Northern Centre for the History of Medicine and Medical Humanities

Nadine Metzger

Lecturer at the Institute for History of Medicine and Medical Ethics
Friedrich-Alexander-University, Erlangen-Nuremberg

Web: www.gesch.med.uni-erlangen.de/mitarbeiterinnen/nadine-metzger.shtml

Nadine Metzger took up a position as Lecturer at the Institut für Geschichte und Ethik der Medizin in 2009.  Her current research interests include:

  • Ancient and Byzantine medicine
  • History of mental illness
  • Reception History


Premodern Histories of Lycanthropy and Ephialtes

Nadine Metzger's PhD thesis (Newcastle University, 2006 - 2009, supervised by Dr Thomas Rütten), was generously funded by a Wellcome Trust PhD studentship (national competition). A German version of Nadine's thesis was published as "Wolfsmenschen und Nächtliche Heimsuchungen. Zur kulturhistorischen Verortung vormoderner Konzepte von Lykanthropie und Ephialtes", Remscheid: Gardez Verlag 2011. It was awarded the prestigious annual Award for Young Scholars by the German Association for the History of Medicine, Science and Technology (DGGMNT e.V.). For a review, see The Classical Review.  

Abstract:

Lycanthropy and Ephialtes, the latter better known under its Latin name Incubus, are two illnesses from the Hippocratic-Galenic medical school of late antiquity which became very important during the early modern period.  They were used by medical critics of the witch trials to explain disputed phenomena such as werewolves and the sexual incubus demon.  Sufferers of lycanthropy, a form of melancholy, are said to behave like wolves, while a person afflicted with Ephialtes experiences an intense nightmare accompanied by the sensation of being attacked and suffocated.


This thesis explores the nature of these medical entities at the time they were first described in late antiquity. Their cultural significance during this era differed considerably from that of their later reception during the early modern period - a topic into which there has still been very little research. The precise relationship between these illnesses and their cultural context in late antiquity is studied, while keeping in mind the defining impact that the early modern concepts had - and still have - on the modern reception of lycanthropy and Ephialtes.


The medical authors of late antiquity explicitly stated that Ephilates was "no demon, but rather a serious illness". However, this study shows that the demon in question was scarcely known by their Greek and Roman contemporaries. The general rejection of a demonic explanation of the disease was nevertheless widely appreciated by physicians, and left its imprint on the medical texts of late antiquity.


This thesis illustrates that none of the accounts of lycanthropy from late antiquity reveal any evidence that it was conceived in conjunction with a corresponding demonological idea, since no werewolf concept existed in Greek or Roman antiquity. Instead, lycanthropy drew upon the significance of the culturally very important wolf to produce a plausible melancholic disease based on this concept.

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