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Androcles (or Androclus), is a character, who may not have been entirely fictional, in tales that describe him as a slave in the Roman Empire in the early 1st century BC, about the time of Tiberius but possibly in the reign of Caligula.

The classic tale

The earliest surviving version (that of Aulus Gellius) names him, in Latin, as Androclus, a runaway slave of a former Roman consul administering a part of Africa. He takes shelter in a cave, which turns out to be the den of an ailing wounded lion. He removes a large thorn from the animal's foot pad, forces pus from the infected wound, and bandages it. As a result, the lion recovers and becomes tame toward him, acting like a domesticated dog, including wagging its tail and bringing home game that it shares with the slave. After several years, the slave eventually craves a return to civilization, resulting in his imprisonment as a fugitive slave, and condemnation to be devoured by wild animals in the Circus Maximusmarker of Romemarker. In the presence of an unnamed emperor, the most imposing of these beasts turns out to be the same lion, which again displays its dog-like benevolence toward the slave. The emperor pardons the slave on the spot, in recognition of this testimony to the power of friendship, and he is left in possession of the lion; they are described as being seen walking together through city streets.

The classical literary history

The original version by Apion, who lived from the 20s BC to c. 45 AD, was in his Aegyptiaca, now lost, but Gellius presents it as saying
Afterwards we used to see Androcles with the lion attached to a slender leash, making the rounds of the tabernae throughout the city; Androcles was given money, the lion was sprinkled with flowers, and everyone who met them anywhere exclaimed: "This is the lion, a man's friend; this is the man, a lion's doctor".[63362]

The detailed narrative above is by Gellius and thus dates from the 2nd century.

The stories attributed to Aesop are regarded as coming from the mid-sixth century, and various editions of Aesop that include close versions of the tale, with or without the name "Androcles", are not regarded as evidence of accurate attribution.

Further derivations

Other versions such as "Of the Remembrance of Benefits" in the Gesta Romanorum (Deeds of the Romans) of ca. 1330 in England, drop the name and change the setting to a medieval one, e.g., making the slave a knight.

Others keep the Roman setting, but make Androcles a Christian and use him to present theological lessons.

Shaw's play Androcles and the Lion eliminates the slave status, and gives Androcles a wife and Christian beliefs, but has a skeptical view of both pagan and Christian belief.


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