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NIHIL NOVUM SUB SOLE

1001 deeds, sayings, curiosities and anecdotes of the ancient world

Androcles and the grateful Lion

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Androcles and the Lion is a famous story that has enchanted the interest of many people from antiquity to the present day.

This is the story, folk tale probably, about an  slave, Androcles, who fled from his master, finds a lion in the desert, the lion does not attack him, as we might expect. When  Androcles is  approached to animal,  lion shows  paw and Androcles sees that lion  has a thorn that prevents him from walking and left him very weak. Androcles removes the thorn from her leg and moves on. Many years later Androcles and the lion found themselves  in Rome, now in the amphitheater in that the slave is thrown to be devoured by wild beasts. When the lion comes to the arena, against all odds does not  devour  Androcles but approaches him docile; he is the lion whom  Androcles extracted the thorn and saved him from certain death;  grateful now, the lion corresponds  saving his life, because  the people informed about history  demands the salvation of Androcles and the lion.

The story, the tale, that  some people turns without any need in a fable attributed to Aesop,   like many others fables, has been repeated as an example of the virtue of gratitude against ingratitude. Phaedrus, of course, not included these among the fables of Aesop in his Latin translation.

The story is told by the first time in a written text of Aulus Gellius (he lived in the second century AD), in his Noctes Atticae, V, 14. Aulus Gellius   puts the history into the mouth of  Apion, who says he personally saw the incident.

Most likely the event was an invention of Apion, although inspired by the reality of the "venationes" or hunts  celebrated by Romans in the amphitheater among other bloody spectacles.

It is this issue of venationes an issue to that sometimes some writers have devoted their attention. Martial, of course, makes numerous references  precisely in his Liber spectaculorum.

Probably  Apion observed in some real games how a lion saved the life of one of their caregivers, as Seneca tells us in De beneficiis, 2.19.

Leonem in amphitheatro spectauimus, qui unum e bestiariis agnitum, quum quondam eius fuisset magister, protexit ab impetu bestiarum.

We saw in the amphitheater  a lion who protected of attack of the beasts  one of the caretakers whom  he recognized because he had once been his own.

And it was inspired, picking up a traditional story that was probably  circulating in ancient Egypt.

Claudius Aelian (ca. 175-ca 235), Roman orator and teacher who wrote in Greek, tells the story of Androcles in his De Natura Animalium, 7, 48; I give just the beginning of his text, in the Latin version, almost identical to these of Aulus Gellius that I will reproduce then:

Having escaped from the house of a Roman senator a slave named Androcles because he had committed a serious crime (do not know what actually was) and having come to Africa ...

Cum a senatore Romano servus, cui nomen Androcles erat, aufugisset, quia facinus quodpiam nefarium (id vero quale fuerit ignoro) admisisset, et in Africam venisset,…( Latin version of the Greek text of De Natura Animalium Claudii Aeliani a Friderico Jacobs editi apud Fridericum Fromannum, Jenae, MDCCCXXXII).

Then the topic of "the grateful Lion" was repeated during the Middle Ages, for example, Ademar of Chabannes tells it in the eleventh century, Chrétien de Troyes writes the novel  Yvain the Knight of the Lion  in which the knight helps a lion and then the lion, who remains at his side, is an example of honor and friendship.

And in  legends of life of saints like St. Gerasimos and  St. Jerome who also extracted a thorn from the paw of a lion so domesticated, etc..

In the XV, XVI, XVII century Aulus Gellius had a great success in Europe. In 1484 William Caxton translated into English a codex Latin in which was the fable  "Of the lyon & of the Pastour". Montaigne (1533-1592) in his Essays also tells  the story of the lion and the Slave.

A similar episode tells  Diaz de Guzman in his chronicles referred to Isabel de Guevara (1556), female character present at the creation of Buenos Aires. Isabel, desperate hunger, left the fort of Buenos Aires and took refuge in the cave of a lioness which  helped give birth. The Indians captured her and one made her his wife. Retrieved later by the Spanish, was sentenced to be tied to a tree and to be served as  food to the beasts as a warning, but the lioness protected her and the soldiers also forgave her.

Even a reflection of the episode could be seen in Chapter XVII of the second part of Don Quixote, in the adventure of the lions, which were opened the cage but did not attack .

More obviously Francisco de Quevedo in his "Virtue activist (against the four pests in the world: envy, ingratitude, arrogance and greed" for criticizing ingratitude uses the medieval topic of eternally grateful lion  because it was  released from a thorn, the fable of Androcles and the Lion, as saying attributed to Aesop. Says Quevedo:

Very fierce is the lion, and  paid most liberal to extract  a thorn from footl
because  give life to which cleared it.

Modernly is famous a play of  Bernard Shaw titled precisely   “Androcles and the Lion”, in which the English author is really quirky and humorous way about the origins of Christianity and persecution of Christians, all loosely history. In his play Androcles is a Christian brought to the Coliseum.

In 1952 was made a famous movie in the U.S. precisely based on the work of Bernard Show, directed by Chester Erskine.

