Wolves regarded as menace throughout European history

Dan Hansen
Spokesman-Review Staff writer


The hatred of wolves isn't just a New World phenomenon. From "Little Red Riding Hood" to "Peter and the Wolf," European literature and art is full of references to wolves as menaces.

Satan was sometimes compared to a wolf in medieval times, and men who made pacts with the devil were said to become werewolves. Public burnings of werewolves were the European equivalent of the Salem witch trials, except that the hundreds of victims were nearly all men, said Eva-Lena Rehnmark, author of "Neither God Nor Devil," a book that examines the roots of people's attitudes toward wolves.

The wolf at the door meant starvation. A wolf in sheep's clothing meant hidden trouble. The boy who cried wolf could send the entire village on the run.

"Be quiet now," a nurse tells a fussy child in one of Aesop's fables. "If you make that noise again I'll throw you to the wolf."

Killing wolves was encouraged. Scottish subjects in the Second Century B.C. could earn an ox by killing a wolf. Those in Tenth Century England could pay their taxes in wolf heads or hides.

Wolves are reclaiming part of their former range in Europe. The World Wildlife Fund estimates the population at 15,000 to 18,000 and says the animals' future there "looks less bleak than it did even a decade ago."

As in America, the European comeback is controversial.

Farmers sometimes hang dead wolves from fence posts in Spain, sparking angry responses from urban animal lovers.

And the two-year loss of 63 sheep from a single flock in one community in Norway has local politicians urging the national government to allow lethal controls, The New York Times recently reported.


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