Wolf

"Varlet, Serve to Me What Cheer ye Have"

Wolf

CreaturesBackground Essay Author: Kara L. McShane
Wolves are described in the bestiary tradition as greedy and bloodthirsty (Clark 142), and they are, in this way, like the devil (Clark 143).  This association with evil may have some influence on wolves' function in medieval Arthuriana, where their infrequent appearances associate them with violence or deception.
 
In the Middle English Prose Merlin, Merlin compares Nimiane to a wolf, who will bind a leopard so tightly it will not be able to escape (181).  The comparison foretells her capture of Merlin himself later in the work (321-22).   This comparison is interesting because it demonstrates that Merlin knows about his fate and makes no attempt to escape capture, though he later claims that Nimiane has deceived him.  Merlin's capture is, it seems, more traumatic for Arthur (who loses Merlin's guidance) than it is for Merlin himself. 
 
Wolves appear in two dreams in French Vulgate and Post-Vulgate cycles.  In the Vulgate Merlin, Merlin interprets a dream that the emperor of Rome has, in which a great sow lies with twelve different wolf cubs.  This dream, Merlin explains, is proof that the emperor's wife is unfaithful; the wolves represent her lovers (1.326).  From the emperor's perspective, wolves are appropriate symbolically since his wife's lovers are complicit in deceiving him.  In the Post-Vulgate Quest for the Holy Grail, the young knight Eric has a prophetic dream in which a wolf approaches him with a lamb in her mouth and demands that Eric kill the lamb.  He does, reluctantly, and...

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