Recently, I revisited the Striding Lion relief at the ROM. I have stood before it many times, and it still captures my imagination and stirs me deeply. Why?
I learn from the notes that the relief originally adorned the façade of the palace of King Nebuchadnezzar II (604-562 BC) at Babylon. This king not only initiated the Babylonian Captivity of the Jews, but also oversaw the construction of the iconic ziggurat, the Tower Of Babel. You might ask, why would such a king want to feature lions prominently in his palace?
In Mesopotamian myths, the lion is king of the wild, representing the natural antithesis to the Babylonian ruler, who exemplified and personified the established order of things. The lion was not merely an animal, but a great power and in some respects his equal. It is not mere decoration, and evokes feelings of great power. (In an earlier post, I wrote about the Mithras relief in the Near East Gallery. In that piece, Mithras engaged with the bull and dominated it completely — a mastery of will.)
At home, I took out Linden Macintyre’s story about the piece, which incudes this passage:
The tawny lion, rampant, strides across his medium of glazed blue brick, jaws wide in a territorial roar, and we are linked by his reality to a civilization that flourished two and a half millennia ago…The striding lion and his assertion of immortality, and the boundless possibilities in human creativity, leave us silent, contemplative, perhaps inspired.
As an accomplished writer, Macintyre shows how it is possible to feel the power of this striding lion today. It’s not just a historical record but a living testament of greater forces that transcend our everyday dreamings.
I am a little closer to understanding why this relief stirs me (aside from being a great relief from the tedious flat images that bombard me today!) One important lesson is the cultivation of my own feelings. Next time I find myself in a difficult conversation, perhaps I will think of the lion and assert the boundless possibilities in human creativity.
Every Object Tells A Story, Royal Ontario Museum, 2014 (articles by Clemens Reichel and Linden Macintyre)
ROM Online Collection notes
Related post: Babylon Today