Long ago there lived a Roman slave named Androcles. Androcles had worked all his life for his master, with never a kind word to cheer him. But Androcles dreamed of the day he would be free and one day his chance came.
He and four other men were working in a field watched by their master who sat with his whip, cracking it from time to time because he enjoyed seeing his slaves jump with fear. It was a hot day and the master had eaten a good meal. Insects buzzed in the grass, and the master’s eyelids drooped….opened…dropped again..and finally closed. Soon he lay snoring there in the shade.
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Androcles dropped his hoe. He stared at the sleeping master then at the forest at the end of the field. He moved quietly over to the other men and whispered,” He is sleeping. We could easily escape! The other were horrified.” You know we can’t get away,Androcles,” cried one.” Runaway slaves are always caught. There is no place for us to go.”We can go into forest,” suggested Androcles.
“But the forest is full of savage beast! We would be eaten alive.” I would rather be eaten alive by an animal,” replied Androcles,” than spend the rest of my life being whipped and starved.” Seeing that no one would go with him, Androcles ran off into the forest alone meaning to get as far as away as possible before dark. When the sun went down, he had to move more slowly. Even so, he bumped into trees, was scratched by thorns and stumbled into holes and over rocks.
At last he fell down on the ground, too tired and too hungry to move. As he lay there in the night, he began to hear sounds of animals-snuffling, growling, sometimes a roar. Terrified, he looked for somewhere to hide and dragged himself into a cave. As soon as he was inside, he knew from the smell that he was in the cave of a wild animal. But he was too tired to run anymore; so he lay down to sleep not caring whether or not the animal was there.
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Androcles slept until morning, when he was awakened by a great roar. He shook with fear. A huge animal at the cave entrance roared again but came no nearer. This time Androcles felt that the sound was not quite as ferocious and he looked more closely at the animal. It was a lion huge and hairy. The beast was holding up one front aw and now instead of roaring he began to make a moaning sound.
” Why the poor animal is hurt!” thought Androcles. He very cautiously went toward it.” Have you hurt your foot?” he asked. The lion moaned again and held out his paw. Androcles could see a long thorn stuck straight into it. The lion whimpered.” Would you like me to take it out?” asked Androcles, feeling a bit foolish talking to lion.
The lion held out his paw even farther.” Well, perhaps you can’t talk but you seem understand,” said Androcles. He took the paw gently and examined it. The thorn was stuck in deeply.” Now this may hurt a little,” said Androcles.” All right,” he went on,” watch out!” And using all his strength he pulled the thorn out.” Well, I have been a fool!” he thought to himself.” Now that I’ve fixed his paw, he’ll eat me!
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The lion after licking his paw, tried putting it carefully down on the ground. As soon as he was sure he could stand on it he leaped toward the trembling Androcles who thought his end had come! But the lion had no thought of eating him. He licked the slave’s face and his hands and rubbed against his legs like a kitten. The the lion ran to the entrance of the cave and picked up a plump rabbit he had been carrying home for his breakfast. He gave it to Androcles who cooked it and they ate their meal together.
Now Androcles became an honored guest in the lion’s cave. The lion hunted for meat for both of them, always bringing it back to the cave before he ate any himself. Androcles found fruits and nuts. And he made himself a bed of grasses and leaves, where he slept comfortably at night. The man and the lion were happy together.
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This good life lasted for a long time. Then one day when Androcles was picking berries in the forest, he was surprised by a group of soldiers out hunting for escaped slaves. The soldiers grabbed him roughly, tied him and marched him back through the forest to the city. He was thrown into a dungeon with a group of other prisoners and chained to the wall. Day after day Androcles stayed in the dungeon.
“What is going to happen to us? ” he finally asked a man who was sitting beside him.
” Are you an escaped slaved are punished,”then men asked.” Then you know what will happen!”
“I know that escaped slaves are punished,” replied Androcles,” but what is the punishment?”
Just then the prisoners heard a great roaring and growling-then a clash of metal and loud shouts, cheers and ,moans.
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“Those sounds came from the arena,” whispered his friend. ” Today is a holiday and all the people have gathered to watch what they call sport. Men fight against other men, wild animals destroy one another, and men are attacked by animals. One kind of sport the audience enjoys is watching a man try to escape from being eaten alive by a hungry lion. The lions are starved for days before the show to make sure they will be fierce and hungry enough.”
Just then a guard came to Androcles and pulled him to his feet. Androcles swayed unsteadily as he walked down a hall to a high gate. The audience jammed the seats all around the sandy, open area, chattering and laughing cruelly while they waited for the next part of the show. The emperor raised his hand. ” Let the next event begin!” he commanded. The gate was thrown open and the guard led Androcles to the center of the arena. He pushed the slave’s head downward in a low bow toward the emperor’s box and handed him a small club to use in defending himself.
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Now, Androcles waited, trembling. He heard a loud roaring and whirled to be ready to face the lion. He saw the gate swing open. He heard the cruel cheering of the crowd and for a moment he saw a great crouching lion in the gateway. He dropped the club, knowing it was useless. Then he closed his eyes and waited. He did not see the lion spring in long leaps across the arena toward him. He only heard the roar of the audience. He gritted his teeth and held his breath ready for the attack. But instead of sharp claws on his body, he felt something warm and furry against his legs! Androcles opened his eyes and looked down. The lion had reaching him and was rolling on the ground beside him, rubbing against the slave’s feet.
The crow’s noise stopped. Androcles looked at the lion more closely. This was his own lion! He patted and stroked him. He scratched behind the furry ears. The lion purred like a kitten.
” This is a miracle!” shouted the emperor.
“A miracle!” echoed his companions.
“A miracle!” roared the crowd.
The emperor called to Androcles and the slave approached him with the lion by his side.
” How is it that you have gained the love of this ferocious beast?” the emperor asked. Androcles told him of the thorn and of the lion’s kindness to him while they live in the cave.
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” Amazing!” exclaimed the emperor.” I have never heard of anything like this before. The emperor looked around him. The crowd was on its feet, with thumbs pointing up to signal that Androcles’ life should be spared. The emperor looked at Androcles for a moment; then he raised his thumb and the crowd went wild.
” From this day on,” he announced,” you will be free to go where you please and do what you please.”
” And the lion sir?” asked Androcles.
” He may leave too,” said the emperor. ” A beast that has the feelings of man deserves to be as free as a man.”And the gate swung open.
Androcles, his hand on the lion’s shaggy head, walked slowly out of the arena, along the streets of the quiet city and out into the fields around it. As they crossed the last field at the edge of the forest, Androcles and the lion ran into the woods and disappeared among the trees.
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