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Labyrinth A sonnet of Petrarchs tells how desire, love, pleasure, habit, and blind hope

have trapped him; it concludes: ‘‘One thousand three hundred twenty-seven,

exactly / at the first hour of the sixth day of April, / I entered the labyrinth,

nor do I see where to get out’’ (Rime 211). That was the moment he met Laura.

The original labyrinth of classical mythology was the vast maze under the

palace of King Minos of Crete, inside which was the Minotaur, product of the

monstrous lust of the queen for a bull. It was built by Daedalus and finally

entered and exited (after he slew the monster) by Theseus, with the help of

Ariadne and her ball of string. Aeneas learns the story as he examines the

doors of a temple that Daedalus himself built, just before Aeneas must

descend into another labyrinth, Hades (Virgil, Aeneid 6.14--41). Ovid tells the

story briefly in Metamorphoses 8.152--82, Catullus at greater length in

64.50--266; see also Plutarch, Life of Theseus 15--16. Ovids Heroides 10 is a letter

from the abandoned Ariadne to Theseus, a version that lies behind Chaucers

‘‘Legend of Ariadne’’ and Gowers Confessio Amantis 5.5231--5495.

The name Daedalus comes from Greek daidalos, ‘‘cunningly wrought.’’ Taken

into Latin, the adjective is used by Virgil, for instance, to refer to beehives,

daedala . . . tecta, ‘‘intricate (or labyrinthine) dwellings’’ (Georgics 4.179). Lucretius

phrase daedala tellus (1.7), meaning something like ‘‘manifold (or variegated)

earth,’’ has had many imitators: Spenser has ‘‘Then doth the daedale earth

throw forth to thee / Out of her fruitfull lap aboundant flowres’’ (FQ 4.10.45);

and Shelley, ‘‘The daedal earth, / That island in the ocean of the world, / Hung

in its cloud of all-sustaining air’’ (‘‘Ode to Liberty’’ 18--20). In French the noun

dйdale means ‘‘maze’’ or ‘‘labyrinth.’’

The first metaphorical use of ‘‘labyrinth’’ is found in Platos Euthydemus,

where Socrates likens a fruitless philosophical inquiry to falling into a

labyrinth, where we think we are at the finish but the path turns and we are

back at the beginning (291b). Boethius uses the same trope in Consolation of

Philosophy 3p12; in Chaucers charming translation, thou ‘‘hast so woven me

with thi resouns the hous of Dedalus, so entrelaced that it is unable to ben


Anything impenetrable or inextricable might be called a labyrinth. For

Christians, sin is a wandering off the path of righteousness into labyrinthine

tangles. ‘‘Leaving the public road,’’ Ambrose writes, sinners ‘‘often run into

labyrinths of error and are punished for having left the road’’ (Exposition of

Psalm 118.59). Dante does not mention the labyrinth in his Inferno (though the

Minotaur is there), but the concentric circles, walls, broken bridges, and

‘‘pouches’’ make hell a great labyrinth itself. Chaucer compares the House of

Rumor, full of error and confusion, with the ‘‘Domus Dedaly, / That

Laboryntus cleped [called] ys’’ (House of Fame 1920--21). Spensers ‘‘shadie grove’’

of Error is a labyrinth of many paths and turnings (FQ 1.1.11). Miltons Satan

seeks the serpent and finds him with symbolically resonant coils: ‘‘him fast

sleeping soon he found / In labyrinth of many a round self rolled’’ (PL 9.182--83).

Petrarchs labyrinth of love becomes the theme of many Renaissance works,

such as Boccaccios Laberinto d’Amore, part of Il Corbaccio, a place where men

are trapped by the illusions of passion and turned into animals. Cervantes

wrote a comedy, El Laberinto de Amor. Mary Wroth begins a sonnet, ‘‘In this

strange labyrinth how shall I turn?’’ Rejecting every possible step, she is

moved ‘‘to leave all, and take the thread of love.’’ In one of the phases of

Blakes ‘‘Mental Traveller’’ a desert is planted with ‘‘Labyrinths of wayward

Love’’ (83).

In more recent literature labyrinthine settings are common: passageways of

castles in gothic novels, forests, caves, and so on. Cities are labyrinthine in

Eugene Sues Mysteries of Paris and Hugos Notre Dame of Paris; Hugo gives an

elaborate account of the labyrinth of sewers under Paris in Les Miserables.

London is a labyrinth in Dickenss Oliver Twist and Bleak House. Detective novels

presume the impenetrability of cities, impenetrable to all but the detective.

Chapter 10 of Joyces Ulysses (‘‘Wandering Rocks’’) has been described as

labyrinthine in the way it follows the movements of a dozen characters

through the streets of Dublin; the whole novel might be well described as a

labyrinth, and indeed one of its leading characters is named Stephen Dedalus.

One of Borgess collections of stories, called Labyrinths in its English version,

presents several literal and metaphorical labyrinths, including a mysterious

and seemingly chaotic novel called The Garden of the Forking Paths, which is

about time and eternity. A literal labyrinth is central to Ecos The Name of the

Rose, a metaphorical one to Marquezs The General in his Labyrinth.

There is a technical distinction between a labyrinth and a maze, the

labyrinth being ‘‘unicursal’’ (with one path), the maze ‘‘multicursal’’ (with

branching paths); one can get lost only in a maze. This distinction, however, is

seldom observed in literature.

Land see Nature

Lark The lark, also called the laverock, is one of the most popular birds in

post-classical European poetry. The crested lark appears occasionally in Greek

literature, but not the skylark, with its distinctive literary characteristics.

Latin had a word for the skylark, alauda (perhaps borrowed from Gaulish),

giving French alouette and Italian allodetta, but the bird seldom appears in

Latin literature. In English, ‘‘lark’’ by itself (from a Germanic root) usually

refers to the skylark (Alauda arvensis). This little brown bird is known for the

loud, merry, musical song that it sings only in flight and notably early in the

morning; it soars so high it disappears in the light, though its song might

still be heard.

‘‘Alas, near all the birds / Will sing at dawn,’’ Elizabeth Barrett Browning

reminds us (Aurora Leigh 1.951--52), but in literature the lark is the dawn bird,

the one who begins the singing and rouses the others. ‘‘Hark, hark, the lark

at heavens gate sings, / And Phoebus gins arise,’’ according to the famous

song in Shakespeares Cymbeline (2.3.19--20); ‘‘the lark at break of day arising /

From sullen earth, sings hymns at heavens gate’’ (Sonnets 29.11--12); twice

elsewhere Shakespeare calls it ‘‘the morning lark’’ (MND 4.1.94, TS, Ind. 2.44).

