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Title: Androcles  
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Subject: Aesop, Perry Index, Androcles (disambiguation), Roman Imperial era slaves and freedmen, Medal of Recognition 1940-1945
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“We used to see Androcles with the lion attached to a slender leash, making the rounds of the city”, a pen and wash drawing by Baldassare Peruzzi, 1530s

Androcles (Greek: Ἀνδροκλῆς) or Androclus[1] is the name given by some sources to the main character of a common folktale that is included in the Aarne–Thompson classification system as type 156.[2] The story reappeared in the Middle Ages as "The Shepherd and the Lion" and was then ascribed to Aesop. It is numbered 563 in the Perry Index and can be compared to Aesop's The Lion and the Mouse in both its general trend and in its moral of the reciprocal nature of mercy.


  • Classic tale 1
  • Later use 2
  • Artistic depictions 3
  • Notes 4
  • References 5

Classic tale

The earliest form of the story is found in the fifth book of Aulus Gellius's 2nd century Attic Nights.[3] The author relates there a story told by Apion in his lost work Aegyptiacorum ("Wonders of Egypt"), the events of which Apion claimed to have personally witnessed in Rome. In this version, Androcles is given the Latin name of Androclus, a runaway slave of a former Roman consul administering a part of Africa. He takes shelter in a cave, which turns out to be the den of a wounded lion. He removes a large thorn from the animal's foot pad, forces pus from the infected wound, and bandages it. As a result, the lion recovers and becomes tame toward him, acting like a domesticated dog, including wagging its tail and bringing home game that it shares with the slave.

After several years, the slave eventually craves a return to civilization, resulting in his imprisonment as a fugitive slave and condemnation to be devoured by wild animals in the Circus Maximus of Rome. In the presence of an unnamed emperor, presumably either Caligula or Claudius,[4] the most imposing of these beasts turns out to be the same lion, which again displays its affection toward the slave. The emperor pardons the slave on the spot, in recognition of this testimony to the power of friendship, and he is left in possession of the lion. Apion then continues,

"Afterwards we used to see Androclus with the lion attached to a slender leash, making the rounds of the tabernae throughout the city; Androclus was given money, the lion was sprinkled with flowers, and everyone who met them anywhere exclaimed, 'This is the lion, a man's friend; this is the man, a lion's doctor'".[5][6]

The story was repeated a century later by Claudius Aelianus in his work "On the Nature of Animals".[7]

A poster from the Federal Theatre Project production of Shaw's Androcles and the Lion, 1937

Later use

Later versions of the story, sometimes attributed to Aesop, began to appear from the mid-sixth century under the title "The Shepherd and the Lion".[8] In Chrétien de Troyes' 12th-century romance, "Yvain, the Knight of the Lion", the knightly main character helps a lion that is attacked by a serpent. The lion then becomes his companion and helps him during his adventures.[9] A century later, the story of taking a thorn from a lion's paw was related as an act of Saint Jerome in the Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine (c.1260).[10] Afterwards the lion joins him in the monastery and a different set of stories follows.

The later retelling, "Of the Remembrance of Benefits", in the Gesta Romanorum (Deeds of the Romans) of about 1330 in England, has a mediaeval setting and again makes the protagonist a knight.[2] In the earliest English printed collection of Aesop's Fables by William Caxton, the tale appears as The lyon & the pastour or herdman and reverts to the story of a shepherd who cares for the wounded lion. He is later convicted of a crime and taken to Rome to be thrown to the wild beasts, only to be recognised and defended from the other animals by the one that he tended.

A Latin poem by Vincent Bourne dating from 1716-17 is based on the account of Aulus Gellius.[11] Titled Mutua Benevoletia primaria lex naturae est, it was translated by William Cowper as “Reciprocal kindness: the primary law of nature”.[12]

Androcles and the Lion (1912) makes Androcles a tailor; he is also given Christian beliefs for the purposes of the play, which on the whole takes a skeptical view of religion. 1912 was also the date of the first film adaptation of the story in the USA. Afterwards there were several others for both cinema and TV.[13]

Artistic depictions

Renaissance prints of the story are based on the Classical accounts. Agostino Veneziano depicts the slave Androcles being freed by the Emperor in a work from 1516-17 now in the LACMA collection.[14] There is also an early pen and wash drawing by Baldassare Peruzzi dating from the 1530s in the Hermitage Museum that depicts Androcles walking through a doorway with the lion on a lead at his heel.[15] Later artists have preferred the scene of Androcles pulling the thorn from the lion's paw, as in the 1784 print by Bernhard Rode.[16] An American example is Walter Inglis Anderson's block print scroll of 1950,[17] which was based on his 1935 painting.[18]

