androcles and the lion.

There’s a small, remote village that resides on the outskirts of Rome. An air of tranquillity floats around the place. One night, the village is tormented by a terrible noise emanating from the hills across the valley. It is a roar of a lion, but one that pierces the air of tranquility all through the night.

The villagers are scared, even the elders who have weathered many terrors before. Fearing for the safety of their children, they gather around the village square and concoct a plan to kill the beast. To the villagers, the lion’s screams signify a threat to the peace and order that their village has always maintained.

Up in those same hills, a shepherd, named Androcles, is tending to his flock and has misread the direction of the weather. He gets caught in a sudden storm and, unable to make it back to the village, seeks refuge in a nearby cave. As his eyes glance deeper into the cave, he is overcome with fear, as this happens to be the cave that the growling lion resides in.

The lion begins to roar in the face of Androcles. It rushes to the shepherd, and appears to be full of rage and fire. The lion slowly raises its arm, and Androcles believes that he has met his end. But the shepherd notices something peculiar in the very centre of the lion’s paw. It is a thorn.

In that moment, Androcles instinctively takes a leap of faith, and removes the thorn when the lion’s arm was raised. The lion unleashes a great shriek and then, to the shepherd’s amazement, becomes gentle and docile. As the adrenaline subsides, Androcles realises that this beast must have been in complete agony. The roars were not a sign of attack; it was a cry of pain.


There are many versions of the story, and this was just the one that I had been told, but the message remains the same.

The lion in the story represents someone that we are fearful of, whether that’s because we don’t trust them, agree with what they stand for or simply believe that they are out to get us for vindictive reasons. We tend to view their personal attacks on us and our values as threats, and we do not hesitate to arm ourselves in response, much like the villagers do.

The moral of the fable dictates that the key to reacting effectively is to understand that their attacks are driven by pain, and we are all programmed to reach this way. We are driven to behave in certain ways as a response to what causes us distress.

It is easier to categorise people as being evil or our enemies than it is to locate the pin.

(c) Briton Rivière

One thought on “androcles and the lion.

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