In Spenser: ‘‘The merry Larke her mattins sings aloft’’ (Epithalamium 80) and

‘‘With merry note her [Aurora] loud salutes the mounting larke’’ (FQ 1.11.51).

To get up early is to ‘‘rise with the lark’’ (R3 5.3.56; Wordsworth, Excursion

4.491). Miltons description is definitive: ‘‘Thus wore out night, and now the

Herald Lark / Left his ground-nest, high towring to descry / The morns

approach, and greet her with his Song’’ (PR 2.279--81).

The sound of the song is conventionally ‘‘tirra-lirra’’ (e.g., Shakespeare, WT

4.3.9); in French it is ‘‘tire-lire.’’

The lark is often paired with the nightingale, most famously in Romeo and

Juliet 3.5. Wordsworth contrasts the ‘‘Lark of the dawn, and Philomel of night’’

(‘‘Liberty’’ 82); Tennyson contrasts ‘‘the morning song of the lark’’ and ‘‘the

nightingales hymn in the dark’’ (‘‘The First Quarrel’’ 33--34). (See Nightingale.)

The heights to which the lark mounts -- ‘‘mounting’’ is in fact a common

adjective since Spenser at least (FQ 1.11.51) -- gave it religious associations, as if

it were a chorister or angel. It is charmingly expressed in the medieval Welsh

poet Dafydd ap Gwilyms phrase ‘‘a cantor from the chapel of God’’ (‘‘The

Skylark’’). Dante mentions it once, in a simile in the Paradiso (20.73--75). In

both his ‘‘Skylark’’ poems Wordsworth calls ‘‘divine’’ some feature of the bird.

In an earlier work he writes of the ‘‘gay lark of hope’’ (Descriptive Sketches 528),

while in the first ‘‘To a Skylark’’ he takes the contrast between the larks

joyous flight and song with his own weary plodding through life as an

occasion to express ‘‘hope for higher raptures, when lifes day is done.’’

That this bird among others triggers yearnings in human listeners is

explained by Faust to his student: ‘‘And yet inborn in all our race / Is impulse

upward, forward, and along, / When overhead and lost in azure space / The

lark pours forth its trilling song’’ (Goethe, Faust I 1092--95, trans. Passage).

Shelley in ‘‘To a Sky-Lark’’ yearns to become as capable as the bird, which he

compares to a ‘‘Poet hidden / In the light of thought’’ (36--37).

Perhaps the most astonishing and elaborately symbolic treatment of the

lark is found in Blakes poem Milton. Just as the morn appears the lark springs

from the corn-field and ‘‘loud / He leads the Choir of Day! trill, trill, trill,

trill, / Mounting upon the wings of light into the Great Expanse: / Reecchoing

against the lovely blue & shining heavenly Shell: / His little throat labours

with inspiration; every feather / On throat & breast & wings vibrates with the

effluence Divine[.] / All Nature listens silent to him & the awful Sun / Stands

still upon the Mountain looking on this little Bird’’ (31.30--37).

Laurel The laurel (or bay) was sacred to Apollo, god of prophecy, poetry, and music,

perhaps originally because chewing them or inhaling their aroma seemed to

induce a prophetic trance. The pythoness or priestess of Apollo was crowned

with laurel (Greek daphne), as were the victors in the Pythian games, celebrated

by Pindar. Hesiod reports that the muses gave him a shoot of laurel as a staff

and then breathed a divine voice in him (Theogony 30--32). Laurel grew in the

sacred grove of Delos, the island dedicated to Apollo (Euripides, Hecuba 459);

and his temples were decked with it (Ion 80, 103). Before long it became

conventional that Apollo and his nine muses wore laurel; as Spenser was to

put it, ‘‘The Muses . . . were wont greene bayes to weare’’ (SC ‘‘November’’ 146).

The myth of Apollo and Daphne is memorably told by Ovid. After Daphne is

changed into a laurel tree, Phoebus (Apollo) vows, ‘‘Since thou canst not be

my bride, thou shalt at least be my tree! My hair, my lyre, my quiver shall

always be entwined with thee, O laurel. With thee shall Roman generals

wreathe their heads . . . ’’ (Met. 1.557--60). Ovid also reminds us that laurel is

‘‘unfading’’ or evergreen (Tristia 3.1.45), as befits a symbol of fame.

Victors in battle were indeed sometimes crowned with laurel; to quote

Spenser again, it was ‘‘the meed of mightie conquerours’’ as well as of ‘‘Poets

sage’’ (FQ 1.1.9). See Virgil, Eclogues 8.11--13, quoted under Ivy.

After the Italian poet Petrarch was made the first modern poet laureate

(crowned with the laurel) in 1341 at the Capitol in Rome, he explained that he

chose laurel for his crown not only for its associations with prophecy and

Apollo but for its fragrance (fame), its evergreen leaves (eternity), and its

supposed immunity from lightning. He seems not to have known that the

victors of the ancient Capitoline poetry contests were crowned with oak

leaves. ‘‘The crown / Which Petrarchs laureate brow supremely wore,’’ in

Byrons words (Childe Harold 4.57), became the prototype for the wreath of all

poets laureate, or ‘‘the lauriat fraternity of poets,’’ in Miltons phrase (Apology

for Smectymnuus).

Milton opens his pastoral elegy Lycidas with three plants associated with

poetry: ‘‘Yet once more, O ye laurels, and once more / Ye Myrtles brown, with

Ivy never sere, / I come to pluck your Berries . . . ’’ He is in part alluding to

Virgils ‘‘Second Eclogue’’ -- ‘‘You too, O laurels, I will pluck, and you, their

neighbor myrtle’’ (54--55) -- the plants of Apollo and Venus, appropriate to a

song about love. (See also Horace 3.4.18--19.) Petrarch wrote that ivy and myrtle

would also have been appropriate for his crown, and another account of his

coronation reports that all three were used.

Byron once pointedly contrasts laurel (fame or glory) with myrtle and ivy

(love): ‘‘And the myrtle and ivy of sweet two-and-twenty / Are worth all your

laurels, though ever so plenty’’ (‘‘Stanzas Written on the Road between

Florence and Pisa’’ 3--4).

See Ivy, Myrtle, Oak.