Aulus Gellius Noctes and Atticae, miscellaneous of endless and futile inconsequential issues, has generated great appeal among many contemporary writers such as Arturo Capdevila Argentine poet (1889-1967) who has a famous poem entitled precisely "Aulus Gellius", Borges, Cortazar and  Bioy Casares.

Interestingly, the Sicilian writer of a peculiar crime novel set in the island, Andrea Camilleri, sits an episode of their hero Montalbano  in this story of Androcles and the Lion in an episode titled "What Aulus Gellius told" in his book "A  month  whit Montalbano" as a tribute to Vázquez Montalbán.

I myself read the story in my childhood  probably  in some uplifting stories books;  naturally Androcles was a Christian thrown to the beasts.

Although the story of Gellius, Noctes Atticae, V, 14 is a bit long, I transcribe it integer and so  the  reader has direct knowledge of the source:

Androcles and the lion.

The account of Apion, a learned man who was surnamed Plistonices, of the mutual recognition, due to old acquaintance, that he had witnessed at Rome between a man and a lion . . .

APION, who was called Plistonices, was a man widely versed in letters, and possessing an extensive and varied knowledge of things Greek. In his works, which are recognized as of no little repute, is contained an account of almost all the remarkable things which are to be seen and heard in Egypt. Now, in his account of what he professes either to have heard or read he is perhaps too verbose through a reprehensible love of display—for he is a great self-advertiser in parading his learning; but this incident, which he describes in the fifth book of his Wonders of Egypt,  he declares that he neither heard nor read, but saw himself with his own eyes in the city of Rome.
“In the Great Circus,” he says, “a battle with wild beasts on a grand scale was being exhibited to the people. Of that spectacle, since I chanced to be in Rome, I was,” he says, “an eye-witness. There were there many savage wild beasts, brutes remarkable for their huge size, and all of uncommon appearance or unusual ferocity. But beyond all others,” says he, “did the vast size of the lions excite wonder, and one of these in particular surpassed all the rest. This one lion had drawn to himself the attention and eyes of all because of the activity and huge size of his body, his terrific and deep roar, the development of his muscles, and the mane streaming over his shoulders. There was brought in, among many others who had been condemned to fight with the wild beasts, the slave of an ex-consul; the slave's name was Androclus. When that lion saw him from a distance,” says Apion, “he stopped short as if in amazement, and then approached the man slowly and quietly, as if he recognized him. Then, wagging his tail in a mild and caressing way, after the manner and fashion of fawning dogs, he came close to the man, who was now half dead from fright, and gently licked his feet and hands. The man Androclus, while submitting to the caresses of so fierce a beast, regained his lost courage and gradually turned his eyes to look at the lion. Then,” says Apion, “you might have seen man and lion exchange joyful greetings, as if they had recognized each other.”
He says that at this sight, so truly astonishing, the people broke out into mighty shouts; and Gaius Caesar called Androclus to him and inquired the reason why that fiercest of lions had spared him alone. Then Androclus related a strange and  surprising story. “My master,” said he, “was governing Africa with proconsular authority. While there, I was forced by his undeserved and daily floggings to run away, and that my hiding-places might be safer from my master, the ruler of that country, I took refuge in lonely plains and deserts, intending, if food should fail me, to seek death in some form. Then,” said he, “when the midday sun was fierce and scorching, finding a remote and secluded cavern, I entered it, and hid myself. Not long afterwards this lion came to the same cave with one paw lame and bleeding, making known by groans and moans the torturing pain of his wound.” And then, at the first sight of the approaching lion, Androclus said that his mind was overwhelmed with fear and dread. “But when the lion,” said he,“had entered what was evidently his own lair, and saw me cowering at a distance, he approached me mildly and gently, and lifting up his foot, was evidently showing it to me and holding it out as if to ask for help. Then,” said he, “I drew out a huge splinter that was embedded in the sole of the foot, squeezed out the pus that had formed in the interior of the wound, wiped away the blood, and dried it thoroughly, being now free from any great feeling of fear. Then, relieved by that attention and treatment of mine, the lion, putting his paw in my hand, lay down and went to sleep, and for three whole years from that day the lion and I lived in the same cave, and on the same food as well. For he used to bring for me to the cave the choicest parts of the game which he took in hunting, which I, having no means of making a fire, dried in the noonday sun and ate. But,” said he, “after I had finally grown tired of that wild ”  life, I left the cave when the lion had gone off to hunt, and after travelling nearly three days, I was seen and caught by some soldiers and taken from Africa to Rome to my master. He at once had me condemned to death by being thrown to the wild beasts. But,” said he, “I perceive that this lion was also captured, after I left him, and that he is now requiting me for my kindness and my cure of him.”
Apion records that Androclus told this story, and that when it had been made known to the people by being written out in full on a tablet and carried about the Circus, at the request of all Androclus was freed, acquitted and presented with the lion by vote of the people. “Afterwards,” said he, “we used to see Androclus with the lion, attached to a slender leash, making the rounds of the shops throughout the city; Androclus was given money, the lion was sprinkled with flowers, and everyone who met them anywhere exclaimed: 'This is the lion that was a man's friend, this is the man who was physician to a lion.'
” (The Attic Nights of Aulus Gellius. With An English Translation. John C. Rolfe. Cambridge. Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd. 1927.)

