apart by his distinctive half animal characteristics who opperates in cooperation with Apollon and revels with Dionysos)…and yet all the Orphic hymns to all three seem in some manner to refer to each other. There are, of course, numerous other deities associated with goats/rams such as Dionysos and the aforementioned Ares, but in this post I am concentrating on the divine association of wolves and goats which are expressed in only a few deities.

Thus within Pan, Zeus and Apollon we are presented gods that are connected with destruction via their assocation with wolves, but are also bringers of prosperity and abundance as we can see with their goat associations. They are the wolves that cull of the weaker members of the flock, they are the destroyer of wolves that may prey excessively upon the flock…in such they are both wolfish and protector/shepherd gods who oversee the welfare of the flocks and their healthy increase. Since both slaughter/destruction/sacrifice and fertility are necessary for the welfare of the flock, it is necessary for gods associated with some kingly title and duty to be associated directly with both functions as destroyers and saviors (the savior aspect of Zeus often partaken by Athena who possesses the skin of Almathaea…the aegis).

As far as I can see, regardless of which deity it is for, such festivals as the ongoing Lupercalia, which celebrate both the protective/destructive nature of the wolf (for the wolf is also protective as it is a social animal that cares for its young within a solid family group) and the fertility and nursing attributes associated with the goat are highly appropriate at each turn of the season…and likely accounts for their celebrations at different parts of the calendar through the Hellenic and Roman world. Generally speaking my focus when it comes to a shepherd’s festival in which goats/rams are sacrificed tends to be at the Karneia for Apollon Karneios prior to the start of autumn, but I can see the relevance at the beginning of spring in relation to this.


7 thoughts on “wolves and goats

  1. I’m wondering about there possibly being more of a distinction to be drawn between sheep (rams) and goats. I could see a culture that was generally less pastoral freely assimilating these two ruminants, but I would imagine that for hardcore pastoralists there would be some significant symbolic articulation there.

    • I kinda had similar thoughts, however I get confused by deities who are associated with goats via myth and cultus and yet are depicted with the horns of a ram..unless there was a species of goat in the ancient world with similarly cuving horns I am not familiar with. This is what largely caused me to lump them together for convenience sake. Of course I do know someone who raises goats and rams both and said that the rams are (my summing up) goats plus. Their behavior being much like male goats except rams appear more aggressive. But I do think it might be a fine point to ponder on a bit. Goats and sheep also offer different things domesticately…female goats offer milk (best consumed in its cheese form but I like goat milk as a drink too which I got the chance to try for the first time in Greece), and sheep are shorn for their wool for clothing…both of which can be considered important markers of civilization.

      • There is a species of wild goat native to the Aegean, the “bezoar goat”, Capra aegagrus, which has curving horns like a ram, so there is scope for iconographic confusion. The wool, I think, is a key difference; the milk, not so much, since sheep’s milk and the cheese thereof are well attested products even today, if not as popular as goat’s milk and cheese. Goats seem to have a reputation for grazing on the most marginal land, being able to eat almost anything, which could be relevant; they also seem to be found in smaller herds, having a weaker herding instinct, though this could be a false impression. Could we propose that the ram’s royal association is due to the symbolism of a large flock, and the wealth and power that suggests, with a valuable cash crop (and popular altar gift) on hand, while the goat is more to be associated with mountaineers and solitary wizards? Does this make the goat, as it were, the wolf of the herbivores?

      • I wasn’t aware that sheeps were milked. I think the flock orientation and the associations of wealth via wool is perhaps an important point as you have said. Certainly though there is a persepective of empowerment from the alternative of the goat, whereas kingly status and wealth can be associated more directly with the sheep. And some iconic divions of what is goat and what is sheep may take some work but might just come down to a matter of largely educated guesswork. Zeus Ammon is quite direct since we know that the Egyptian god Ammon is a ram, however Apollon Karneios is a bit trickier I think since Apollon was associated with the goat in Sparta (and a description of the god depicted with a goat beside him) and yet we have idyllics which describe shepherds sacrificing their best ram to the god. Meanwhile we are familiar with the sacrifice of the goats to Artemis. Perhaps there is something then in which both the sheep and goat would be particular to Apollon.. I don’t know. The goat certain seems, compared to the sheep, to be a liminal animal much like the wolf that is for sure, in which case I can see such an animal associated with a god who enjoys a cultus which extends from the heart of civilization into the more liminal realms. In such context perhaps we could place these gods in such a relationship as we have Pan who seems most firmly planted in the liminal areas, and that of Zeus and Apollon who are also share in those spaces. Certainly it does seem that the goat may be seen on a kind of level among herbivores which the wolf enjoys among predators.

  2. The most solid touchstones for the sheep and the goat in Hellenic myth seem to me to be, on the one hand, the golden fleece, indisputably a sheep, and the aigis, on the other hand, clearly a goat. It’s also interesting that the Chimaira is goatish. Goats are definitely quite liminal compared to sheep. Subjectively, I’ve seen some very peculiar behavior from goats, it would be easy to see them as receptive to some kind of paranormal influence!

    Regarding the sheep, I would imagine that wool was virtually synonymous with wealth in certain parts of Hellas at certain periods. Oddly enough, though, the association with Amun made wool a taboo product for Egyptian priests.

    • That is very curious that Egyptians would refrain from using wool when they have a deity that is in a ram form. Perhaps the fact that the god has the form of a ram makes the wool in some respect untouchable?
      As for goats, I was thinking on the subject of the liminal associations with goats and wolves and recalled that both have a strong connection with the supernatural. You have men and women that turn into wolves, and you have goats that have been depicted as vehicles of witches in later folklore. It seems that most animals of such connotation have similar histories with paranormal associations. As such frogs (which according to Plutarch I believe adorned the temple doors of Delphi as well as being associated with Leto) have some mild associations, though the toad is by far more common. Ravens and crows also possessing an interesting history. But among these it could be argued that the wolf and goat is perhaps the more superior symbols (and the goat being more immediately connected to humanity that then wolf)…and the goat bearing some mild intermediary relationship when compared to the sheep.

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