Lead The heaviest common metal, pale and dull in appearance, lead sits on the

bottom of the traditional hierarchy of metals. In the Old Testament it is

included among the baser metals in prophetic visions of Gods testing the

‘‘mettle’’ of his people: Jeremiah says the rejected people are brass, iron, lead,

and ‘‘reprobate’’ or spurious silver (6.28--30); Ezekiel says they are dross: ‘‘all

they are brass, and tin, and iron, and lead, in the midst of the furnace; they

are even the dross of silver’’ (22.18). Its heaviness is the reason for a simile in

the Song of Moses -- Pharaohs host ‘‘sank as lead in the mighty waters’’ (Exod.

15.10) -- which has remained a commonplace; e.g., the albatross slips off

Coleridges Ancient Mariner ‘‘and sank / Like lead into the sea’’ and later ‘‘The

ship went down like lead’’ (‘‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’’ 290--91, 549).

Alchemists strove to transform the base or vile metal lead into gold. As it is

the heaviest it was considered the ‘‘slowest’’ metal, and was thus connected

with slowest planet Saturn. Spenser calls it ‘‘sad lead’’ (FQ 3.11.48) and twice

uses the phrase ‘‘sad as lump of lead,’’ once of a melancholy person, once of a

literal weight (2.1.45, 2.8.30); ‘‘sad’’ meant ‘‘heavy,’’ as ‘‘saturnine’’ meant

‘‘slow’’ or ‘‘gloomy.’’ Shelley once calls it ‘‘sullen lead’’ (PU 4.541). It was not

among the traditional four races or ages, which were gold, silver, bronze, and

iron, but it was available to characterize a really dull and heavy time. In The

Dunciad Pope sees ‘‘Dulness’’ ‘‘hatch a new Saturnian age of lead’’ (b 1.28),

cleverly reversing the usual association of Saturn with the golden age. Byron

writes of ‘‘Generals, some all in armor, of the old / And iron time, ere lead had taen the lead’’ (Don Juan 13.553--54) -- not only implying that the present

time is worse than ‘‘iron’’ but that lead bullets and shot, which penetrate

iron, have made it so.

The paradox that the heaviest metal flies swiftest on the battlefield was

irresistible. So Shakespeares Moth and Armado have this exchange: ‘‘As swift

as lead, sir.’’ ‘‘Is not lead a metal heavy, dull, and slow? . . . I say, lead is slow.’’

‘‘You are too swift, sir, to say so. Is that lead slow which is fired from a gun?’’

(LLL 3.1.57--63).

‘‘Leaden’’ in Latin (plumbeus) occasionally meant ‘‘oppressive’’ or ‘‘dull.’’ In

English it often meant ‘‘slow,’’ as in Shakespeares ‘‘leaden age, / Quickened

with youthful spleen’’ (1H6 4.6.12--13) or Sidneys ‘‘leaden eyes’’ that miss

‘‘sweet beauties show’’ (Astrophil Song 7). Miltons ‘‘lazy leaden-stepping

hours, / Whose speed is but the heavy Plummets pace’’ (‘‘On Time’’ 2--3),

wittily reminds us that the plummet of a clock is made of lead (from Latin

plumbum). It often went with sleep, as in Shakespeares ‘‘leaden slumber’’ (R3

5.3.105); Popes ‘‘leaden slumbers press his drooping eyes’’ (Odyssey 4.610); or

this from Young: ‘‘Night . . . / . . . stretches forth / Her leaden Scepter oer a

slumbering world’’ (Night Thoughts 1.18--20). Melancholy walks ‘‘with leaden

eye’’ in Grays ‘‘Ode to Adversity’’ (28).

It had a particular association with death because of the common use of

lead-lined coffins. Spenser uses the formulaic phrase ‘‘wrapt in lead’’ three

times in The Shepheardes Calender to mean ‘‘dead,’’ twice rhyming with it. Byron

has ‘‘laid in lead’’ (Vision of Judgment 550), Keats has ‘‘hearsd up in stifling

lead’’ (Otho 4.1.58).

The association with death, added to its low rank among metals, makes

lead suitable for the third casket in Shakespeares Merchant of Venice: the superficial

suitors choose the gold or silver caskets, but deeper Bassanio rejects

‘‘gaudy gold’’ and silver for ‘‘meagre lead,’’ whose ‘‘paleness moves me more

than eloquence,’’ and wins Portia (3.2.101--07). It was with similar symbolism

that Dante imagined the hypocrites in hell wearing cloaks gilded on the

outside but inside all of lead (Inferno 23.64--67).

See Metal.

Leaf Three of the most striking facts about leaves are that there are vast numbers

of them, even on a single tree, that they are born in the spring and die in the

fall, and that they rustle or fly off in the wind. These features, mainly, make

them favorite images in poetry.

The familiar contrast between the annual coming and going of leaves on

deciduous trees and the near-permanence of the trees themselves prompts

Homers famous simile in the speech of Glaucus to Diomedes: ‘‘High-hearted

son of Tydeus, why ask of my generation? / As is the generation of leaves, so is

that of humanity. / The wind scatters the leaves on the ground, but the live

timber / burgeons with leaves again in the season of spring returning. / So one

generation of men will grow while another / dies’’ (Iliad 6.145--50; trans.

Lattimore). Glaucus goes on to tell his genealogy, what we would now call his

‘‘family tree,’’ as befits a poem in which patronymics are as prominent as given

names (here, for example, each hero is named only as the son of someone).

That this perspective may seem too godlike for a young warrior, himself a leaf

likely to fall, is confirmed by the reappearance of the simile on the lips of

Apollo, who tells Poseidon there is no point in contending over ‘‘insignificant /

mortals, who are as leaves are, and now flourish and grow warm / with life,

and feed on what the ground gives, but then again / fade away and are dead’’

(21.463--66). It is part of the poignancy of the Iliad that its heroes occasionally

achieve the detachment to see their own life as the brief thing it is.

Homers comparison is repeated by Mimnermus: ‘‘we, like the leaves that

grow in the flowery springtime . . . like them we enjoy the flower of youth for

a brief span’’ (2.1--4); by Sophocles: man is as ‘‘shortlived as the leaves of a

slender poplar’’ (frag. 593); and by Aristophanes in Birds 686: humans are

‘‘feeble-lived, much like the race of leaves’’ -- an appropriate simile to be drawn

by a bird.

Shelley elaborates the simile in Queen Mab 5.1--15 and takes an even longer

view, imagining the trees falling as well as the leaves, while from the rotting

trunks a new forest springs ‘‘Like that which gave it life, to spring and die’’

(his note cites Iliad 6.146ff.).