Quod Apion, doctus homo, qui Plistonices appellatus est, vidisse se Romae scripsit recognitionem inter sese mutuam ex vetere notitia hominis et leonis ...

APION, qui Plistonices appellatus est, litteris homo multis praeditus rerumque Graecarum plurima atque varia scientia fuit. Eius libri non incelebres feruntur, quibus omnium ferme quae mirifica in Aegypto visuntur audiunturque historia comprehenditur. Sed in his quae vel audisse vel legisse sese dicit, fortassean vitio studioque ostentationis sit loquacior—est enim sane quam in praedicandis doctrinis sui venditator—hoc autem,  quod in libro Aegyptiacorum quinto scripsit, neque audisse neque legisse, sed ipsum sese in urbe Roma vidisse oculis suis confirmat.
“In Circo Maximo,” inquit, “venationis amplissimae pugna populo dabatur. Eius rei, Romae cum forte essem, spectator,” inquit, “fui. Multae ibi saevientes ferae, magnitudines bestiarum excellentes omniumque invisitata aut forma erat aut ferocia. Sed praeter alia omnia leonum,” inquit, “  immanitas admirationi fuit praeterque omnis ceteros unus.  Is unus leo corporis impetu et vastitudine terrificoque fremitu et sonoro, toris comisque cervicum fluctuantibus, animos oculosque omnium in sese converterat. Introductus erat inter compluris ceteros ad pugnam bestiarum datos servus viri consularis; ei servo Androclus nomen fuit. Hunc ille leo ubi vidit procul, repente,” inquit, “quasi admirans stetit ac deinde sensim atque placide, tamquam noscitabundus, ad hominem accedit. tum caudam more atque ritu adulantium canum clementer et blande movet hominisque se corpori adiungit cruraque eius et manus, prope iam exanimati metu, lingua leniter demulcet. Homo Androclus inter illa tam atrocis ferae blandimenta amissum animum recuperat, paulatim oculos ad contuendum leonem refert. Tum quasi mutua recognitione facta laetos,” inquit, “et gratulabundos videres hominem et leonem.”
Ea re prorsus tam admirabili maximos populi clamores excitatos dicit, accersitumque a C. Caesare Androclum quaesitamque causam cur illi atrocissimus leo uni parsisset. Ibi Androclus rem mirificam narrat atque admirandam. “Cum provinciam,” inquit, “Africam proconsulari imperio meus dominus obtineret, ego ibi iniquis eius et cotidianis verberibus ad fugam sum coactus et, ut mihi a domino, terrae illius praeside, tutiores latebrae forent, in camporum et arenarum solitudines concessi ac, si defuisset cibus, consilium fuit mortem aliquo pacto quaerere. Tum sole medio,” inquit, “rabido et flagranti specum quandam nanctus remotam latebrosamque, in eam me penetro et recondo. Neque multo post ad eandem specum venit hic leo, debili uno et cruento pede, gemitus edens et murmura, dolorem cruciatumque vulneris commiserantia.” Atque illic primo quidem conspectu advenientis leonis territum sibi et pavefactum animum dixit. “Sed postquam introgressus,” inquit, “leo, uti re ipsa apparuit, in habitaculum illud suum, videt me procul delitescentem, mitis et mansues accessit et sublatum pedem ostendere mihi et porgere quasi opis petendae gratia visus est. Ibi,” inquit, “ego stirpem ingentem, vestigio pedis eius haerentem, revelli conceptamque saniem volnere intimo expressi accuratiusque sine magna iam formidine siccavi penitus atque detersi cruorem. Illa tunc mea opera et medella levatus, pede in manibus meis posito, recubuit et quievit atque ex eo  die triennium totum ego et leo in eadem specu eodemque et victu viximus.  Nam, quas venabatur feras, membra opimiora ad specum mihi subgerebat, quae ego, ignis copiam non habens, meridiano sole torrens edebam. Sed ubi me,” inquit, “vitae illius ”  ferinae iam pertaesum est, leone in venatum profecto, reliqui specum et viam ferme tridui permensus a militibus visus adprehensusque sum et ad dominum ex Africa Romam deductus. Is me statim rei capitalis damnandum dandumque ad bestias curavit.  Intellego autem,” inquit, “hunc quoque leonem, me tunc separato captum, gratiam mihi nunc beneficii et medicinae referre.”
Haec Apion dixisse Androclum tradit, eaque omnia scripta circumlataque tabula populo declarata, atque ideo cunctis petentibus dimissum Androclum et poena solutum leonemque ei suffragiis populi donatum. “Postea,” inquit, “videbamus Androclum et leonem, loro tenui revinctum, urbe tota circum tabernas ire, donari aere Androclum, floribus spargi leonem, omnes ubique obvios dicere: ' Hic est leo hospes hominis, hic est homo medicus leonis.'”

   
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