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Androcles and the Lion

The Colosseum
June 7, 2008

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Aesop told of a slave called Androcles who escaped from his master, a Roman governor in North Africa, and took refuge in a cave. This cave turned out to be the den of none-too-happy lion, who was suffering with a large thorn in his paw. For reasons lost to history, Androcles decided that rather than run, he would risk helping the poor cat. He approached delicately, then removed the thorn from the paw and bandaged it up. The paw got better, and the noble lion showed his gratitude by bringing back part of each hunt to Androcles, who ate well in the cave.

After some time, Androcles missed the sound of other human voices, and he ventured back to civilization -- where he was quickly recognized, imprisoned, and sentenced to die for his crime of stealing himself from his master.

They sent him off to be fed to beasts in a public spectacle. When they tossed him onto the field he found himself face to maw with a ferocious wild beast, who of course turned out to be none other than his old feline friend. The lion recognized his former physician immediately, and lay down meek as a house cat at his feet. Cheers erupted from the crowd, and the savvy emperor immediately freed man and beast -- eliciting more cheers.

They say that after that Androcles could be seen walking the tame lion around Rome. And when free men saw them, they would say, "This is the lion, a man's friend; this is the man, a lion's doctor."

I told this story, or something like it, to the daughters here in the Colosseum, which still stands despite the hardships inflicted on it over the millenia by time and weather, the greed of popes who wanted its marble, and the curiousity of tourists.