Androculous and the Lion

In the Circus Maximus a very magnificent hunting spectacle was given to the people. There were many raging beasts, but above all the others, a lion attracted the attention of everyone with its enormous body and its loud and frightful roar. The slave of a man of consular rank had been led in among many others who had been sacrificed to the battle of the beasts; that slave’s name was Androclus. When that lion saw this man in the distance, suddenly it stood still as if admiring Androclus, and then it approached the man gradually and calmly as if he were a friend. Then the lion moved its tail mildly and charmingly, in the manner of flattering dogs, and fastened itself to the body of the man, who was almost already lifeless with fear, and the lion gently caressed his legs and hands with its tongue. Androclus, in the midst of the blandishments of such a ferocious beast, recovered his lost breath, and little by little brought his eyes toward gazing upon the lion. Then, as if with mutual recognition having been made, you might have seen the man and lion rejoicing with each other.

This wonderful event stirred up very great shouts among the people. Androclus was summoned by the emperor, and was asked the reason why that very ferocious lion spared only him. Then Androclus told an amazing and wonderous story. He said “When my master governed an African province with the authority of a proconsul, I was forced to flee on account of his unjust and daily beatings, I went to the flat, sandy wildernesses so that there would be safer places for me to hide from my master, who was the governor of that land; and if I had been lacking food, my plan was to seek death in some way. Then with the midday sun burning fierce, having found a remote cave full of hiding places, I betook myself into that cave and hid myself there. And not much after, this lion came to the same cave with one paw bloody, weakened and uttering groans and murmurs on account of the pain and torture of its wound. And in that cave, indeed, I was terrified and dismayed at the first sight of the approaching lion, but the lion having entered, after he saw me hiding from far away, the beast approached gentle and kind, and it seemed to extend and show to me its disabled paw, as if for the sake of seeking help. Then I tore out the huge stem sticking into the sole of its paw, and I pressed out the pus from the innermost wound, and now without great fear, I thoroughly dried and cleaned the bloody gore. Then, having been relieved by my help, with its paw placed in my hands, the lion reclined and fell asleep.

From that day, for three whole years the lion and I lived in the same cave and ate the same food. The lion brought to the cave the more fatty limbs of the beasts which he had caught for me, which I ate by roasting in the midday sun, not having the capacity to build a fire. But when I became bored by that wild life, when the lion had departed for its hunt, I left the cave and travelled for about three days, but I was seen and caught by soldiers and was brought back from Africa to my master in Rome. He immediately had me be convicted of a capital charge and handed over to the wild beasts. But I understand that this lion was also captured after I had been separated from it, and now is returning the favor to me for my help and medical treatment.

Androclus said these things; and when all those things written and circulated on a tablet were announced to the people, with all the people begging, Androclus was dismissed and set free from the punishment, and the lion was given to him by the votes of the people. Afterwards, Androclus and the lion, tied with a thin leash, went around to the taverns and throughout the entire city; Androclus was given money, the lion was sprinkled with flowers, and all who met them everywhere shouted “This lion is a friend to that man, and this man is the doctor of that lion.”

By Aulus Gellius
Translated from the Latin by Amber Knight


Amber Knight is currently a student at the University of California San Diego, where she is a Classical Studies and History double major. Her main interests include Roman religious traditions, classical rhetoric, and the history of Italy. While Latin is her focus, she also enjoys translating Attic and Homeric Greek. She is an intern for Alchemy and will be studying abroad in Rome this fall.

Aulus Gellius (120-180 AD) was a Latin author best known for his book Noctes Atticae (Attic Nights), in which this story appears.