The interest towards the lion has its deep roots in the very dawn of humanity. This interest rises to a level of admiration as a phenomenon of the Western Civilization*. Why did this happen and how? Unfortunately we cannot trace the verbal narrative from five or six thousand years ago, however it is possible to follow the development of lion depictions through time, the context in which they are depicted, the situations, the style , postures and other elements which could provide clues about the origin of the admiration towards the lion as a cultural phenomenon
One of the most stable art motifs throughout history which includes lions is the so called "Master of Animals" - a composition of two animals (ranging from domestic animals, snakes, to lions, tigers or bears depending on the geographical location and time) facing a central figure, usually human. The "Master of Animals" is the base on which later heraldic and coat of arms subjects evolved. Its traces can be found in the coat of arms of many modern states - for example the UK and Bulgaria
The "Master of Animals" is considered strictly a symbolic /religious subject . Its origin is not clear. Its origin is not clear. Was it based on natural phenomena or was it a product of human imagination?
There are some ancient depictions of lions - which contain elements of the "Master of Animals" motif and at the same time they can be interpreted as depictions based on natural events The interpretations as "natural events" are not alternative interpretations but rather parallel alongside with symbolic/spiritual/religious ones. At least in terms of lions those depictions could be considered to be a connection between the "Master of Animals" and the natural phenomena which were base for its origin.
Wadi Mathendous Libya - Neolithic
Wadi Mathedous relief complete scene is more complex, but the additional depictions also agree with the same natural interpretation
Nekhen ( Hierakonpolis ) tomb painting - Predinastic Egypt - Naqada II (Gerzeh culture) - the oldest known (confirmed) depiction of upright lions facing a man - the motif "Master of Animals" **
Possible natural interpretation - daily life in rural community alongside Nile, depicting an attack of a coalition of man eating lions, a situation similar to the 19 Century Tsavo Man Eaters .
Two dog palette (Ashmolean Museum palette) - Predinastic Egypt - Naqada III
Possible natural interpretation: Male lion coalition hunting gazelles ( Dorcas species complex)
ASIA - THE MIDDLE EAST***
Motif from the sound box of a Harp of Ur # U 12354
Plate 104 Right in : Leonard Woolley 1934. Ur Excavations: Vol.II The Royal Cemetery (2 Vols: Text & Plates), A Report on the Predynastic and Sargonid Graves Excavated Between 1926 and 1931. Volume II Text & Volume II Plates
Possible natural interpretation: Male lion coalition hunting on Nubian ibex.
Jiroft, 3rd mil.**** BC Azerbaijan Museum in Tabriz, Iran
Possible natural interpretation: A male lion coalition killing a large bovid (the depiction does not exclude the possibility the depicted bovid to be a bison)
* By the definition of Kenneth Clark
**The oldest depiction of two upright lions facing a man is considered to be the carving on the handle of the Gebel el Arak Knife. It is dated Naqada II, however the origin and consequently the dating of the knife are questionable. It is purchased from an antique dealer and consequently was assumed that it is from Abydos. Nevertheless the actual circumstances of its origin are unknown. As a style, craftsmanship and theme it is similar to artifacts dated Naqada III (both knifes and palettes). The scene seems to be strictly symbolic.
*** In Asia (the Middle East) the Master of Animals motif appears quite early in the iconography and seems it was a symbolic scene from the very beginning, the animals including goats, bovines, and snakes, facing the central figure with the heads turned backwards. From the cats family the earliest depictions are those of leopards or cheetah (here at Çatalhöyük) , lions appear later. The earliest known scene with lions is a vase from Tell Agrab 2900-2700 BC. Lions do no face the man
**** The Jiroft culture was postulated (defined) in the early 2000, based on confiscated artifacts associated with the city of Jiroft, Iran. The dating of it is questionable.