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Lion (as an emblem)


A lion is emblem of the tribe of Judah; Christ is called “the lion of the tribe of Judah.”

“Judah is a lion’s whelp: … he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up?”—Genesis xlix. 9.

A lion emblematic of St. Jerome. The tale is, that while Jerome was lecturing one day, a lion entered the schoolroom, and lifted up one of its paws. All the disciples fled; but Jerome, seeing that the paw was wounded, drew out of it a thorn and dressed the wound. The lion, out of gratitude, showed a wish to stay with its benefactor. Hence Jerome is typified as a lion, or as accompanied by a lion. (Kenesman: Lives of the Saints, p. 784.)

Androclus and the Lion. This is a replica of the tale of Androcʹlus. Androclus was a Roman slave, condemned to encounter a lion in the amphitheatre; but when the beast was let loose it crouched at the feet of the slave and began licking them. The circumstance naturally excited the curiosity of the consul: and the slave, being brought before him, told him the following tale: “I was compelled by cruel treatment to run away from your service while in Africa, and one day I took refuge in a cave from the heat of the sun. While I was in the cave a lion entered, limping, and evidently in great pain. Seeing me, he held up his paw, from which I extracted a large thorn. We lived together in the cave for some time, the lion catering for both of us. At length I left the cave, was apprehended, brought to Rome, and condemned to encounter a lion in the amphitheatre. My enemy was my old friend, and he recognised me instantly.” (A. Gellius: Noctes, v. 15.)

St. Gerasimus and the Lion. A very similar tale is told of St. Gerasimus (A.D. 475). One day, being on the banks of the Jordan, he saw a lion coming to him, limping on three feet. When it reached the saint, it held up to him the right paw, from which Gerasimus extracted a large thorn. The grateful beast attached itself to the saint, and followed him about as a dog. (Vies des Pères des Déserts dʹOrient.)

Sir George Davis and the Lion. Sir George Davis was English consul at Florence at the beginning of the 19th century. One day he went to see the lions of the great Duke of Tuscany. There was one which the keepers could not tame; but no sooner did Sir George appéar than it manifested every symptom of joy. Sir George entered its cage, when the lion leaped on his shoulder, licked his face, wagged its tail, and fawned on him like a dog. Sir George told the great duke that he had brought up the creature; but as it grew older it became dangerous, and he sold it to a Barbary captive. The duke said that he had bought it of the very same man, and the mystery was solved.

Half a score of such tales are told by the Bollandistes in the Acta Sanetõrum.

The lion an emblem of the resurrection. According to tradition, the lion’s whelp is born dead, and remains so for three days, when the father breathes on it and it receives life. Another tradition is that the lion is the only animal of the cat tribe born with its eyes open, and it is said that it sleeps with its eyes open. This is not strictly correct, but undoubtedly it sleeps watchfully and lightly.

Mark the Evangelist is symbolised by a lion, because he begins his gospel with the scenes of John the Baptist and Jesus in the Wilderness. Matthew is symbolised by a man, because he begins his gospel with the humanity of Jesus, as a descendant of David. Luke is symbolised as a calf, because he begins his gospel with the priest sacrificing in the demple. John is symbolised by an eagle, because he soars high, and begins his gospel with the divinity of the Logos. The four symbols are those of Ezekiel’s cherubim.


The American lion. The puma.


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Entry taken from Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, edited by the Rev. E. Cobham Brewer, LL.D. and revised in 1895.

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