Androcles (or Androclus), 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. 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.
The classic tale
The earliest form of the story is found in the fifth book of Aulus Gellius's 2nd century Attic Nights. 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, 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".
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". 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. 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). 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. 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.
George Bernard Shaw's play Androcles and the Lion (1912) makes Androcles a tailor and so keeps him as part of the underclass; 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.
- D. L. Ashliman, Androcles and the Lion and other folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 156"
- Aulus Gellius. "Noctes Atticae". Book V. xiv.
- based on the dates of Apion's tenure in Rome. see Hazel, John Who's who in the Roman World books.google.com. Accessed 2009-4-10.
- Aulus Gellius, Noctes Atticae V.xiv.30
- Claudius Aelianus, Περὶ Ζῴων Ἰδιότητος, Book VII.xlviii
- The story is included in the fourth and fifth paragraphs of this translation
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