Androcles and the Lion

and other folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 156
edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 1999-2009


  1. Androcles (Aesop).

  2. The Slave and the Lion (Aesop).

  3. Androcles and the Lion (Joseph Jacobs).

  4. The Lion and the Saint [Saint Jerome] (Andrew Lang).

  5. Of the Remembrance of Benefits (Gesta Romanorum).

  6. The Lion and the Thorn (Ambrose Bierce).

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.



A slave named Androcles once escaped from his master and fled to the forest. As he was wandering about there he came upon a lion lying down moaning and groaning. At first he turned to flee, but finding that the lion did not pursue him, he turned back and went up to him. As he came near, the lion put out his paw, which was all swollen and bleeding, and Androcles found that a huge thorn had got into it, and was causing all the pain. He pulled out the thorn and bound up the paw of the lion, who was soon able to rise and lick the hand of Androcles like a dog. Then the lion took Androcles to his cave, and every day used to bring him meat from which to live.

But shortly afterwards both Androcles and the lion were captured, and the slave was sentenced to be thrown to the lion, after the latter had been kept without food for several days.

The emperor and all his court came to see the spectacle, and Androcles was led out into the middle of the arena. Soon the lion was let loose from his den, and rushed bounding and roaring towards his victim. But as soon as he came near to Androcles he recognized his friend, and fawned upon him, and licked his hands like a friendly dog.

The emperor, surprised at this, summoned Androcles to him, who told him the whole story. Whereupon the slave was pardoned and freed, and the lion let loose to his native forest.


Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.

The Slave and the Lion


A slave ran away from his master, by whom he had been most cruelly treated, and, in order to avoid capture, betook himself into the desert. As he wandered about in search of food and shelter, he came to a cave, which he entered and found to by unoccupied. Really, however, it was a lion's den, and almost immediately, to the horror of the wretched fugitive, the lion himself appeared. The man gave himself up for lost. But, to his utter astonishment, the lion, instead of springing upon him, came and fawned upon him, at the same time whining and lifting up his paw. Observing it to be much swollen and inflamed, he examined it and found a large thorn embedded in the ball of the foot. He accordingly removed it and dressed the wound as well as he could. And in course of time it healed up completely.

The lion's gratitude was unbounded. He looked upon the man as his friend, and they shared the cave for some time together. A day came, however, when the slave began to long for the society of his follow men, and he bade farewell to the lion and returned to the town. Here he was presently recognized and carried off in chains to his former master, who resolved to make an example of him, and ordered that he should be thrown to the beasts at the next public spectacle in the theater.

On the fatal day the beasts were loosed into the arena, and among the rest a lion of huge bulk and ferocious aspect. And then the wretched slave was cast in among them. What was the amazement of the spectators, when the lion after one glance bounded up to him and lay down at his feet with every expression of affection and delight! It was his old friend of the cave! The audience clamored that the slave's life should be spared. And the governor of the town, marveling at such gratitude and fidelity in a beast, decreed that both should receive their liberty.

Androcles and the Lion

Joseph Jacobs

It happened in the old days at Rome that a slave named Androcles escaped from his master and fled into the forest, and he wandered there for a long time until he was weary and well nigh spent with hunger and despair. Just then he heard a lion near him moaning and groaning and at times roaring terribly. Tired as he was Androcles rose up and rushed away, as he thought, from the lion; but as he made his way through the bushes he stumbled over the root of a tree and fell down lamed, and when he tried to get up there he saw the lion coming towards him, limping on three feet and holding his forepaw in front of him.

Poor Androcles was in despair; he had not strength to rise and run away, and there was the lion coming upon him. But when the great beast came up to him instead of attacking him it kept on moaning and groaning and looking at Androcles, who saw that the lion was holding out his right paw, which was covered with blood and much swollen. Looking more closely at it Androcles saw a great big thorn pressed into the paw, which was the cause of all the lion's trouble. Plucking up courage he seized hold of the thorn and drew it out of the lion's paw, who roared with pain when the thorn came out, but soon after found such relief from it that he fawned upon Androcles and showed, in every way that he knew, to whom he owed the relief. Instead of eating him up he brought him a young deer that he had slain, and Androcles managed to make a meal from it. For some time the lion continued to bring the game he had killed to Androcles, who became quite fond of the huge beast.

But one day a number of soldiers came marching through the forest and found Androcles, and as he could not explain what he was doing they took him prisoner and brought him back to the town from which he had fled. Here his master soon found him and brought him before the authorities, and he was condemned to death because he had fled from his master. Now it used to be the custom to throw murderers and other criminals to the lions in a huge circus, so that while the criminals were punished the public could enjoy the spectacle of a combat between them and the wild beasts.

So Androcles was condemned to be thrown to the lions, and on the appointed day he was led forth into the Arena and left there alone with only a spear to protect him from the lion. The Emperor was in the royal box that day and gave the signal for the lion to come out and attack Androcles. But when it came out of its cage and got near Androcles, what do you think it did? Instead of jumping upon him it fawned upon him and stroked him with its paw and made no attempt to do him any harm.

It was of course the lion which Androcles had met in the forest. The Emperor, surprised at seeing such a strange behavior in so cruel a beast, summoned Androcles to him and asked him how it happened that this particular lion had lost all its cruelty of disposition. So Androcles told the Emperor all that had happened to him and how the lion was showing its gratitude for his having relieved it of the thorn. Thereupon the Emperor pardoned Androcles and ordered his master to set him free, while the lion was taken back into the forest and let loose to enjoy liberty once more.

