A Roman Tradition
There was once a slave named Androclus, who was so ill treated by his master that at length he said to himself: ” It is better to die than to live in such hardship. I am determined to run away. If I am taken again, I know that I shall be punished with a cruel death, but it is better to die at once than to live in misery. If I escape, I must betake myself to deserts and woods inhabited only by beasts, but they cannot use me more cruelly than I have been used by my fellow creatures.”
Having formed this resolution, he left his master’s house and hid himself in a thick forest, which was some miles distant from the city. But here the unhappy man found that he had only escaped from one kind of misery to experience another. He wandered about all day through a vast and trackless wood, where his flesh was continually torn by thorns and brambles. He grew hungry but could find no food in this dreary solitude. At length he was ready to die with fatigue, and lay down in despair in a large cavern which he found by accident.
He had not long lain quiet in the cave before he heard a dreadful noise, which seemed to be the roar of some wild beast. He started up with the intention of escaping, and had already reached the mouth of the cave, when he saw coming toward him a lion of immense size, who prevented any possibility of retreat. Androclus now believed his death to be inevitable, but to his great astonishment the beast advanced toward him at a gentle pace, without any sign of enmity or rage, and uttered a kind of mournful wail, as if he wanted the assistance of the man.
From this circumstance Androclus, who was naturally of a resolute disposition, acquired courage to examine his strange guest. He saw, as the lion approached him, that he seemed to limp upon one of his legs, and that the foot was extremely swelled, as if it had been wounded. Acquiring still more fortitude from the gentle demeanor of the beast, he went up to him and took hold of the wounded paw as a surgeon would examine a patient. He then perceived that a thorn of uncommon size had penetrated the ball of the foot and was the cause of the swelling and lameness which he had observed. Androclus found that the beast, far from resenting this familiarity, received it with the greatest gentleness and seemed to invite him to proceed. He therefore extracted the thorn and, pressing the swelling, discharged a quantity of pus, which had been the cause of the lion’s pain.
As soon as the beast felt himself thus relieved, he began to testify his joy and gratitude by every expression within his power; he jumped about like a spaniel, wagged his enormous tail, and licked the feet and hands of his physician. Nor was he con-tented with these demonstrations of kindness from this moment Androclus became his guest, and the lion never went forth in quest of food without bringing home the results of the chase and sharing them with his friend. In this savage state of hospitality the man continued to live for several months. At length, wandering through the woods, he met a company of soldiers sent out to apprehend him, and was by them taken prisoner and conducted back to his master. The Roman laws of that time being very severe against slaves,, he was tried and found guilty of having fled from bondage, and, as a punishment for his so-called crime, he was sentenced to be torn in pieces by a furious lion, which had been kept many days without food in order to inspire him with additional rage.
When the fatal day arrived, the unhappy man was exposed, unarmed, in the midst of a spacious arena inclosed on every side, round which many thousands of people were assembled to view the spectacle. Presently a fearful roar was heard, which struck the spectators with horror, and a monstrous lion rushed out of a den, the door of which was set open, and darted forward with erected mane and flaming eyes, and jaws that gaped like an open sepulchre. A breath-less silence instantly prevailed. All eyes were turned directly upon the victim, whose destruction now appeared inevitable, but the pity of the multitude was soon converted into astonishment when they beheld the lion, instead of destroying his defenseless prey, crouch submissively at his feet, fawn upon him as a faithful dog would fawn upon his master, and rejoice over him as a mother that unexpectedly recovers her child. The governor of the town, who was present, called out with a loud voice and ordered Androclus to explain to them this mystery.
Androclus then related to the assembly every circumstance of his adventures in the forest, and concluded by saying that the very lion which now stood before them had been his friend and entertainer in the woods. All the people present were delighted with the story and with the knowledge that even the fiercest beasts are capable of being softened by gratitude and moved by love, and they all asked the governor of the place for the pardon of the unhappy man. This was immediately granted to him, and he was also presented with the lion that had twice saved his life.