Homer also mentions leaves (and flowers) as types of multitudinousness in

his flurry of similes for the mustering armies outside Troy (Iliad 2.468), a

comparison used by many poets ever since, such as this by Apollonius of

Rhodes: the Colchians thronged to the assembly, and ‘‘like the waves of the

stormy sea / or as the leaves that fall to the ground from the wood with its

myriad branches / in the month when the leaves fall’’ (Argonautica 4.215--17).

Marlowe uses the image with a Homeric allusion to Mt. Ida: ‘‘Here at

Aleppo, with an host of men, / Lies Tamburlaine, this king of Persia, / In

number more than are the quivering leaves / Of Idas forests’’ (2 Tamburlaine


The numerousness of leaves, their mortality, and their susceptibility to

wind made them perfect emblems for the dead in the underworld. According

to Bacchylides, when Heracles descended to Hades he saw the souls of mortals

‘‘like leaves the wind shakes’’ (Epinician 5.63). Virgils Aeneas in the realm of

Dis meets ‘‘as many souls / As leaves that yield their hold on boughs and

fall / Through forests in the early frost of autumn’’ (Aeneid 6.309--10; trans.

Fitzgerald). Seneca uses the leaf simile among several others (flowers, waves,

migrating birds) to bring out the vast number of shades summoned by

Tiresias (Oedipus 600). Dante sees the dead on the shore of Acheron: ‘‘As, in

the autumn, leaves detach themselves, / first one and then the other, till the

bough / sees all its fallen garments on the ground, / similarly the evil seed

of Adam / descended from the shoreline one by one’’ (Inferno 3.112--16; trans.

Mandelbaum). With this tradition before him, and a passage from Isaiah

about the day of vengeance -- ‘‘all their host [of heaven] shall fall down, as the

leaf falleth off from the vine’’ (34.4) -- it was almost inevitable that Milton

would use it for the recently fallen legions of Lucifer, ‘‘angel forms, who lay

entranced / Thick as autumnal leaves that strew the brooks / Of Vallombrosa’’

(PL 1.301--03).

Isaiah also likens an individual life to a leaf: ‘‘we all do fade as a leaf; and

our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away’’ (64.6). This too became a

commonplace. To take some modern examples: Lamartine likens himself to

‘‘une feuille morte’’ (‘‘a dead leaf’’), and prays the wind to carry him like the

leaf (‘‘LIsolement’’); Ibsens Hedda Gabler, home from her honeymoon, gazes at

the withered golden leaves and feels she is ‘‘already into September’’ (Act 1);

Hopkinss Margaret is grieving over the ‘‘unleaving’’ of the grove, while the

leaves, ‘‘like the things of man,’’ express ‘‘the blight man was born for’’

(‘‘Spring and Fall’’).

A tree may be personified and given feelings, leaves then becoming hair, as

in Ovid: ‘‘The woods grieved for Phyllis, shedding their leaves’’ (Ars Amatoria

3.38); the cutting of hair was the common rite of mourning.

Sometimes a person is compared to a tree that may or may not lose its

leaves. In the Bible: ‘‘he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that

bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither’’ (Ps. 1.3);

‘‘ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth, and as a garden that hath no water’’

(Isa. 1.30). Ovid and other ancient poets compared the life of a man to the

passing seasons (as in Metamorphoses 15.199--216). Drawing on these comparisons,

Shakespeare begins one of his best known sonnets (73), ‘‘That time of

year thou mayst in me behold / When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang /

Upon those boughs which shake against the cold, / Bare ruined choirs where

late the sweet birds sang.’’ In the garden scene of Richard II, which is one

elaborate simile for the condition of England, a servant, thinking of Richard,

says, ‘‘He that hath suffered this disordered spring / Hath now himself met

with the fall of leaf’’ (3.4.48--49). As he faces his doom, Macbeth says, ‘‘I have

livd long enough: my way of life / Is falln into the sere, the yellow leaf’’

(5.3.22--23). Byron felt ‘‘My days are in the yellow leaf’’ in ‘‘On This Day I

Complete My Thirty-Sixth Year’’ (5). In his ‘‘Ode to the West Wind,’’ Shelley

(like Lamartine above) imagines that he is a dead leaf the wind might bear,

but (like Shakespeare) also imagines that he has leaves: ‘‘make me thy lyre,

even as the forest is: / What if my leaves are falling like its own!’’ (57--58).

In several languages ‘‘leaf’’ also serves for the page, or double-page, of a

book (e.g., French feuille, feuillet, German Blatt), as we say when we ‘‘turn over a

new leaf’’ -- an irresistible meaning for writers to exploit. Du Bellay imagines

his verses as dead leaves (feuillards) scattered by the wind (‘‘Non autrement que

la prˆetresse folle’’). In Sonnet 17 Shakespeare considers ‘‘my papers, yellowed

with their age’’ like old men. Shelley asks the West Wind to ‘‘Drive my dead

thoughts over the universe / Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!’’

(63--64). Perhaps a distant source of this metaphor is Horaces simile likening

the changing words (vocabulary) of a language to the shedding and regrowing

of leaves (Ars Poetica 60--62).

Pindar uses the evocative phrase ‘‘leaves of song’’ (Isth. 4.27). Among the

Romantics it became a commonplace that poetry should come spontaneously,

as if it grew organically from the poet. Keats wrote, ‘‘if Poetry comes not as

naturally as the Leaves to a tree it had better not come at all’’ (letter to Taylor,

27 February 1818). Hugo dismisses as of no importance the fact that ‘‘some

autumnal blast of bitter air / With its unsettled wings may sweep along / Both

the trees foliage and the poets song’’ (‘‘Friends, a last word!’’ 6--8). This

metaphor, combined with the near-punning sense of ‘‘page,’’ lies behind such

titles as Leigh Hunts Foliage, Hugos Feuilles d’automne, Whitmans Leaves of

Grass, and Rosalia de Castros Follas Novas.

