The roar of the lion, its huge height, the massive bush of mane, the large head, and the oversized features of the beast all depict the wild animal’s tremendous strength and power. According to Ganetz, the lion is regarded as a one-of-a-kind animal that is both strong and controlling, earning it the title of “king of the jungle” (210). The lion’s size makes it a formidable animal, and its supremacy over other wild animals draws respect from humans who admire the animal’s wild nature and commanding roar. The presence of the lion in various geographical locations in the world made the animal famous and made people aware of its extraordinary stature and capabilities mostly associated with raw, untamed power. Over time, the lion has been associated with power and used as a symbol to show power among several cultures in the world (Osmond and Cimdina 62). Case and point among the Chinese, Egyptian and Greek cultures that have made the lion a power symbol. Overwhelmingly, many cultures have symbolized the lion, with myths, folklore, and religious beliefs being associated with the creature. The modern lifestyles have not been left behind in their reference of power to the lion, with art pieces and sculptures of the animal being showcased all over the world. The lion has been idolized in lots of cultures due to its symbol of power attributed to its features of raw strength, a mighty roar, enormous size and sheer force.
The Chinese culture surprisingly enough has the depictions of lions in their art, ceremonies, artifacts, and sculptures despite the lion not being a native of China. The lion’s symbolism in the Chinese culture derives its origin from the Indian culture from the Buddhist symbolism that depicted the lion as a creature that guarded the community against evil (Coren 216). According to Galvan, the Chinese myths adopted the belief that lions were creatures that protected human beings from the evil spirits from the Buddhist missionaries who visited China from India (23). The lion folklores were spread in China and made it a tradition to have celebrations that featured the symbolization of the lion. A festival such as the “Chinese Year of Lion dance” was dedicated for purposes of chasing away evil spirits, demons, and ghosts. Such ceremonies, feature creative artworks that are designed to mimic the features of the “lion dogs” that were represented in the early times of the Chinese culture. Art pieces and decorations with the symbols of the lion are also featured in the parades that take place in some of the streets of China.
Lions became a fascinating piece of art in the Chinese culture, and it became a typical feature incorporated in art and sculptures in China representing “power and prowess” (Welch 221). The assimilation of the lion’s image became a feature in Chinese imperial tombs, temples, homes of powerful government officials and the wealthy class, doorknobs and knockers, restaurants for the upper class. This is the belief that the lion figure held power and played the role of guarding their owners against harm (Welch 301). Drawings of the lion were also seen patterned in walls, floors, rugs and pottery works. Welch in his book on Chinese Art: A Guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery says that “lions were admired for their strength and courage, and hence were associated with military and hunting prowess” (299). The wealthy made statues of the lion and were placed in from of their doors and gates for the beauty and the mythological notion of protecting its owners. Additionally, some crafts incorporated the image of the lion in silverware for its decorative purposes, made the cutlery expensive, and associated with the rich.
Ancient Chinese films also made the use of lions as symbols to show power and for prestige purposes. The lion’s sculptures known as “Lion Dogs” are seen in the temples of China, an indication that the mythical belief attached to the lion was also carried to the religious sector in the Chinese culture. Buddhists according to Coren introduced the use of lions in religion, since the lion was “a major symbol in Buddhism, and its image appeared in legends surrounding the life of Buddha” (Coren 216). The modern culture of China still celebrates the lion for its mythical powers associated with it, as well as includes the image of the lion in their art and craft. In china, the coins and notes used in the country hold the images of the lion in most parts of the country due to the historic significance of the animal to the country’s culture. The lion in the Chinese culture gives the representation of power, and an association derived from the features of the lion that includes its claws, mane, teeth, eyes and massive size. The importance of the lion in the culture of China is key in representation of Chinese art as most of the mythical creatures such as the “lion dogs” portray likeness to the features of the lion.
In the Egyptian culture, the power of the lion is mostly associated with its gods, notably “Apedemek” known as the “Lion-God” (Falola 57). Falola explains that “the god himself was represented either by the head of a lion and the body of a snake or by the head of a lion and the body of a man” (57). In the ancient Egyptian times, through their art, there was the portrayal of the features of a lion in the mythical creatures, due to the power and respect they held for the lion (Kemp 99). The lion as an ancient Egyptian art featured in most of the drawings and used as a decoration feature in handles of some weapons. The myth surrounding the lion in Egypt also informs on the show of power that the king had to undertake by killing the lion. Killing of the lion and wearing its skin and mane showed power and made the pharaohs the most feared and respected rulers of Egypt (Spalding 61). The lion is portrayed in drawings in the ancient Egyptian tombs for it was symbolic in the representation of the ancient Egyptian culture and their belief in their gods. Most of the representation of the lion in the Egyptian culture’s art and drawings gave its symbolic representation of power.
