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International Socialism, Winter 1960/61


Slawomir Mrozek

The Lion – A Moral Tale


From International Socialism (1st series), No.3, Winter 1960/61, pp.16-17.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Slawomir Mrozek is one of the youngest of the ‘Poznan generation’ of Polish writers. His first play achieved great popularity in Warsaw, and he has already received the annual award of Przeglad Kulturalny (the cultural review) for a collection of short, rather ferocious, satires called Elephant. The story published here is probably the most representative of these satirical pieces.

Lion eating carrots

Caesar gave the signal. The gate was lifted and a thunderous roar echoed out of the dark cavern. In the middle of the arena the Christians clung closer together. The crowd rose to see better. An avalanche of sound swept round them – a vast sigh of excitement and cries of fear. The first lion, swift and supple, leapt into the arena. The games began.

Bondani Caius, the keeper of the lions, armed with a long pole, made sure all the animals were taking part. He was about to heave a sigh of relief when he saw, just by the gate, one lion, who, instead of bounding into the arena, had sat down and was quietly munching a carrot. Caius swore. It was his job, wasn’t it, to see that all the animals took part in the games? He went up to this one, staying, of course, well outside the minimum distance laid down by the work regulations covering health and safety, and with his pole, prodded the lion’s behind, to move him. To his amazement the lion only glanced round and waved his tail. Caius prodded him again – a little harder.

Beat it, said the lion.

Caius scratched his head. The lion had obviously intimated that he wanted neither words nor blows. Caius wasn’t a bad bastard, but he was worried in case the foreman saw him neglecting his job and might sling him into the arena along with the Christians. On the other hand, he didn’t want to get into an argument with the lion. He decided to try a little persuasion.

You might do it for me, he said to the lion.

Don’t take me for an ass, the lion replied, continuing to gnaw his carrot.

Bondani lowered his voice.

I’m not suggesting you actually eat anybody, but you might at least go through the motions, just to safeguard yourself. The lion gazed at his tail.

Look here, old man. I’m really not an idiot. They will all see me and remember me; And later on no-one will believe that I hadn’t eaten anybody.

The keeper sighed. He said with a tinge of regret,

But why the hell not?

The lion looked him thoughtfully in the eye.

You used the expression “safeguard yourself”. Haven’t you wondered why all those patricians up there don’t come down and eat the Christians themselves instead of using us lions?

Oh I don’t know. They’re mostly pretty old ... asthmatic ... not much wind ...

Old! growled the lion, condescendingly.

You haven’t a clue about politics. They’re simply safeguarding themselves.

But what against?

Against the possibility of change. In history, one must always think in terms of change. Haven’t you ever thought that the Christians might one day come into power?

Them? In power?

Of course. You’ve only got to read between the lines. Sooner or later, Constantine the Great will come to terms with them. And then? Re-examination of trials and rehabilitations. Those men in the stalls out there will have it easy. “It wasn’t us,” they will say, “it was the lions”.

I really hadn’t thought of that.

So you see. But I’m not worried about them, it’s my own skin I’m thinking about. When we get to it, everyone will know that I simply sat here and ate carrots. And between ourselves, they taste bloody awful.

Your friends are doing alright, though, gnawing on those Christians, Caius said unkindly.

The lion pulled a face.

Novices. Can’t see beyond their own noses. They’d join in anything. No sense of tactics. Peasants from the remotest colonies.

Listen ... stammered Caius.


If the Christians ever ... well ...

Well, what?

Well, if they ever come to power ...


Couldn’t you say that, come what may, I never forced you?

One’s highest duty is the safety of the State, quoted the lion, pompously, and went back to his carrot.

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