Left and right As about seven-eighths of the population of all cultures are right-handed, it is

not surprising that in most of them ‘‘right’’ has positive meanings and ‘‘left’’

negative. In the European languages terms for ‘‘right’’ have consistently

favorable senses: Greek dexios also meant ‘‘lucky,’’ particularly in augury,

where the augur stood facing north and a flight of birds to his east was

propitious (see Iliad 12.239--40), and it meant ‘‘clever’’ or ‘‘dextrous’’; Latin

dexter had the same meanings; French droit (from Latin directum) has many of

the same senses as English ‘‘right,’’ and yields English ‘‘adroit,’’ synonymous

with ‘‘dextrous.’’ One of the Greek words for ‘‘left’’ (skaios) could mean ‘‘illomened’’

or ‘‘clumsy’’; Sophocles writes of Agamemnons ‘‘skaion mouth’’ (Ajax

1225) and how willfulness leads to skaiotes or folly (Antigone 1028). Latin sinister

meant ‘‘wrong’’ or ‘‘perverse’’ (whence English ‘‘sinister’’); laevus meant

‘‘foolish’’; both could mean ‘‘unfavorable’’; in Roman augury, however, the left

was often propitious, as if the augur faced south. French gauche, which may

come from a Frankish word meaning ‘‘turn aside’’ (from the ‘‘right’’ way), also

means ‘‘clumsy,’’ as it does in English. English ‘‘left’’ may come from word

meaning ‘‘useless.’’ Two Greek words for ‘‘left’’ (aristeros, ‘‘best,’’ and euonumos,

‘‘good-named’’) are obvious euphemisms, perhaps evidence of a taboo on

saying ‘‘left.’’

There are a few mysterious passages in the Old Testament that suggest a

disparagement of ‘‘left.’’ ‘‘A wise mans heart is at his right hand,’’ says Ecclesiastes,

‘‘but a fools heart at his left’’ (10.2); ‘‘heart’’ here seems an unwise

translation in the light of human anatomy (the NEB has ‘‘mind’’). Ezekiel lies

on his left side to make a point to the city of Jerusalem (4.4), but it is not

clear what the point is. The right hand, on the other hand, symbolizes

power: ‘‘Thy right hand, O Lord, is become glorious in power’’ (Exod. 15.6); the

Lord will use ‘‘the saving strength of his right hand’’ (Ps. 20.6). To be at ones

right hand is to protect or support: ‘‘because he is at my right hand, I shall

not be moved’’ (Ps. 16.8); ‘‘he shall stand at the right hand of the poor’’


In Platos myth of Er we hear that the souls of the just journey to the right

and upward to heaven while those of the unjust go to the left and downward

(Republic 614c--d). At the final judgment, according to Jesus, the Son of man

shall separate the sheep from the goats, ‘‘And he shall set the sheep on his

right hand, but the goats on the left’’; those on the right are the ‘‘righteous’’

(a revealing pun in the AV) and shall inherit the kingdom, while those on the

left shall go into everlasting fire (Matt. 25.31--46). In one description of the

cosmos Milton has ‘‘on the left hand hell’’ (PL 10.322). The Nicene Creed claims

that Christ ‘‘ascended into the heavens, and sitteth on the right hand of the

Father.’’ Milton makes much of this fact, reporting it at least five times in

Paradise Lost (e.g., 3.279, 5.606); the Messiah leaves ‘‘the right hand of glory

where he sat’’ (6.747) to lead the battle against the rebel angels, Victory sits at

his right hand in the chariot (762), the rebels are defeated, and he returns to

sit ‘‘at the right hand of bliss’’ (892).

Leopard The leopard, the pard, the pardal, the panther, and the lynx are not consistently

distinguished from each other in literature, and indeed they are sometimes

indiscriminately grouped with other cats as emblems of cruelty or

ferocity. As its name suggests, the leopard was thought to be a hybrid of the

lion (Latin leo) and the ‘‘pard’’ (Latin pardus, from Greek pardos, from pardalis),

which was thought to be a kind of panther; ‘‘pard’’ then came to be a poetic

equivalent of ‘‘leopard.’’

A passage in Jeremiah gives one symbolic or proverbial meaning of the

leopard as symbol of unchangeableness or the indelibility of sin: ‘‘Can the

Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good,

that are accustomed to do evil’’ (13.23). When Shakespeares Richard II tries to

halt the quarrel between Bolingbroke and Mowbray, he invokes his authority

as the king of beasts -- ‘‘lions make leopards tame’’ -- to which Mowbray responds,

‘‘Yea, but not change his spots’’ (R2 1.1.174--75). Kiplings story ‘‘How the

Leopard Got his Spots’’ (which includes the Ethiopian), is a jocular response to


The leopard is one of the four beasts of Daniels dream, where it has four

heads (7.6); it reappears in the description of the seven-headed beast of

Revelation: ‘‘And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet

were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion’’ (13.2). These

visions are the basis of the later Christian iconographic meaning of the

leopard as sin, Satan, or the Antichrist.

Another passage in Jeremiah, where he prophesies that a lion, a wolf, and a

leopard will tear in pieces those who break the yoke of the Lord (5.6), stands

behind the most thoroughly discussed leopard in literature, if it is a leopard,

the lonza, ‘‘covered with a spotted hide,’’ that confronts Dante as he struggles

vainly up the hill in canto 1 of the Inferno. It is finally neither the lonza nor

the leone (lion) but the lupa (she-wolf) that defeats Dante. Countless allegorical

meanings have been proposed for these three alliterating beasts, but the

likeliest theory has it that the leopard represents the sins of fraud, deeper and

crueler sins than those of violence (lion) and incontinence (she-wolf). Richard

of St. Victor had commented on Daniel 7.6: ‘‘Rightly is the fraudulence of

dissemblers symbolized by the pard which is speckled with spots over its

whole body. For dissemblers indeed make a show of holiness.’’ Dante may be

confessing that his own sins, which block his climb to salvation, are not of

the cold-blooded leopard-like sort but more impulsive and thoughtless.

From late classical sources the leopard or panther emerged as the distinctive

beast of Dionysus or Bacchus. Captured by pirates, Dionysus transforms

their ship by magic, grape vines grow around the oars and sails, and ‘‘tigers,

lynxes, and fierce spotted panthers’’ appear on board (Ovid, Met. 3.669); in his

triumphal procession, a pair of lynxes draw his chariot (4.24--25), or it is

panthers and lions (Nonnus, Dionysiaca 14.261). By the time of Schiller, his

chariot is drawn by ‘‘majestic panthers in a team’’ (‘‘Gods of Greece’’ 58), while

Keats imagines himself ‘‘charioted by Bacchus and his pards’’ (‘‘Ode to a

Nightingale’’ 32).