Along with the king, the image of the lion is also used by the gods of Egypt considered the supernatural protectors of the people of Egypt. The lion was believed to be a powerful animal that lived in the deserts of Egypt and ruled the desert lands due to its powerful stature and loud expansive roars that made other animals cower. The myth of the lion in Egypt made it a prominent symbolic animal with the association of power in the ancient Egypt and the political class in Egypt. As discussed by Spalding, the associating of the king with the image of mythical creatures was mostly associated with the lion since it demonstrated the power and authority of the king to the people (61). The modern cultures still use the lion in Egypt in artwork especially those of their gods due to the historical significance of the past culture of Egypt under the rule of the pharaohs. The symbolism of the lion in the Egyptian culture holds significance for its association with the ancient history of the country and the importance it has in the modern world to help understand the Egypt cultural traditions. Several symbolic artifacts associated with the Egyptian cultures, bear representation of mythical creatures that are almost alike to the lion due to the contrasting features such as its head, mane and eyes.
In Greece, the common folklore in the Greek culture speaks of the myth of a mortal being, “Herakles” slaying a mythical lion creature. According to Almagor and Maurice, the Nemean lion was slain by Herakles as part of his 12 labors that had been given to him by the king, which were impossible tasks for any human being to undertake (140). The myth tells of the lion of Nemea that lived in the town of Nemea, which is said to have terrorized the residents for a long time and since it was difficult to kill it. The myth claims that the Nemean lion had fur that was “impervious to attacks because it was made up of gold”, therefore it was impossible to use any weapon against the lion since it could not pierce its “gold skin”. Additionally, the folklore is told that the lion of Nemea had claws that were sharper than “mortals’ swords” referring to the swords of warriors and that the claws could tear through armor. The symbolism of power is also demonstrated with the myth that Herakles used the Nemean lion’s claws to skin the lion and wore its hide. The hide of the lion was believed to be used as armor by Herakles, and made his legend of being a powerful warrior resonate in the ancient Greece.
The lion in ancient Greece is symbolized for power and wealth, which made them feature in the Greek myths. The myth of Herakles was a popularly told story in the Greek culture since the character was considered a son of their god “Zeus”. The Greeks culture is characterized by the belief of supernatural beings they refer to as “gods”, who it is believed protect them from evil doings and catastrophic happenings. Herakles is believed to be the son of Zeus since he was powerful than the average man and he performed feats that no mortal could be able to accomplish (Hard 247). It is said that Herakles “strangled the Nemean lion with his bare hands” since no weapons could penetrate the lion’s skin, an exhibition of the strength of Herakles (Hard 256). Lions also feature in coins, artwork, buildings, statues, and artifacts in many Greek cities. The representation of the lion also features in the architecture of Greek buildings whereby there are statues of the lions and lionesses that are carved with their mouths open in front of the buildings. Also, lion wallpapers in rooms of historic architectural buildings are a common feature in Greek architectural works. These lions depiction in the Greek culture was to demonstrate the power and inspire fear to the war shippers that would occasionally invade the island (“Lions in Ancient Greece, Plato’s Academy.”).
In conclusion, the lion has been symbolically represented in many cultures of the world due to its characteristics and striking appearance that exhibits strength and power. The lion is historically a significant animal for it has been involved in several cultural myths, folklore, religion and even cuts across the modern culture. The raw force and sheer strength of the lion have made it possible to represent the idea of influence and power to the animal since it has the commanding presence with it even in the real world. The Chinese cultures have incorporated the symbolic depiction of the lion to their cultural myths, artwork, artifacts, sculptures and so much more. It has gained fame, as the portrayal of the lion in China is typical and has given rise to mythical creatures with the representation of the lion. While in the Egyptian culture, the lion is a representation of their long history of the ancient times whereby the pharaohs and the Egyptian gods ruled the land. The symbolism of the lion portrayed influence and power to the people of Egypt. It has also been idolized in their art and craft in the ancient cities. Lastly, in the Greek culture, the lion is symbolized by the mythical Nemean lion that was slain by Herakles. The lion is portrayed as a show of strength, power, and prowess in the Greek culture and it is extended to their art and craft in the cities of Greece. Indeed, the lion holds an essential symbolic representation in several cultures as an illustration of power; the power associated with the animal itself.
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Galván, Javier A., ed. They Do What? A Cultural Encyclopedia of Extraordinary and Exotic Customs from around the World: A Cultural Encyclopedia of Extraordinary and Exotic Customs from around the World. ABC-CLIO, 2014.
Ganetz, Hillevi. “Familiar beasts.” Nordicom Review 25.1-2 (2004): 197-213.
Hard, Robin. The Routledge Handbook of Greek Mythology: Based on HJ Rose’s Handbook of Greek Mythology. Routledge, 2003.
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“Lions In Ancient Greece, Plato’s Academy.” Platos-Academy.Com, 2011, http://platos-academy.com/lions-in-ancient-greece/.
Osmond, Jonathan, and Ausma Cimdiņa, eds. Power and culture: identity, ideology, representation. Vol. 2. Edizioni Plus, 2007.
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