The Sceptered She-Wolf


I was reading Orphic Hymn 55. To Aphrodite when one of her titles caught my eye:

Heavenly, smiling Aphrodite, praised in many hymns,
sea-born, revered Goddess of generation, 
you like the night-long revel and you couple lovers at night,
O scheming Mother of Necessity.
Everything comes from you;
you have yoked the world and you control all three realms.
You give birth to all, to everything in heaven, upon fruitful earth,
and in the depths of the sea, O venerable companion of Bacchos.
You delight in festivities, O Bride-like Mother of the Erotes,
O persuasion whose joy is in the bed of love, secretive giver of grace,
visible and invisible, lovely-tressed daughter of a noble father.
Bridal feast companion of the Gods, sceptered she-wolf,
beloved and man-loving giver of birth and of life,
With your maddening love-charms you yoke mortals,
and the many races of beasts to unbridled passion.
Come, O Goddess born in Cyprus,
whether you are on Olympos, O queen,
Exulting in the beauty of your face,
or you wander in Syria, country of fine frankincense,
Or, yet, driving your golden chariot in the plain,
you lord it over Egypt’s fertile river bed.
Come, whether you ride your swan-drawn chariot over the sea’s billows,
joying in the creatures of the deep as they dance in circles,
or you delight in the company of the dark-faced Nymphs on land,
as light-footed, they frisk over the sandy beaches.
Come, Lady, even if you are in Cyprus that cherishes you,
where fair maidens and chaste nymphs throughout the year sing of you,
O blessed one, and of immortal, pure Adonis.
Come O beautiful and comely Goddess.
I summon you with holy words and pious soul.

Curiosity piqued, I checked the original Greek and she is indeed called λύκαινα, “she-wolf”:

Εις Αφροδίτην
Ο ρανία, πολύυμνε, φιλομμειδ ς Αφροδίτη, ποντογενής, γενέτειρα θεά, φιλοπάννυχε, σεμνή, νυκτερία εύκτειρα, δολοπλόκε μ τερ Ανάγκης: πάντα γ ρ κ σέθεν στίν, πεζεύξω δέ [τε] κόσμον κα κρατέεις τρισσ ν μοιρ ν, γενν ις δ τ πάντα, σσα τ’ ν ο ραν ι στι κα ν γαίηι πολυκάρπωι ν πόντου τε υθ ι [τε], σεμν Βάκχοιο πάρεδρε, Αδώνιδος
τερπομένη θαλίαισι, γαμοστόλε μ τερ Ερώτων, Πειθο λεκτροχαρής, κρυφία, χαριδ τι, φαινομένη, [τ’] φανής, ρατοπλόκαμ’, ε πατέρεια, νυμφιδία σύνδαιτι θε ν, σκηπτο χε, λύκαινα, γεννοδότειρα, φίλανδρε, ποθεινοτάτη, ιοδ τι, εύξασα ροτο ς χαλινώτοισιν νάγκαις κα θηρ ν πολ φ λον ρωτομαν ν π φίλτρων: ρχεο, Κυπρογεν ς θε ον γένος, ε τ’ ν’ Ολύμπωι σσί, θε ασίλεια, καλ ι γήθουσα προσώπωι, ε τε κα ε λιβάνου Συρίης δος μφιπολεύεις, ε τε σύ γ’ ν πεδίοισι σ ν ρμασι χρυσεοτεύκτοις Α γύπτου κατέχεις ερ ς γονιμώδεα λουτρά, κα κυκνείοισιν χοις π πόντιον ο δμα ρχομένη χαίρεις κητ ν κυκλίαισι χορείαις, νύμφαις τέρπηι κυανώπισιν ν χθον ∆ίηι θ νας π’ α γιαλο ς ψαμμώδεσιν λματι κούφωι: ε τ’ ν Κύπρωι, νασσα, τροφ ι σέο, νθα καλαί τε παρθένοι δμηται νύμφαι τ’ ν πάντ’ νιαυτ ν μνο σιν, σέ, μάκαιρα, κα μβροτον γν ν Αδωνιν. λθέ, μάκαιρα θεά μάλ’ πήρατον ε δος χουσα: ψυχ ι γάρ σε καλ σεμν ι γίοισι λόγοισιν.

As opposed to, say, Lycian which we find in two out of five of Proklos’ Hymns and signified her prominence in the region where the pious philosopher grew up rather than anything to do with wolves. 