In later centuries, artists who specialised in lions painted the subject. They include Jean-Léon Gérôme's depiction of Androcles drawing the thorn from the lion's paw in the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (Buenos Aires)[19] and Briton Riviere's 1908 painting of the same scene in the Auckland Art Gallery.[20] Another approach was to show the earlier incident of Androcles surprised in the cave by the lion's entrance. This was the subject chosen by Vassily Rotschev (d.1803) soon after returning to Russia from training in Rome.[21] It was also the choice of the Chinese painter Xu Beihong. His "Slave and Lion" dates from a stay in Berlin during the early 1920s and shows the lion entering the mouth of a cave while Androcles cowers against the wall.[22]

Androcles also became a sculptural subject. In 18th century England Henry Cheere created two white marble chimneypieces showing the slave bending over the lion's paw to draw out the thorn. One is in the Saloon at West Wycombe Park and the other is now in the Lady Lever Art Gallery.[23] A continental example by Jean-Baptiste Stouf was sculpted in 1789 and is now only known through the modern bronze reproduction at the Ashmolean Museum.[24] Formerly it was in the Louvre and showed Androcles tending the lion's paw.[25] In the 19th century Androcles became a subject for French table ornaments. One from 1820 shows him sword in hand in the arena as the lion crouches at his feet,[26] while another from 1825 has him tending the injured paw.[27] In the 20th century the same scene was depicted by the American sculptor Frederick Charles Shrady.[28]

Gioacchino Francesco Travani's medal in honour of Pope Alexander VII

The legend has figured on medals for various reasons over the course of four centuries. One attributed to Gioacchino Francesco Travani, using a design by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, was struck in 1659. It depicts on one side a relief bust of Pope Alexander VII surrounded by an acanthus leaf border. On the reverse a lion prostrates itself at the feet of an armed Androcles. The complimentary Latin inscription reads 'Domenico Jacobacci to the generous prince: Even a wild animal remembers a favor'. Jacobacci was the donor of the medal, which commemorates a pope who had been generous in rebuilding parts of Rome. The lion represents the grateful city paying homage at the feet of the 'warrior' on its behalf.[29]

The image of the grateful beast was a natural choice for the medals awarded in yearly recognition of prize-winners at the Royal Dick Veterinary College in Edinburgh. Struck in copper and silver during the 1890s, they picture Androcles kneeling to relieve the suffering lion. In the background are a cliff on the left and palm trees on the right; Androcles is depicted with African features.[30] A more schematic representation now forms the logo of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Utrecht University.[31]

In the 20th century, the Dutch Medal of Recognition 1940-1945 also pictures the scene of relieving the lion and was awarded to those who aided the Dutch during the period of World War II, or afterwards helped relieve those who had suffered from the German occupation. The subject was chosen because a lion was the national symbol. The theme of gratitude is reinforced by the inscription about the edge: sibi benefacit qui benefacit amico (He benefits himself who benefits a friend).


  1. ^ "Androclus" in the , 9th ed.Encyclopædia Britannica, Vol. II, p. 22.
  2. ^ a b  
  3. ^ Aulus Gellius. Noctes Atticae. Book V. xiv.
  4. ^ Based on the dates of Apion's tenure in Rome. see Hazel, John. Who's who in the Roman World. Psychology Press. Retrieved 2009-04-10. 
  5. ^ "". Retrieved 2014-06-08. 
  6. ^ Aulus Gellius, Noctes Atticae V.xiv.30
  7. ^ Claudius Aelianus, Περὶ Ζῴων Ἰδιότητος, Book VII.xlviii
  8. ^ "". Retrieved 2014-06-08. 
  9. ^ "". 2004-12-01. Retrieved 2014-06-08. 
  10. ^ The story is included in the fourth and fifth paragraphs of this translation
  11. ^ , Estelle Haan, Classical Romantic: Identity in the Latin Poetry of Vincent Bourne, American Philosophical Society 2007, pp.52-4
  12. ^ The poetical works, Latin and English, of Vincent Bourne, London 1838, pp.128-31
  13. ^
  14. ^ LACMA site
  15. ^ Gallery site
  16. ^ Mentioned in Michel Huber, Catalogue raisonné du cabinet d'estampes par feu m. Winckler: L'école allemande, Leipzig 1801, Vol.2, p.684
  17. ^ See online
  18. ^ Walter Inglis Anderson, The Art of Walter Anderson, University of Mississippi, 2003, pp.25, 253
  19. ^
  20. ^ Gallery site
  21. ^ “Biographical notes of Russian artists”, The monthly magazine and British register, Volume 21 (1806) p.399
  22. ^ Christies site
  23. ^ Silver Tiger site
  24. ^ Cultural Property Advice: Ashmolean
  25. ^ Charles Othon Frédéric Jean Baptiste de Clarac, Description du Musée Royal des Antiques du Louvre, Paris 1830, p.249
  26. ^ Christies site
  27. ^ 1st dibs site
  28. ^ Shrady site
  29. ^ Maarten Delbeke, The Art of Religion, Farnham 2012, Google Books
  30. ^ British school medals, Neocollect
  31. ^ Faculty site


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