In English poetry the pard/panther was seen as the characteristic enemy of

the hind (doe). Shakespeares Cressida lists the proverbial predators and prey:

‘‘as false / . . . / As fox to lamb, as wolf to heifers calf, / Pard to the hind, or

stepdame to her son’’ (TC 3.2.191--94). Drydens poem The Hind and the Panther

deploys these beasts and many others in a complex religious allegory.

See Lion, Wolf.

Leviathan see Whale

Light and


Light and darkness are probably the most fundamental and inescapable

terms, used literally or metaphorically, in the description of anything in life

or literature. It seems almost superfluous to include them in a dictionary, and

almost circular to try to shed light on them. What follows will be highly


Light is traditionally linked with goodness, life, knowledge, truth, fame, and

hope, darkness with evil, death, ignorance, falsehood, oblivion, and despair.

When all was darkness, the first thing God created was light (Gen. 1.3), as if

light is a precondition of creating anything, of bringing a hidden thing ‘‘to

light’’ (as in Job 28.11). To ‘‘see light’’ is to be born (Job 3.16); in fact light is life

itself (3.20): ‘‘the light of the wicked shall be put out’’ (18.5). The Lord is our

light and salvation (Ps. 27.1); he shall be ‘‘an everlasting light’’ (Isa. 60.19). ‘‘The

people that walked in darkness have seen a great light,’’ says Isaiah (9.2), and

Matthew quotes him as a prophet of Christ (4.16). John, for whom light is a

dominant image, makes Christ ‘‘the light of men’’ (1.4), ‘‘the true Light, which

lighteth every man that cometh into the world’’ (1.9); ‘‘men loved darkness

rather than light’’ (3.19), but Jesus says, ‘‘I am the light of the world: he that

followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life’’ (8.12).

Jesus tells his followers, ‘‘Ye are the light of the world’’ (Matt. 5.14), ‘‘the

children of light’’ (Luke 16.8); Paul repeats it: ‘‘Ye are all the children of light,

and the children of the day; we are not of the night, nor of darkness’’ (1 Thess.

5.5). When Christ was crucified, there was darkness at noon (Matt. 27.45).

Hell is dark, as far as possible from the light of God. Dante calls it ‘‘the

eternal dark’’ and ‘‘the blind world’’ (Inferno 3.87, 4.13). Milton, drawing on St.

Basil, describes hell as full of flames, ‘‘yet from those flames / No light, but

rather darkness visible / Served only to discover sights of woe’’ (PL 1.62--64). In

absolute contrast, Dante concludes The Divine Comedy with a vision of ‘‘the

Highest Light,’’ whom he addresses twice as God and praises as the ultimate

and ineffable truth (Paradiso 33.50ff.). Heaven in Milton is ‘‘the happy realms

of light’’ (1.85), and Milton opens book 3 by invoking Light itself: ‘‘Hail, holy

Light, offspring of heaven first-born, / Or of the eternal co-eternal beam / May I

express thee unblamed? since God is light, / And never but in unapproached

light / Dwelt from eternity, dwelt then in thee, / Bright effluence of bright

essence increate’’ (3.1--6).

The image of light emerging from darkness becomes an important symbol

in Aeschylus Oresteia, from the relay beacon-fires that the guard sees in the

opening of the Agamemnon -- ‘‘Oh hail, blaze of the darkness, harbinger of

days / shining’’ (22--23 trans. Lattimore) -- to the torchlight processional that

concludes The Eumenides; the herald of Agamemnon, for instance, greets both

the land and the light of the sun (508) and with dramatic irony announces

that his lord will bring light into the gloom (522).

Light and dark imagery pervades Beowulf. The monster Grendel is dark, a

‘‘shadow-walker’’ (703), from whose eyes comes a ‘‘horrible light’’ (727); the

dragon is also dark, though it belches fire; Herot the hall of Hrothgar shines

brightly, as do Beowulf and his men.

We could easily multiply examples from works of all periods, but we shall

end with the notion of ‘‘enlightenment.’’ In the Gospel of John, Jesus is not

only the light but the ‘‘truth’’ (14.6). Truth gives us light to see or understand,

and it seems to shine with its own light. Spenser speaks of ‘‘the light of

simple veritie’’ (Ruins of Time 171); his character Error hates the light and

prefers to dwell in darkness, ‘‘Where plain none might see her, nor she see

any plaine’’ (FQ 1.1.16). Popes epigram ‘‘Intended for Sir Isaac Newton’’ is justly

famous for its succinct celebration of that hero of the Enlightenment (who

wrote a book on optics): ‘‘Nature and Natures laws lay hid in Night: / God

said, Let Newton be! and all was Light.’’ The Enlightenment put an end to the

‘‘Dark Ages.’’ Thomas Paine writes, ‘‘But such is the irresistible nature of

truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing. The sun

needs no inscription to distinguish him from darkness’’ (Rights of Man, Part 2,

Intro.). Blake, a foe of the Enlightenment, nonetheless deploys the

indispensable terms: ‘‘God Appears & God is Light / To those poor Souls who

dwell in Night / But does a Human Form Display / To those who Dwell in

Realms of day’’ (‘‘Auguries of Innocence’’ 129--32).

See Black, Night, Sun, White.

Lightning The sky gods of the Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans manifested themselves in

lightning and thunder. When the Lord descends on Mt. Sinai, ‘‘there were

thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount’’ (Exod. 19.16).

Davids song of thanksgiving tells that ‘‘he sent out arrows, and scattered

them [the enemies]; lightning, and discomfited them’’ (2 Sam. 22.15); Psalm

144.6 also sets arrows and lightning in parallel (see 77.17), for lightning is the

Lords arsenal. At the Day of Judgment there shall be plenty of thunder,

lightning, and earthquake (Rev. 4.5, 8.5, etc), and the Son of Man shall come

‘‘as the lightning cometh out of the east’’ (Matt. 24.27).

The lightningbolt is Zeuss characteristic weapon (Homer, Iliad 11.66) and

one of his Homeric epithets is ‘‘lightning-gatherer’’ (16.298). In Hesiod he has

three weapons, if that is possible: thunder, lightning, and ‘‘bright

thunderbolt’’ (Theogony 854). Pindar calls Zeus ‘‘driver of thunder’’ and ‘‘lord of

lightning and thunder’’ (Olymp. 4.1, Pyth. 6.24). Roman Jupiter also terrifies

with lightning (Virgil, Aeneid 1.230); his eagle is the ‘‘winged plyer of the

thunderbolt’’ (Horace 4.4.1). In both Greek and Latin the verbs ‘‘thunders’’ and

‘‘lightens’’ can take either an impersonal form (‘‘it thunders’’) or Zeus/Jupiter

as the personal subject. (See Rain.) When Semele begged Zeus to manifest

himself without disguise, he came as a lightningbolt and destroyed her

(Euripides, Bacchae 3).

