Lions in Homer

We are told that the Homer used similes so that the listener could relate the experiences in his epic to everyday experiencesof their own. If this is so, you wouldn’t have been able to throw a stone in the time of Homer without hitting a lion. The lion is the most common feature of a simile and you have have thought that the Homeric Greece was chockablock with these animals.

Well maybe not. I have had some difficulty in finding out when lions went extinct in Greece and Turkey. The best I have found is this from Richard Janko in his commentary in the Iliad.

Book 15 586—8 Thi s simile resembles the scene on Akhilleus’ shield where lions 
raid a herd of cattle defended by drovers and dogs (18.579fr.); this reflects 
the realities of life in Ionia. As if to authenticate the Nemean lion, lion-bones 
are known from Mycenaean Tiryns and Keos; lions roamed Macedonia 
throughout antiquity and Turkey until the sixteenth century A.D. (Hdt . 
7.125?; B. Hel ly, REA 70 (1968) 275-82; P. War reo, J HS 109 (1979) 1230.; 
J. Boessneck and A. von den Driesch, Archäologischer Anzeiger 1981, 257?). 

Lions were probably extinct round Athens and Attica long before this. I am sure that Plato somewhere mentions that one advantage that Athens has is that it is free from dangerous wild animals.

This is from Iliad 18.579. Not actually a simile but a description of a scene on Achilles’ shield.

Two fierce lions in the front of the cattle were holding down a bellowing bull and he was being dragged off with loud moans. The dogs and young men were going after him. But the lions had broken the hide of the great bull and were feasting on its innards and dark blood. The herdsmen pursued in vain urging on their dogs which were turning away from the lions and not biting  but standing close were howling and keeping out of their way.

σμερδαλέω δὲ λέοντε δύ’ ἐν πρώτῃσι βόεσσι

ταῦρον ἐρύγμηλον ἐχέτην: ὃ δὲ μακρὰ μεμυκὼς 580

ἕλκετο: τὸν δὲ κύνες μετεκίαθον ἠδ’ αἰζηοί.

τὼ μὲν ἀναρρήξαντε βοὸς μεγάλοιο βοείην

ἔγκατα καὶ μέλαν αἷμα λαφύσσετον: οἳ δὲ νομῆες

αὔτως ἐνδίεσαν ταχέας κύνας ὀτρύνοντες.

οἳ δ’ ἤτοι δακέειν μὲν ἀπετρωπῶντο λεόντων, 585

ἱστάμενοι δὲ μάλ’ ἐγγὺς ὑλάκτεον ἔκ τ’ ἀλέοντο.

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