The Wounded Lion


Whenever I am visiting the beautiful city of Lucerne in Switzerland, I always must pay my respects to the Lion Monument, a sad sculpture designed by a famous Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen. The sculpture shows a mortally wounded, weeping lion, impaled by a spear and resting on a shield. It commemorates the Swiss Guards who were massacred in large numbers during the French Revolution.

Mark Twain, who travelled extensively in Switzerland, called the sculpture “the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world.” I have seen the sculpture in every season but I was particularly moved by it yesterday on a warm and sunny day. First the lion was in full sun but then the shade started approaching fast, engulfing his body mercilessly. The lion, identified with the Sun in myth, was being defeated and swallowed by the shadow. And yet he looked so noble and brave despite his weakness and misery. I thought of the Sun entering its nightly course through the night sea in the Egyptian mythology. The death of the Sun every night was symbolically compared by Jung to the death of the ego before it takes a plunge into the waters of the unconscious.

Here are more reflections of Mark Twain on this extraordinary sculpture:

The Lion lies in his lair in the perpendicular face of a low cliff — for he is carved from the living rock of the cliff. His size is colossal, his attitude is noble. His head is bowed, the broken spear is sticking in his shoulder, his protecting paw rests upon the lilies of France. Vines hang down the cliff and wave in the wind, and a clear stream trickles from above and empties into a pond at the base, and in the smooth surface of the pond the lion is mirrored, among the water-lilies.

Around about are green trees and grass. The place is a sheltered, reposeful woodland nook, remote from noise and stir and confusion — and all this is fitting, for lions do die in such places, and not on granite pedestals in public squares fenced with fancy iron railings. The Lion of Lucerne would be impressive anywhere, but nowhere so impressive as where he is.

Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad



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24 Responses to The Wounded Lion

  1. Very nice. I like the parallel with Egyptian myth, and death of ego by shadows of unconscious. I’ve been exploring such effects of light and shadow in a painting of a memorial sculpture. I wonder how much these are due to representational content (noble, dying lion, angel etc.) and how much is due to harmonious arrangement of masses and voids/light and shadow. The purely physical qualities if sculpture.
    I imagine it is a happy combination of the two.


  2. Don says:

    Thank you for this. Very moving and deeply meaningful. Mark Twain’s words are a profound expression of soul.


  3. Deeply touching. I told a friend once I was a morning depressive. He said he was an evening depressive. Maybe this Lion, because it does rise, in a Christ-like fashion, each day, is like my friend. Waiting for late night and sleep to do its healing work, and for dreams to cleanse hearts for the following sunrise. Doesn’t that sound nice? (:


  4. Gypsy Lizardkilt says:

    That is an absolutely beautiful sculpture. Oddly, from a distance I thought the lion was peacefully asleep.

    Twain’s writing can be quite beautiful, especially his travel writing. He’s known more for his comedic writing, of course, but he was gifted in other genres, as well.

    It occurs to me that popular culture gives us a wounded lion who has a happier ending at the end of a golden (Sun?) road.


    • I need to read his travel accounts then. By popular culture do you mean The Lion King? I think you do. The Lion in the sculpture is dying but there is an aura of peaceful acceptance around him.


      • Gypsy Lizardkilt says:

        I was thinking more of the Cowardly Lion on his quest down the yellow brick road to recover his “lost” courage. I actually haven’t seen The Lion King. Everything Disney’s put out since the ’70s gives me a case of the grumps.


      • Ah, I should have known!


  5. renatembell says:

    Speaking of movies, this immediately made me think of Aslan from The Chronicles of Naria. What a stunning, powerful sculpture and memorial, and a beautiful place. I have never heard of The Lion of Lucerne until now, thanks to you. (thank you) This must be particularly moving to Leo Rising and Sun in Leo people. But then everyone has Leo somewhere.


  6. Beautifully written and photographed. The nobility is well captured in the sculpture. It makes me ponder strength, deep inner strength, in contradistinction to might and bravado, weapons and pride. Though the lion is often associated with pride, there is none in this regal being. Much to contemplate.


    • Yes, really well put. He represents deep inner strength in face of attack and oppression. Humans are in deep need to transform that shadow lion energy that you talk about.


  7. Gypsy Lizardkilt says:

    I think we’re running on the same track again; it just took me a bit to realize it. 🙂 The Scientist, soon to be joining us, is a triple Leo, quadruple if you want to throw Mercury in there, too — and at that point, why not?


  8. Pingback: Running ̊Soŋ – Poems collection pt. 6 | The RunningFather Blog

  9. Claude says:

    To the Swiss, this beautiful lion commemorates the sacrifice of the Swiss guards defending King Louis XVI of France at the Tuileries Palace in 1792. These guards were butchered by the revolutionary mob. There is another huge stone lion in quite a different attitude in Belfort, France, not far from the Swiss border. This other fierce lion this time refers to the heroic resistance of the town people against the Prussians during the French-Prussian war of 1870 which saw the downfall of the Second French Empire of Napoleon III and the (temporary) loss of Alsace and Lorraine to Germany. As we can see, lions, though more of a British imperial symbol, were also used as a historical symbol on the Continent.


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