* Androcels and the Lion

This is a story I read in my childhood. Later in life, it’s deep significance hit me. 

Androcles was a slave in Greece. Disgusted with the life of a slave, he ran  away, knowing very well, the risk of death if he gets caught. As was the practice in the kingdom, a roll call was taken of all the slaves the next morning. Androcles was found missing and immediately a band of soldiers set out searching for him in the forest.

Androcles ran as fast as he could. When he could not run any more due to hunger and exhaustion, he sat on a boulder, resigned to his fate of being caught by the soldiers or be eaten by  wild animals. Either way, he knew he would die, it was only a matter of time.

As he was watching with resignation, he saw a Lion approaching him at a distance. He knew he had no chance of running away from it, in his hungry and exhausted condition. He continued watching the approaching Lion. To his surprise, the Lion was not running towards him. It was walking slowly, unlike a normal Lion. When it came near him, he saw that it was walking very slowly because one of it’s legs was limping. He guessed  it must be very hungry, as there is no free food in the forest for injured lions, unable to hunt. He expected the Lion to jump on him any moment and feed itself. But as he was already resigned to his death, he continued to watch the actions of the Lion with resignation.

The Lion came to his feet and Androcles saw it raising it’s paw, about to strike him. He closed his eyes anticipating the paw hit. He was surprised when he was not hit. He opened his eyes and found the paw still up in the air, close to his face, as if the Lion was showing the sole of that leg to him.

His fear disappeared and his curiosity was aroused. Keenly observing the sole of the foot, he found it was swollen. He guessed the cause may be a thorn embedded in the sole. He got fully involved in the situation and took the courageous step of taking the paw in his hands, locating the tiny thorn and removing it. He squeezed out all the pus and bandaged it, tearing away part of his shirt. Now he waited for the Lion to attack and kill him. But the Loin quietly walked away into the dense forest, to his utter disbelief.

After some time, the king’s soldiers found him, shackled and took him back to the  kingdom. As per the prevailing law, his punishment was announced in the kingdom . On the appointed day, the people of the kingdom assembled in the large arena. Androcles was brought in and tied to a pole. A cage was brought into the arena with a lion inside. The cage door was opened and the lion set free. People waited to see the gruesome act of the lion eating Androcles live.

The Lion came racing towards Androcles. As soon as it touched him, it stopped dead in it’s track and started licking his feet. The people and the king were stunned at the miracle of a hungry Lion sparing it’s prey and behaving like a pet.

You guessed it right! It was the same lion he helped by taking out it’s thorn. On knowing about the background, the king set Androcles free. The story ends happily.

The events and the roles played by the characters trigger a series of thoughts …

Look at what Androcles  and the Lion did in the forest. First, at Androcles.

  • When he saw the lion was slowly coming towards him, he could have probably run away and saved himself. But he might have been captured by the king’s soldiers and met his death anyway. He saw the inevitability of his death either way but had the courage to continue to look at the Lion and it’s condition. He wished to use his available life in the best possible manner.
  • He had the keen observation and a cool mind to locate the thorn in it’s sole, even in that life threatening situation.
  • He had the good nature of trying to help a suffering animal, in spite of the immediate risk of his own death from the same animal. He did not expect any return favor from the lion.

Now let us look at what the Lion did.

  • It had the presence of mind to see a potential savior in Androcles, knowing, it will otherwise die of hunger, being unable to hunt for it’s food. It was probable he had a gun or knife with which he could have killed it. A Lion being the king of the forest, has to swallow great pride, to seek help from a weakling like Androcles. After it got help from him, the Lion had the decency of not killing and feeding on the person who saved it’s life.

Let us look at some potential insights hidden in this story.

  • A lion is the most powerful animal in the forest. It can kill even an elephant, several times it’s size. But, here is the irony of nature. A lion can kill an elephant but it can’t take out the thorn in it’s own foot, even when that thorn is causing it’s starvation and ultimate death!
  • Compared with the Lion, Androcles is a weak and puny creature. But he has the unique capacity to diagnose the cause for the lion’s handicap and take out the thorn in it’s foot.
  • What did Androcles offer to the Lion and what did he get in return? He took out a tiny thorn in the lion’s foot, spending under 30 minutes of his time and he got his whole life back in return!
  • How often we may be handicapped due to some thorns in our bodies, minds or relationships and suffer endlessly, unable to take them out, on our own? Sometimes, we may not even be aware of the hidden thorn. Each one of us, sometimes, need an Androcles, to help us get rid of our thorns. But we may not be as humble as the Lion, to seek help from apparently weaker or stronger people. Our ego may prevent us from seeking help.
  • How much better our lives could be, if we can behave like the Lion and Androcles, in seeking help and giving meaningful help? Taking out tiny thorns and getting lives back!
  • Lastly, how many of us intentionally or callously insert thorns into minds, bodies or relationships, instead of taking some of them out, in the short time each of us have, on this planet Earth?

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