LYCAON, in Greek mythology, son of Pelasgus, the mythical first king of Arcadia. He, or his fifty impious sons, entertained Zeus and set before him a dish of human flesh; the god pushed away the dish in disgust and either killed the king and his sons by lightning or turned them into wolves (Apollodorus iii. 8; Ovid, Metam. i. 198). Some say that Lycaon slew and dished up his own son Nyctimus (Clem. Alex. Protrept. ii. 36; Nonnus, Dionys. xviii. 20; Arnobius iv. 24). The deluge was said to have been sent by Zeus in the time of Deucalion in consequence of the sons’ impiety. Pausanias (viii. 2) says that Lycaon sacrificed a child to Zeus on the altar on mount Lycaeus, and immediately after the sacrifice was turned into a wolf. This gave rise to the story that a man was turned into a wolf at each annual sacrifice to Zeus Lycaeus, but recovered his human form if he abstained from human flesh for ten years. The oldest city, the oldest cultus (that of Zeus Lycaeus), and the first civilization of Arcadia are attributed to Lycaon. His story has been variously interpreted. According to Weizsäcker, he was an old Pelasgian or pre-Hellenic god, to whom human sacrifice was offered, bearing a non-Hellenic name similar to λύκος, whence the story originated of his metamorphosis into a wolf. His cult was driven out by that of the Hellenic Zeus, and Lycaon himself was afterwards represented as an evil spirit, who had insulted the new deity by setting human flesh before him. Robertson Smith considers the sacrifices offered to the wolf-Zeus in Arcadia to have been originally cannibal feasts of a wolf-tribe, who recognized the wolf as their totem. Usener and others identify Lycaon with Zeus Lycaeus, the god of light, who slays his son Nyctimus (the dark) or is succeeded by him, in allusion to the perpetual succession of night and day. According to Ed. Meyer, the belief that Zeus Lycaeus accepted human sacrifice in the form of a wolf was the origin of the myth that Lycaon, the founder of his cult, became a wolf, i.e. participated in the nature of the god by the act of sacrifice, as did all who afterwards duly performed it. W. Mannhardt sees in the ceremony an allusion to certain agricultural rites, the object of which was to prevent the failure of the crops and to avert pestilence (or to protect them and the flocks against the ravages of wolves). Others (e.g. V. Bérard) take Zeus Lycaeus for a Semitic Baal, whose worship was imported into Arcadia by the Phoenicians; Immerwahr identifies him with Zeus Phyxios, the god of the exile who flees on account of his having shed blood. Another explanation is that the place of the sacred wolf once worshipped in Arcadia was taken in cult by Zeus Lycaeus, and in popular tradition by Lycaon, the ancestor of the Arcadians, who was supposed to have been punished for his insulting treatment of Zeus. It is possible that the whole may be merely a reminiscence of a superstition similar to the familiar werwolf stories.

See articles by P. Weizsäcker in Roscher’s Lexikon and by G. Fougères (s.v. “Lykaia”) in Daremberg and Saglio’s Dictionnaire des antiquités; W. Immerwahr, Die Kulte und Mythen Arkadiens, 1. (1891), p. 14; L. R. Farnell, Cults of the Greek States, i. (1896), p. 40; A. Lang, Myth, Ritual and Religion (1899); C. Pascal, Studii di antichità e mitologia (1896), who sees in Lycaon a god of death honoured by human sacrifice; Ed. Meyer, Forschungen zur alten Geschichte, i. (1892), p. 60; W. Mannhardt, Wald- und Feldkulte, ii. (1905); G. Fougères, Mantinée et l’Arcadie orientale (1898), p. 202; V. Bérard, De l’origine des cultes arcadiens (1894); H. D. Müller, Mythologie der griechischen Stämme, ii. (1861), p. 78; H. Usener, Rheinisches Museum, liii. (1898), p. 375; G. Görres, Berliner Studien für classische Philologie, x. 1 (1889), who regards the Lycaea as a funeral festival connected with the changes of vegetation; Vollgraf, De Ovidii mythopoeia; a concise statement of the various forms of the legend in O. Gruppe, Griechische Mythologie, ii. p. 920, n. 4; see also Lycanthropy; D. Bassi, “Apollo Liceo,” in Rivista di storia antica, i. (1895); and Frazer’s Pausanias, iv. p. 189.  (J. H. F.)