I am interested in the theme of human children nursed and/or raised out of human society (e.g. Mowgli or Romulus and Remus), whether by animals, gods, flowers, aliens, etc.

Are there any myths in other cultures where such a theme appears previous to Romulus and Remus?

Ideally, I would like to know which is the oldest myth where such a theme appears (to the best of our knowledge) but that might be impossible to know for certain.


2 Answers 2

  • Enkidu, companion of Gilgamesh was definitely raised outside of human society

Essentially, he is a wild man that is tricked into losing his kinship with the wild beasts by laying with a woman.

Enkidu would likely be the oldest, as Gilgamesh is one of the oldest surviving mythical texts.

  • 2
    Whenever someone asks "what was the first", Gilgamesh is always a good place to start looking. However, Enkidu was not so much raised from a child, as molded out of clay, fully-grown, by the goddess Aruru/Ninhursag.
    – Spencer
    Commented Apr 27, 2019 at 14:30

In Greek mythology Atalanta the virgin huntress was abandoned by her father in the wild and was cared for by a bear:

Lycurgus had sons, Ancaeus, Epochus, Amphidamas, and Iasus, by Cleophyle or Eurynome. And Amphidamas had a son Melanion and a daughter Antimache, whom Eurystheus married. And Iasus had a daughter Atalanta by Clymene, daughter of Minyas. This Atalanta was exposed by her father, because he desired male children; and a she bear came often and gave her suck, till hunters found her and brought her up among themselves.

Source: Apollodorus. Apollodorus, The Library, with an English Translation by Sir James George Frazer, F.B.A., F.R.S. in 2 Volumes. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1921.

Enkidu's story is certainly older, however, I would assert that Enkidu was not abandoned as a child - in fact, was never a child - and thus does not quite fit the feral child motif. In any case, even if Atalanta's story isn't the earliest, it's certainly unique in that it is about a female child and not a male one.

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