Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Haven't I heard that before? Types, hagiographies, folk tales

From the blog Icons and their Interpretation, a post entitled "The Lion, the Splinter, and Folktale Motif #156."

“Whom the lion served”? Obviously there must be an interesting story connected with this.

We find the story of Gerasim of the Jordan and the lion in the book called The Spiritual Meadow, by John Moschus (Ioannes Moskhos). Moschus tells us that a monk named Gerasimos (the Greek form; the Russian form is Gerasim) was walking, one day, along the banks of the Jordan, when he encountered a roaring lion. The lion held one paw in the air, and Gerasimos could see it was bloody and swollen because of a splinter of reed that had become stuck in it. The lion held the paw out as though asking for help, and Gerasimos took the lion’s paw in his hands, pulled the reed out, and cleaned and dressed the wound, after which the lion would not desert Gerasimos, but followed him everywhere, and …

Wait. Doesn’t this sound awfully familiar?

A little thought will bring to mind the old tale from Aesop, written centuries before The Spiritual Meadow, of Androcles and the Lion:

It seems there was a slave named Androcles who was running away from his master. In a forest, he encountered a roaring lion. Androcles began to flee, but soon realized the lion was not chasing him. So he turned back, and found the lion holding out his paw, all bloody and swollen because of a thorn stuck in it. The grateful lion led Androcles to his cave, and brought him food every day….

Again, sound familiar? Well, it is so familiar as a folk motif that it even has a classification number: Aarne-Thompson-Uther #156.

As we see, in the Aesop version, Androcles and the lion become companions and the lion serves him out of gratitude by bringing him food.

In the “Spiritual Meadow” tale of Gerasimos, the lion follows the monk everywhere, and is set to watching an ass that is sent out every day to forage. One day the lion fails to watch the ass closely, and he is stolen away by some traders. When the lion returns to the monastery, Gerasimos thinks the lion ate the ass, and so sets the lion to doing the work for him that the ass did formerly, carrying water for the monastery...

Complete post here.

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