Now I’m not familiar with any lycanthropy in Aphrodite’s myths, though she does appear in her Homeric Hymn as a Πότνια Θηρῶν (Mistress of the Animals) attended by wolves:

She was decked out in gold, Aphrodite, lover of smiles.
She rushed toward Troy, leaving behind fragrant Cyprus.
Making her way with the greatest of ease, high up among the clouds.
She arrived at Mount Ida, famous for its many springs,
nurturing Mother of Beasts.
She went straight for the herdsmen’s homestead, up over the mountain.
Following her came gray wolves
and lions with fierce looks, fawning on her;
bears too, and nimble leopards
who cannot have their fill of devouring deer, all came along.
Seeing them, she was delighted in her thûmos, inside her phrenes,
and she put desire where their hearts were. So they all
went off in pairs and slept together in shaded nooks.

I need to do some more digging, clearly.

Aphrodite, the Sceptered She-Wolf – that has some real promise.

7 thoughts on “The Sceptered She-Wolf

  1. Hermes and Aphrodite have the weirdest relationship with Lycanthropy. At first glance you don’t think it’s even there but there’s all these indirect avenues that leads into it. Either we’re missing something or there is something significant about this indirectness


    1. Good points. And I think it makes perfect sense as far as Hermes is concerned; Aphrodite is a bit of a stretch, but feels right. I think it just needs to be properly conceptualized.


  2. Two possibilities suggest themselves–the first is absolutely certain, 100% without question; the second is more speculative (though perhaps creative!).

    In almost all Indo-European cultures, “she-wolf” is synonymous with a number of things, including “bitch” in every sense of the word (in fact, sometimes “wolf-bitch” is the older way to express “she-wolf” in English!), as well as a lascivious woman, and/or especially a prostitute. Roman writers even said in their own day, when tales of Romulus and Remus emerged, that their raising by a she-wolf might instead refer to a prostitute, and various interpreters since then have followed suit. So, no matter what, that implication is going to be there…thus, “sceptered she-wolf” might just mean “queenly and powerful slut,” to be perfectly blunt about it.

    Second: if one takes seriously that Aphrodite “comes from” Near Eastern Goddesses like Astarte, then that goes back to Ishtar and Inanna, and in the Epic of Gilgamesh, when a particular mortal reviles Inanna’s advances (Gilgamesh is told when he is doing the same thing), She turned the mortal into a wolf who was then chased down by his own hounds. It’s Aktaion all over again, but earlier, and slightly different–being transformed for continence rather than lust. So, via comparative mythology and/or mythico-religious archaeology, there is a distant connection there to lycanthropy proper. And, as that is the earliest tale of lycanthropy extant in human cultures, there is a thread of connection between it and Aphrodite.

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    1. Or Option C: It’s both and more!

      Either way, these are great ideas to explore, Doctor! I definitely am going to see what I can glean from all this


      1. Well, of course–the second cannot exist on its own, and depends in various ways on the first, which is mandatory because it is culturo-linguistic in nature.

        And, certainly, there is and can be more…but these two were just initial thoughts and, to an extent, statements of the obvious. What else there is will take further digging and consideration.


    2. Interesting, especially your second point.

      Since this is your wheelhouse, I figure I should ask: are you familiar with anything else linking Aphrodite to wolves or werewolf cults?


      1. I can’t think of anything directly…there would be various “by tangents” possibilities, but they’re quite few and far between…

        Her warlike/warrior aspects, which kind of flow from the Near Eastern background, would connect in to the larger symbolic valences of werewolves…and, for that matter, Her marriage to Ares/Mars does the same as well. But, as far as canid transformations being directly attributed to Her, associated with Her, or connected to Her directly as the Greek Aphrodite: I can’t think of any.

        This is one of those times, though, that I wish there was a full translation of Servius that we could all look at, as I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some minor incident mentioned in there (as there is for Apollo and others)…and, interestingly enough, you know where some of the oldest and best manuscripts of Servius come from? Ireland! That there is some of this material in Servius might have been more influential on their own predilection for lycanthropy and cynanthropy than we may have realized! ;)

        This Orphic instance might be a relatively unique epithet and characterization, therefore, which you spotted quite perceptively in the text…and honestly I’m ashamed I had not done so previously, or perhaps did and forgot!

        How this will then align with the wolf/bull cycle is an interesting matter, though, and I look forward to hearing more from you on how that is likely to work! ;)

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