This theophanic or god-revealing character of lightning seems natural

enough to believers in gods, but it is interesting that we retain the word

‘‘thunderstruck’’ in English even when nothing divine is in question. Our

words ‘‘astonish’’ and ‘‘stun’’ derive from Latin tonere, ‘‘to thunder.’’ Lightning

now can represent any revelation, though something of its numinous

character remains. Liberty gleams like lightning in Shelleys ‘‘Ode to Liberty’’

and scatters ‘‘contagious fire’’ (4). Byron imagines that if he could ‘‘unbosom

now / That which is most within me’’ and express it in one word, ‘‘And that

one word were Lightning, I would speak’’ (Childe Harold 3.905--11). A flash of

lightning reveals something in the face of the lover that breaks the spell in

Lawrences ‘‘Lightning’’: ‘‘the lightning has made it too plain!’’

As lightning is often forked -- Cowper, for instance, writes, ‘‘forky fires / Dart

oblique to the Earth’’ (‘‘A Thunder Storm’’ 28--29) -- Dickinson can both wittily

domesticate it by saying, ‘‘The Lightning is a yellow Fork / From Tables in the

sky / By inadvertent fingers dropt,’’ and restore its awesome aura by calling it

‘‘The Apparatus of the Dark / To ignorance revealed’’ (no. 1173).

As organs of revelation, eyes ‘‘glance’’ or ‘‘flash’’ or ‘‘dart lightning’’ in love

or anger at least as far back as Sophocles, who writes, ‘‘Such is the magic

charm of love, a kind of lightning of the eyes’’ (frag. 474). In Aristophanes a

warrior has ‘‘glances of lightning’’ (Acharnians 566). Shakespeares Imogen ‘‘like

harmless lightning throws her eye / On him, her brother, me, her master,

hitting / Each object with a joy’’ (Cym 5.5.394--96). Reversing vehicle and tenor,

Byron sees a night storm as lovely ‘‘as is the light / Of a dark eye in woman!’’

(Childe Harold 3.862--63). (See Eye.)

Lilac see Purple flower

Lily After the rose, the lily is the most prominent of literary flowers. Indeed it is

often paired with the rose, not least as a pleasing contrast of colors, for the

lily has long been a synonym for ‘‘white.’’ The Greek leirion was almost

certainly the Lilium candidum, the white lily or Madonna lily; adjectives

derived from it often meant ‘‘white.’’ ‘‘White as a lily’’ and ‘‘lily-white’’ are

ancient commonplaces. Propertius begins a list of deliberate love-cliches with

‘‘Lilies are not whiter than my mistress’’ (2.3.10).

The epic form of the adjective (leirioeis) seems to have meant ‘‘soft’’ or

‘‘delicate.’’ Perhaps in mockery, Hector threatens to rend Ajaxs ‘‘lily-like flesh’’

(Iliad 13.830). The voices of cicadas are ‘‘lily-like’’ (Iliad 3.152), as are those of

the Muses (Hesiod, Theogony 41--42) and the Sirens (Apollonius 4.903); perhaps

it also means ‘‘clear’’ or ‘‘bright.’’ The Hesperides are ‘‘lily-like’’ in Quintus

Smyrnaeus (2.419--20), perhaps the source of ‘‘the lily maid of Astolat,’’ Elaine,

in the Arthurian cycle (see Tennysons ‘‘Lancelot and Elaine’’).

In Latin literature lilies stood for the brevity of life or beauty. Horace with

characteristic brevity calls the lily ‘‘brief’’ (breve lilium) (Odes 1.36.16), but

Valerius Flaccus spells it out at length: ‘‘as white lilies gleam brightly through

the colors of spring, / whose life is short and their honor / flourishes for a

moment and already the dark wings of the south wind approach’’ (Argonautica


Lilies are prominent in the Song of Songs, of which the most famous and

influential verses are these: ‘‘I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the

valleys. / As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters’’ (2.1--2).

Both ‘‘rose’’ and ‘‘lily’’ are unlikely translations of the Hebrew terms (‘‘lotus’’

would be better for the latter, shoshannah), but they have entered the European

languages and shaped Christian allegorizings of the Song. The lilys whiteness

suggests purity, its beauty suggests perfection, but since it is unclear who

speaks these verses the lily has been assigned to Christ, to the Church, and

above all to the Virgin Mary. Paintings of the Annunciation, where the

archangel Gabriel brings the news to the Virgin that she shall bear a son

(Luke 1.26--38), almost always include a lily, either in a vase or in Gabriels

hand. This association presumably lies behind Howes evocative but mysterious

line, in ‘‘The Battle-Hymn of the Republic’’: ‘‘In the beauty of the lilies Christ

was born across the sea.’’

The lily can then represent virginity in any woman. Chaucers nun makes

St. Cecilia another lily, ‘‘ ‘hevenes lilie, / For pure chaastnesse of virginitee’’

(Second Nun’s Tale 87--88). Shakespeares Cranmer prophesies that the young

Elizabeth will live and die ‘‘a virgin, / A most unspotted lily’’ (H8 5.5.60--61). As

for the flower itself, there is ‘‘the virgin Lillie’’ of Spenser (‘‘Prothalamion’’ 32),

Pope has a garden where ‘‘lilies smile in virgin robes of white’’ (‘‘Imitation of

Cowley’’ 5), and Blakes Thel addresses a lily as ‘‘thou little virgin of the

peaceful valley’’ (Book of Thel 2.3). Rimbaud imagines that the drowning

Ophelia ‘‘floats like a great lily’’ (‘‘Ophelie’’ 28--29).

Linden The linden, like the oak and beech, is appreciated for its shade; in Europe it is

often planted near homes and in village greens, while in England it often

lines avenues on estates. It is also called the lime tree: ‘‘lime’’ is probably a

variant of ‘‘line,’’ itself a variant of ‘‘lind,’’ and has nothing to do with the

citrus fruit. The tree in Coleridges ‘‘This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison’’ is the

linden. Its name in older English literature is ‘‘lind’’; the more common

modern form ‘‘linden’’ may come from German. The tree is also known for its

yellow flowers and attractive fragrance, ‘‘the lime at dewy eve / Diffusing

odours’’ (Cowper, Task 1.316--17).

