Beast

Lion


Latin name: Leo
Other names: Leena, Leun, Lyon

The lion is the king of the beasts

General Attributes

The lion is the king of the beasts, and as such is usually the first beast described in the bestiaries. The lion chapter is generally one of the longest and most complex.

The lion has three natures: when a lion walking in the mountains sees that it is being hunted, it erases its tracks with its tail; it always sleeps with its eyes open; and its cubs are born dead and are brought to life on the third day when the mother breathes in their faces or the father roars over them. Some sources add more natures: a lion only kills out of great hunger; it will not attack a prostrate man; it allows captive men to depart; it is not easily angered; the lioness first has five cubs, then one less each year.

There are two kinds of lion: one is timid, has a short body and curly hair; the other has straight hair and a long body and is fierce. A lion's strength is seen in its chest, its firmness in its head, and its courage in its forehead and tail.

Lions are frightened of the sight of hunters with spears, so they look at the ground when surrounded. They also fear the sound of creaking cart wheels, fire, and the sight of the white cock. A sick lion cures itself by eating a monkey, eating one day and drinking the next; if the meat does not digest properly the lion pulls it out of its stomach with its claws. Lions are harmed by scorpions and killed by snakes.

When a lion is hungry it treats other animals with anger, leaping on them as it does on the ass. A hunting lion makes a circle with its tail around other animals, which do not dare to cross the line and so become its prey. The roar of a lion is alone enough to make other animals weak with fear.

Lions do not like to eat the previous day's prey, abandoning the remains of their last meal.

Unlike most animals, lions mate face to face. The lioness give birth to five cubs the first time, then four the next, and three the next, until after the birth of a single cub in the fifth year, she becomes sterile.

Allegory/Moral

In Christian allegory, the three main natures of the lion each have a meaning. The lion erasing its tracks with its tail represents the way Jesus concealed his divinity, only revealing himself to his followers. The lion sleeping with its eyes open represents Jesus, physically dead after crucifixion, but still spiritually alive in his divine nature. The lion roaring over his dead cubs to bring them to life represents how God the father woke Jesus after three days in his tomb.

The other natures of the lion are taken as examples of how people are to live. Just as the lion will not attack a prostrate man, will allow captive men to depart, and is not easily angered, people should be slow to anger and quick to forgive.

Heraldry

The lion was one of the most popular animals in heraldry, though many of the heraldic animals taken as lions are actually intended as leopards. The attributes the lion was meant to represent in heraldry are similar to those given in the bestiary; the lion is noble, brave and fierce, but will only attack if attacked or in great need of food.

The lion was most often depicted rampant (standing upright on its hind legs, with its fore legs, claws extended, held in front of its chest), but sometimes passant (standing on all four feet or lying down). There were several varieties of lion pictured: ones with a forked tail (queue fourchée), the tail indicating the fierceness of the beast ('for when the Lion is wroth, first he beateth the earth with his taile, and afterwards as the wroth increaseth, he smiteth and beateth his own back'); with one body and two heads; with one head and two bodies (bicorporate), three bodies (tricorporate), four bodies (quadricorporate), or more; lions with wings, symbolic of the Christian concept of Resurrection; the Sea-Lion, not the natural sea lion but a beast with the head and mane of a lion, fore legs with webbed feet in place of claws, and a fish tail from the waist down, ending in whale-like flukes; and combinations such as a winged Sea-Lion.