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Androcles and the Lion (1997)

Retold and Illustrated by Dennis Nolan

I've indexed this one in Aesop's Fables, perhaps out of laziness. A tale retold can resist easy categorization. A version of this story does appear in Aesop's anthropomorphic moralizing, but it was around much earlier than that.

This story was first written by an Egyptian living in Rome in A.D. 40, and was apparently based on eye-witness accounts of a fateful day at the Circus Maximus. It was then included in Apion's AEgyptiaca, was copied by Aulus Gellius in the 2nd Century in Noctes Atticae, rewritten 1300 years after that by Plutarch, and now - some 600 years after that - is again retold in this beautiful edition by Dennis Nolan.

I gleaned that previous paragraph from a nice afterword Nolan includes.

Long ago, on the edge of the Egyptian desert, in the empire of Rome, a slave named Androcles was kept by a cruel master.

Soon Androcles attempts his escape, to run off into the desert with two days worth of stolen food. Nolan shows great detail in drawing his dirty hair, his unshaven face, the bare, calloused feet digging into the dunes. The bitter realism better serves the fantastic forthcoming, as he creeps toward the fateful cave.

From behind, enter the eponymous lion.

Though recoiling in fear, Androcles can see that the lion is wounded by a great thorn. Soon, the thorn removed, they become the best of friends, hunting and sleeping together, and posing for portraits such as the one on the cover.

However, the blissful relationship in interrupted by Roman soldiers, who arrest Androcles and force him to join the sadistic Circus Maximus, there to be torn to morsels by wild beasts for the emperor Tiberious' amusement. But the emperor doesn't count on the relationship between the slave and the best in question.

Androcles marched in triumph through the streets with the lion beside him. As they passed shops and houses the people showered them with coins and threw flowers on the lion's golden mane. And everyone who saw them said, "This is the lion that was a man's best friend, and this is the man who healed the lion."
Click here to read other versions of Androcles and the Lion!

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