Ancient West Asian society utilizes a striking image that causes no end of confusion — the lady and the lion. Although not always identified, the lady generally appears to have been a goddess. Pairing a female figure with the most ferocious predator known in that society ripples with significance; there can be no question that the cultures involved were patriarchal, a fact of life in that part of the world at that time. If it was a man’s world, why depict the glorious lion with the feminine? Because we fear what we cannot control?
Ostensibly the rationale for this correlation may be traced back to Ishtar, the goddess sine pari of ancient Mesopotamia. The exact reason for her leonine associations is unknown yet she is among the fiercest females connected to warfare and strife in the ancient world. Her lion companions ranged over the realms of the Levant where other goddesses also assimilated her imagery. Curiously, one goddess who has no specifically leonine attributes is Asherah, the consort of the god most high, El. In Egypt the fierce goddess associated with war was Sekmet, often portrayed with a curiously male lion head.
In an earlier post I suggested that the biblical prophet Amos may have known that lionesses generally make the kill. Could it not be that although most women were locked out of public power structures in the ancient world they still may have retained the utmost respect and reverence of the populace? Long before male monarchs claimed titles such as “Lionheart” even gods would tremble before an enraged goddess. Morphed through time and continued patriarchal culture, the connection once again recurs in Frank Stockton’s The Lady or the Tiger where the metaphor has lost its teeth and the lady is no longer the source of destruction, but of male desire. Has the male prerogative once again usurped feminine independence? If only Ishtar or Sekmet could have been behind door number three!