The Lion and the Saint

Andrew Lang

If you should have the opportunity of seeing any large picture gallery abroad, or our own National Gallery in London, you will be very likely to come across some picture by one or other "old master" representing an old man, with a long beard, sometimes reading or writing in a study, sometimes kneeling in a bare desert-place; but wherever he may be, or whatever he may be doing, there is almost always a lion with him.

The old man with the beard is St. Jerome, who lived fifteen hundred years ago, and I want now to tell you why a lion generally appears in any picture of him.

At one time of his life, St. Jerome lived in a monastery he had founded at Bethlehem. One day he and some of his monks were sitting to enjoy the cool of the evening at the gate of the monastery when a big lion suddenly appeared walking up to them. The monks were horribly frightened, and scampered off as fast as they could to take refuge indoors; but St. Jerome had noticed that as the lion walked he limped as though in pain, and the Saint, who always tried to help those in trouble, waited to see what he could do for the poor animal.

The lion came near, and when he was quite close he held up one paw and looked plaintively at the men.

St. Jerome fearlessly took the paw on his lap, and, on examining it, found a large thorn, which he pulled out, binding up the injured limb. The wound was rather a bad one, but St. Jerome kept the lion with him and nursed him carefully till he was quite well again.

The lion was so grateful, and became so much attached to his kind doctor, that he would not leave him, but stayed on in the monastery.

Now, in this house no one, from the highest to the lowest, man or beast, was allowed to lead an idle life. It was not easy to find employment for a lion; but at length a daily task was found for him.

This was to guard and watch over the ass, who each day carried in the firewood which was cut and gathered in the forest. The lion and ass became great friends, and no doubt the ass felt much comfort in having such a powerful protector.

But it happened, on one very hot summer's day, that whilst the ass was at pasture the lion fell asleep. Some merchants were passing that way and seeing the ass grazing quietly, and apparently alone, they stole her and carried her off with them.

In due time the lion awoke; but when he looked for the ass she was not to be seen. In vain he roamed about, seeking everywhere; he could not find her; and when evening came he had to return to the monastery alone, and with his head and tail drooping to show how ashamed he felt.

As he could not speak to explain matters, St. Jerome feared that he had not been able to resist the temptation to eat raw flesh once more, and that he had devoured the poor ass. He therefore ordered that the lion should perform the daily task of his missing companion, and carry the firewood instead of her.

The lion meekly submitted, and allowed the load of faggots to be tied on his back, and carried them safely home. As soon as he was unloaded he would run about for some time, still hoping to find the ass.

One day, as he was hunting about in this fashion, he saw a caravan coming along with a string of camels. The camels, as was usual in some places, were led by an ass, and to the lion's joy he recognised his lost friend.

He instantly fell on the caravan, and, without hurting any of the camels, succeeded in frightening them all so completely that he had no difficulty in driving them into the monastery where St. Jerome met them.

The merchants, much alarmed, confessed their theft, and St. Jerome forgave them, and was very kind to them; but the ass, of course, returned to her former owners. And the lion was much petted and praised for his goodness and cleverness, and lived with St. Jerome till the end of his life.

Of the Remembrance of Benefits

Gesta Romanorum

There was a knight who devoted much of his time to hunting. It happened one day, as he was pursuing this diversion, that he was met by a lame lion, who showed him his foot. The knight dismounted, and drew from it a sharp thorn; and then applied an unguent to the wound, which speedily healed it.

A while after this, the king of the country hunted in the same wood, and caught that lion, and held him captive for many years.

Now, the knight, having offended the king, fled from his anger to the very forest in which he had been accustomed to hunt. There he betook himself to plunder, and spoiled and slew a multitude of travelers. But the king's sufferance was exhausted; he sent out an army, captured, and condemned him to be delivered to a fasting lion. The knight was accordingly thrown into a pit, and remained in terrified expectation of the hour when he should be devoured. But the lion, considering him attentively, and remembering his former friend, fawned upon him; and remained seven days with him destitute of food.

When this reached the ears of the king, he was struck with wonder, and directed the knight to be taken from the pit. "Friend," said he, "by what means have you been able to render the lion harmless?"

"As I once rode along the forest, my lord, that lion met me lame. I extracted from his foot a large thorn, and afterward healed the wound, and therefore he has spared me."

"Well," returned the king, "since the lion has spared you, I will for this time ratify your pardon. Study to amend your life."

The knight gave thanks to the king, and ever afterwards conducted himself with all propriety. He lived to a good old age, and ended his days in peace.


My beloved, the knight is the world; the lame lion is the human race; the thorn, original sin, drawn out by baptism. The pit represents penitence, whence safety is derived.

The Lion and the Thorn

Ambrose Bierce

A lion roaming through the forest, got a thorn in his foot, and, meeting a shepherd, asked him to remove it. The shepherd did so, and the lion, having just surfeited himself on another shepherd, went away without harming him.

Some time afterward the shepherd was condemned on a false accusation to be cast to the lions in the amphitheater.

When they were about to devour him, one of them said, "This is the man who removed the thorn from my foot."

Hearing this, the others honorably abstained, and the claimant ate the shepherd all himself.

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

Revised July 13, 2009.