Since classical antiquity, a Gaetulian lion in literature has been a Barbary lion of fierce reputation. Gaetulia, in ancient geography, was the land of the Gaetuli, a warlike tribe of ancient Libya that appears in Virgil's Aeneid, Book V, Line 352:
"..my task to offer consolation to our friend for the downfall he did nothing to deserve." With these words he gave Salius the hide of a huge Gaetulian lion, weighed down with gilded claws and mane.
The Gaetulian lion became proverbial:
- Odes of Horace (23 BC), Book I, Ode XXIII:
You shun me, Chloe, like a fawn that is seeking its timorous mother in the pathless mountains, not without a vain dread of the breezes and the thickets: for she trembles both in her heart and knees, whether the arrival of the spring has terrified by its rustling leaves, or the green lizards have stirred the bush. But I do not follow you, like a savage tigress, or a Gaetulian lion, to tear you to pieces. Therefore, quit your mother, now that you are mature for a husband.
It was formerly a very difficult matter to catch the lion, and it was mostly done by means of pit-falls. In the reign however, of the Emperor Claudius, accident disclosed a method which appears most disgraceful to the name of such an animal; a Gaetulian shepherd stopped a lion, that was rushing furiously upon him, by merely throwing his cloak over the animal; a circumstance which afterwards afforded an exhibition in the arena of the Circus, when the frantic fury of the animal was paralyzed in a manner almost incredible by a light covering being thrown over its head, so much so, that it was put into chains without the least resistance; we must conclude, therefore, that all its strength lies in its eyes. The circumstance renders what was done by Lysimachus less wonderful, who strangled a lion, with which he had been shut up by command of Alexander.
The extremity of Libya, which bears the name Abinna, furnishes a haunt of lions, who hunt their prey along the brows of the mountains which are to be seen rising inland, and it marches with the Gaetuli and Tingae, both of them wild Libyan tribes.
- In Hadrianus Junius' Emblemata, there is a passage about how the Gaetulian lion fears nothing as much as a flaming torch, which weakens his fury. ("Getulus Leo non sic aliud, quàm metuit Taedam flammivomam, qua rabies saeva cadit.")
- Robert Louis Stevenson in Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1879):
"Your father and mother?" cried the priest. "Very well; you will convert them in their turn when you go home." I think I see my father’s face! I would rather tackle the Gaetulian lion in his den than embark on such an enterprise against the family theologian.
- Nowell, K.; Jackson, P. (1996). "Panthera leo". Wild Cats: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan (PDF). Gland, Switzerland: IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group. pp. 17–21, 37–41. ISBN 2-8317-0045-0.