Pope Leo the Lion

March 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

If you believe, oh elephant, that you serve a lion of Libya,
You are deceiving yourself,
This lion has fallen from the sky.

Giovanni Capitone Aretino, 1514

“This lion” refers to Pope Leo X, and “oh elephant” to Annone.  (In 1514 there were still lions in North Africa, along with the Atlas bear and Barbary leopard, but no more elephants. More than a millennium before, thousands of North African mammals had been hunted, captured and taken to Rome to be slaughtered in public spectacles. The Barbary lion was extinct in the wild by 1922. A few leopards persist.)

Since the early 20th century, Lion of Libya has referred to Omar Mukhtar, leader of a guerrilla resistance to Italian colonialism from 1912 until he was captured and hanged in 1931. In 2009, while on a state visit to Rome, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, another Lion of Libya, wore a photograph of Mukhtar hanging on his chest. A film  about Mukhtar, “Lion of the Desert”, originally banned in 1982 by Italian authorities, was broadcast on national television during Gadffi’s visit.

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