previous next


LYCAEA (λύκαια), a festival celebrated by the Arcadians in honour of Ζευς Λυκαῖος on Mount Lycaeus. The account given by Pausanias (8.38) is that it was founded by Lycaon, son of Pelasgus, and that besides the games (of which we have no particular account) there was a sacrifice to Zeus of a child, whose blood was poured over the altar, after which Lycaon himself was turned into a wolf, and he records the tradition that ever after at the annual festival a man was turned into a wolf for a period of ten years, or, if he tasted human flesh, for life. (Paus. 8.2; cf. Augustin. de Civ. Dei, 18.17.) It is not improbable that these wehrwolf stories, however ancient, are a perversion of something older still from a false connexion of the name with λύκος, and similarly that the references to the sacrifice as a rite of the pastoral Arcadians as a protection against wolves, like the Roman Lupercalia (cf. Plut. Caes. 61), &c., are equally illusory. It is more likely that the name of the mountain belongs to the root λυκ, “light,” as in the Attic hill Λυκάβηττος, with which we may compare many mountain names of other countries, such as the Strahlhorn. These names come from the fact of the mountain peak catching the sunlight first and retaining it last. It is a remarkable coincidence that Pausanias, speaking of Lycosura, the town founded by Lycaon on the Lycaean mountain, which he calls the most ancient in Greece, uses the phrase καὶ ταύτην εῖδεν ἥλιος πρώτην. In accordance with this origin of the name, the worship was the earliest Pelasgian worship of Zeus, represented by no statue, but dwelling in light on the summit of the Lycaean mountain, where was the altar of human sacrifice on the highest point, with two pillars standing eastward of it surmounted in later times by two golden eagles. Below the altar was a grove, which no man might enter, where it was believed that no shadow could fall, and in the grove the holy spring Ἅγνω, in which the priest in time of drought dipped an oak-bough after sacrifice. (Paus. 8.38.) The sacrifice was particularly connected with prayers for rain; and it is probable that human sacrifices were retained to a late period. Pausanias does not mention their discontinuance, and says, ἐπὶ τούτου τοῦ βωμοῦ τῷ Λυκαίῳ Διὶ θύουσιν ἐν ἀπορρήτῳ. πολυπαγμονῆσαι δὲ οὔ μοι τὰ ἐς τὴν θυσίαν ἡδὺ ἦν, ἐχέτω δὲ ὡς ἔχει καὶ ὡς ἔσχεν ἐξ ἀρχῆς. The contests seem to have included horse-races and foot-races; for Pausanias mentions in front of the grove of Pan on the same mountain ἱππόδρομος καὶ στάδιον, where at one time the Lycaean festival was held.


hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: