French fabulist Jean de La Fontaine wrote about an artist who painted a lion that had been killed by a hunter. In his story, people praise the painting because it shows human superiority over animals. A lion, overhearing the opinions of the people, chalks up their idea to imagination, explaining that “with better logic, we'd be winners in this fight if my fellow lions could paint or draw.” Viewing the painting The Persecution of Christians under Nero, a little girl burst into tears because she observed that a lion in the corner didn't have a Christian. To her, if Christians were on the lions' menu, there should have been enough for everyone. Fiesco, Count of Lavagna, created an animal fable on the political history of Genoa. When a bulldog tried to seize the throne, other animals, including the lion, revolted and eventually the lion was crowned king. Other stories in this book include such themes as sea lions, the baptized lion, and the story of Buddha changing himself into a lion.
Written not by a scientist but by the late, distinguished German philosopher Hans Blumenberg, the book uses lions as metaphors for the relationships between humans and animals. Thirty-two unique stories of two to nine pages each, including many philosophical analyses, make up this unusual volume. Originating in global locales from Abyssinia to Zurich, the stories are a mixture of fables and facts, old and recent, simple and complex. Besides the author, other philosophers such as Schopenhauer, Plato, Kant, Socrates, Nietzsche, and Bertrand Russell make appearances in these pages, along with historical figures such as Rousseau, Euripides, Luther, Goethe, Dostoevsky, Picasso, Aesop, Boswell, Ibsen, Hitler, Kaiser Wilhelm, the prophet Isaiah, and the apostle Paul, to name a few.
The stories touch on a large variety of subjects, including cannibalism, the power to exist, hunting, religion, politics, homeopathy, and analyses of lions in art, drama, and poetry, along with more philosophical topics such as morality, cosmology, mythology, philology, theodicy, theology, ethology, and metaphysics. The final story is the longest and relates an interesting Thomas Mann tale in which a little boy, Tonio Kröger, fears a pair of lion sculptures that hug the steps of a hotel.
Lions is a short but intense book, written in German and translated into English. For those with a serious interest in philosophy, there are fascinating and detailed discussions in these leonine stories. A clear understanding of philosophy is almost a prerequisite for reading and understanding the book, so it probably will not be attractive to most biology students. A few of the stories are fun to read and more likely to be appreciated by students or instructors who have at least some grasp of philosophy. Some understanding of Latin and Greek will also be helpful, as phrases and sayings in those languages are found in some of the stories. Despite the profound writing, there are occasional touches of mild humor (“Teacher: Name 4 animals in Africa; Pupils: 3 lions and a rhinoceros”). At the end, 18 pages of detailed supporting notes provide sources and additional background that can help readers get the most out of the 32 vignettes. Perhaps the best opinion is this old maxim shared by the author: “Philosophy is too hard for human beings.”
AMANDA GLAZE-CRAMPES is an Assistant Professor of Middle Grades & Secondary Science Education at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia. In addition to science teacher education, she has taught courses in biological sciences for grades 7–12 and undergraduate students over the last 13 years. Her interests include evolutionary biology, science and religion, and the intersections of science and society – specifically where scientific understandings are deemed controversial by the public. Glaze-Crampes holds degrees in science education from the University of Alabama and Jacksonville State University. Her address is Department of Teaching & Learning, Georgia Southern University, P.O. Box 8134, Statesboro, GA 30458; e-mail: email@example.com.