Humans and wolves have had a long, complicated relationship for millennia. At times, the wolf is placed as an antagonist to humans. They are nocturnal; they harass shepherds and steal food away in the night; they are cruel hunters with sharp teeth that must be opposed by stalwart heroes not afraid to face the darkness.
In the modern age, we romanticize the wolf more than fear it. With the advancement we’ve made, we have little to fear from the wolf in our day to day lives, while the wolves have much to fear from us instead. This has led to many positive portrayals of wolves, like our friendly wolf pack in Cities Eternal! Even so…The traditions of the evil wolf live on.
We tell our children stories of little red riding hood and the big bad wolf, or the three little pigs, where the wolf represents an unknown danger, a stranger, seeking to take us away from our ‘walls’. In the black and white world of Middle Earth, Tolkien set wolves on the side of evil, antagonistic beasts in the service of the enemy. Tolkien drew inspiration from many mythologies including the Germanic and Finnish traditions, both of which look unfavorably on the wolf. In Finland, the word for wolf also means “useless thing”!
Perhaps the fiercest example of wolf as an antagonist is the great wolf Fenrir, who is fated to eat the king of the gods, Odin, at Ragnarok. His offspring, the wolves Skoll and Hati that we met in The Wolves of Rome, will devour the sun and moon and send the world into a freezing cold.
But wolves hold another place in mythology, as well. Many Indo-European cultures looked to the wolves as symbols of strength. The Dacian people, one of Rome’s fiercest enemies, carried the wolf upon their standards into battle, before replacing it with the equally scary dragon. Though we know little about the Hittite mythology, it is believed that they saw the wolf as a symbol of unity and knowledge. Rome, as well, used the wolf as an emblem for the Roman legions, specifically the Legio VI Ferrata, commanded by Julius Caesar.
In Greece, the wolf was associated with a number of deities, including Zeus and his children, Apollo and Artemis. Evidence suggests that there was a strong worship of wolves in the region of Arcadia, which served as the basis for the story of King Lykeon, the King of Arcadia who was turned into a wolf by Zeus. Zeus was called Zeus Lykaios, or “Wolf Zeus”, for a festival in his honor at the base of Mt. Lykeon…the wolf mountain. Apollo also bears the epithet Lykiaos, lord of the wolves. Homer refers to Apollo as the Wolf-born in the Iliad, a possible reference to an ancient tradition mentioned by Aelian and Aristotle that Apollo and Artemis’s mother, Leto, turned herself into a she-wolf to escape the wrath of Zeus’s jealous wife, Hera. Apollo and Artemis were literally wolf-born, raised in the region of Lycia in modern day Turkey.
The mother wolf motif is not unique to the Greeks, however. One of the creation myths for the Ainu people of Japan involves the white wolf Horkew Kamuy and his lover joining together in union, from which the Ainu people are descended. The Turkish people believe in Asena, a wolf living in the steppes north of China from where the Turks originally came. They tell how Asena came upon a sole child in a Turkish village that had been raided by the Chinese and she raised that child as her own, nursing him. A similar story exists among the Chechen people, and both the Turks and the Chechen have used the wolf as a nationalist symbol.
But as the title of this book says…all roads lead back to Rome.
Lupa Capitolina, the friendly protector of Rome, comes directly from the pages of Roman mythology with the tale of Romulus and Remus. The two boys were born to the vestal virgin Rhea Silvia, daughter of the old king of the city of Alba Longa who had been overthrown by his brother. Rhea had been allowed to live, because she had sworn the vows of chastity of all vestal virgins, but it is said that Mars came to her, locked away as she was, and together they conceived twins.
Unwilling to tolerate the risk to his power, Rhea’s uncle, Amulius, orders them left by the Tiber River, to be exposed to the wild forces of nature. The river water, however, flooded, carrying the babies down to the den of a she-wolf who was with cubs of her own. Taking the babies in, the she-wolf nursed them until they were discovered by a shepherd and his wife, who fostered them and raised them as their own.
The twins would eventually learn the truth of their heritage and overthrow their uncle, restoring their grandfather to the throne. Heirs to Alba Longa, but impatient to rule their own city, the two set off to build the walls of a new city together, above the hills of the wolf-den where they had grown as children.
When it came time to decide upon which hill to build, however, the twins could not agree. Romulus thought the Palatine was far better suited for the city, while Remus favored the Aventine. The two agreed to let the gods decide, but when both claim divine favor, they quarrel and Romulus slays Remus, his twin, in the name of Mars and the other gods…Similar to a certain fiery red head! The city is named after Romulus and he rules as its first king.
Capitolina, in our tale, stays loyal to her surviving son, serving to protect Rome in its early days from the threats of rival tribes. In those days, she was more animalistic and wild, running with the armies of Romulus as they conquered the neighboring Italians, bringing them into the nation that would become the Kingdom of Rome. After all, she was the mother of the city, a position she cherished even when in hiding, before the Days of Revelation.