Lion

Sir Percivale Slays the Serpent

Lion

CreaturesBackground Essay Author: Kara L. McShane
The bestiary tradition explicitly compares lions to Christ.  In Physiologus, for example, two attributes of lions are described that link lions to Christ; first, the lion covers its tracks with its tail to evade hunters just as Christ hid His divine nature from those who did not believe in him.  Second, lion cubs are born dead and are guarded by their mothers for three days, after which their fathers breathe on them and they wake up.  This resurrection after three days of death, then, mirrors Christ's resurrection (3-4).  While these attributes are not included in lions' appearances in medieval Arthuriana, the connection between the lion and Christ is present.  In the Prose Lancelot, King Arthur has a dream of a lion in water.  A wise man is able to interpret the dream for him and tells him that the lion represents God, particularly Jesus. The man explains that just as the lion is the king of beasts, so God is the king of all things (2.123).   
 
While this religious symbolism of lions is explored in medieval Arthuriana, lions in these texts often function as a marker of nobility rather than divinity.  Galahad is called the great lion (Lancelot-Grail 3.162), and Arthur is sometimes figured in prophetic dreams as a crowned lion (Lancelot-Grail 2.250, Prose Merlin 239).   The most extended connection between a lion and a character appears in Chretién's Yvain, in which the title character encounters a dragon (or a fire-breathing serpent) fighting a lion; Yvain assists the lion in the fight, as the "more natural" creature.  Yvain...

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