St Jerome, Androcles and the cuddly attributes of Lions
I was always sceptical about a lion - which is after all a big cat – “not a dog,(as Baldrick would say!), and therefore not noted for it’s fidelity - sticking by a man – even a Saintly one like Saint Jerome !
But they do seem to crop up quite a lot in stories and fables as being rather people friendly – and the many pictures of St Jerome accompanied by his furry attribute usually show a great big cuddly male of the species happily sitting at the feet of his beloved human – or even being used as a mattress in the painting above.
It looks as if the thorn removal could have been quite a frightening process though!
Interestingly – and probably just because it makes a more interesting visual image – most artists show St Jerome in the desert either studying or beating himself with his stones, his cardinal’s hat close to hand and his lion in attendance – although the story of the lion seems to relate to an earlier time whilst St Jerome was still with others in a Monastery.
In the original story the lion had actually come into the Monastery for his poorly paw surgery and stayed with the Monks to protect them, and their precious Ass, from thieves – unsuccessfully as it turned out as the brigands stole the Ass whilst the Lion was sleeping!
However clever Leo came up trumps in the end as he spotted the group when they passed by a second time – using the Monasteries Ass as their new beast of burden – and he drove the whole party into the Monastery to get their comeuppance!
The Monks ,being nice people, agreed to settle for getting their animal back and an annual delivery of olive oil!
So the lion is in the right place when he is with St Jerome in his study – but who knows – maybe he was so devoted he went on the walkabout too.
And clearly he was an attention seeker – he just kept on treading on those thorns!
Other famous devoted Lions include the tale of Androcles and his lion – another thorn in the paw story with a happy ending, which was first written up in the 2nd Century by Aulus Gellius‘s 2nd in a works called Attic Nights and later turned into a famous play by George Bernard Shaw.
In this original story it is Androcles the slave who blunders into trouble by trying to hide in a lion’s den whilst in flight from some Roman Soldiers, and nurses back to health a lion whose foot had become infected by a thorn – when he returns to town Androcles is arrested as a fugitive slave at a time when the standard punishment for running away was to be thrown to the lions in the Circus Maximus of Rome. As his good luck would have it the biggest and bravest of his would be eaters was his earlier friend who defended his former saviour – fortunately to the delight of the Roman Emperor, who not only released the slave but gave him the Lion as a pet!
From this I can conclude that Lions – particularly male lions – seem to be tameable and I can believe this as they are pack animals probably if they have lost the rest of their pack they like the company.
In addition in a normal pride of lions it is the females who work together to catch the dinner – which they have to take back and present to their lord and master to take his fill before they get their share of the remainder - is this ringing any bells ladies? So finding a new friend who provides food is probably a good plan for a lonely lion without a mate!
The reason for this interest is a video sent to me though facebook this week which shows that Lions have long memories and genuine affection for their old friends – so there we go – visual evidence that all these legends could well be true stories !
Annoyingly the link has to be opened in another tab – but you will find other similar stories on UTube!