In Ovids tale of the hospitable old couple Philemon and Baucis, Philemon

(the husband) is turned into an oak, while Baucis (the wife) is turned into a

linden (Met. 8.620). In Baltic pagan lore, men are to sacrifice to the oak,

women to the linden.

In Middle English poetry ‘‘lind’’ or ‘‘line’’ might refer to any tree, especially

in the phrase ‘‘under lind’’ or ‘‘under the lind.’’ A proverbial saying about the

tree (or generic tree) is found in Chaucers Clerk’s Tale: ‘‘Be ay of chiere as light

as leef on lynde’’ (1211).

The linden was distinctive of German village centers and so it appears often

in German poetry, notably in the famous love poem by Walther von der Vogelweide

that begins ‘‘Under der linden / An der heide / da unser beider bette

was . . . ’’ (‘‘Under the linden by the heath where we two had our bed . . . ’’). It

becomes a conventional resort of lovers, and often a symbol of faithful love.

Eichendorff remembers mournfully the many times he sat with his beloved

under a linden (‘‘The Vespers’’). The best-known linden poem is ‘‘Der Lindenbaum’’

from Mullers cycle Die schone Mullerin, set by Schubert. Heine writes,

‘‘We sat under the linden tree / And swore eternal faithfulness’’ (‘‘I dreamt the

old dream again,’’ from Lyrical Intermezzo). Heine notes elsewhere that ‘‘the

linden plays a leading role in [The Boy’s Magic Horn, by Brentano and von

Arnim]; in its shade lovers talk in the evenings; it is their favorite tree, perhaps

because the linden leaf has the shape of a human heart’’ (The Romantic School

3.1). Since many trysts under the linden take place at night, nightingales are

often heard singing in its boughs.

Lion Lions are rampant in both biblical and Greek literature from the beginning.

They are the strongest and most dangerous of predatory beasts, whose roaring

alone is terrifying, and they loom large in the minds of ancient authors.

‘‘Thou huntest me as a fierce lion,’’ says Job (10.16). ‘‘Their roaring shall be like

a lion, they shall roar like the young lions: yea, they shall roar’’ (Isa. 5.29). In

the Iliad lions appear about thirty times, nearly always in similes. ‘‘As among

cattle a lion leaps on the neck of an ox or / heifer, that grazes among the

wooded places, and breaks it, / so the son of Tydeus hurled both from their

horses / hatefully’’; ‘‘And as herdsmen who dwell in the fields are not able to

frighten / a tawny lion in his great hunger away from a carcass, / so the two

Aiantes, marshals of men, were not able / to scare Hektor, Priams son, away

from the body’’ (5.161--64, 18.161--64, trans. Lattimore). Nearly every warrior is

likened to a lion during his display of prowess. Tyrtaeus enjoins the Spartan

soldiers to place ‘‘a tawny lions spirit in your breast’’ (frag. 13).

The lion thus became a byword for ferocity, strength, and terror. In

Chaucer, for instance, lions are called ‘‘crewel,’’ ‘‘fel,’’ ‘‘fiers,’’ ‘‘grym,’’ ‘‘wild,’’

and ‘‘wood’’ (mad or furious). In Spenser they are also ‘‘dredd,’’ ‘‘ramping,’’ and

‘‘ravenous.’’ Shakespeares Bottom and his friends rightly worry that whoever

plays the lion must not frighten the ladies, because ‘‘a lion among ladies is a

most dreadful thing; for there is not a more fearful wild fowl than your lion

living, and we ought to look tot’’ (MND 3.1.30--33).

As fighter and roarer the lion is an emblem of anger. ‘‘The kings wrath is as

the roaring of a lion’’ (Prov. 19.12). When the system of the seven deadly sins

was established during the Middle Ages, the lion often stood for ira, ‘‘anger’’;

so in Spensers procession of the sins ‘‘fierce revenging Wrath’’ rides on one

(FQ 1.4.33). Less explicit is the lion Dante meets at the opening of the Inferno,

the second of three beasts (1.45--48). If the leopard stands for fraud, the worst

category of sin, and the she-wolf stands for incontinence, the least bad

category, then the lion may represent the sins of violence, which Dante places

midway in his hell. (See Wolf, Leopard.) The lion is also sometimes linked to

pride (superbia), the first of the seven sins, since pride often goes with irascibility.

Since the fifteenth century ‘‘pride’’ has been the term for a company or

family of lions.

In the Middle Ages also the lion was crowned king of beasts, though it was

long considered a regal emblem. Spenser calls him ‘‘mighty Lyon, Lord of all

the wood’’ (‘‘Vanitie’’ 10.1) and ‘‘Lyon Lord of everie beast in field’’ (FQ 1.3.7) and

speaks of its ‘‘imperiall powre’’ (2.5.10). Marlowe also has ‘‘imperial lion’’

(Edward II 5.1.11), while Shakespeare calls it ‘‘imperious’’ (Othello 2.3.275).

Richard II, demanding obedience, proclaims ‘‘lions make leopards tame’’ (R2

1.1.174); deposed, he is reminded by his queen that he is ‘‘a lion and the king

of beasts’’ (5.1.34).

When Jacob gives his blessings on his sons, he pronounces that ‘‘Judah is a

lions whelp: . . . he couched as a lion, and as an old lion,’’ and prophesies that

he shall hold the scepter (Gen. 49.9--10). John of Patmos makes ‘‘the Lion of

the tribe of Juda’’ a title of Christ (Rev. 5.5). Ezekiel has an allegory where the

captured princes of Israel are lions and the sons of a lioness (19.1--9). Despite

these connotations lions also came to represent enemies of the faithful:

Daniel in the lions den was the prototype for the fate of many Christians in

the Roman empire. The four faces of the living creatures of Ezekiels vision

(1.10) include a lions; Christians assigned the lion to St. Mark, and as he is the

patron saint of Venice the lion became a symbol of that city.

The best-known biblical lion is the one that supposedly lies down with the

lamb in the peaceable kingdom. Misled by the alliteration of ‘‘lion’’ and

‘‘lamb,’’ however, most people muddle the famous passage from Isaiah, which

reads: ‘‘The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie

down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together;

and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; the

young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox’’

(11.6--7; see 65.25). Virgils ‘‘Fourth Eclogue,’’ adopted by Christianity, makes a

similar prophecy of a time when ‘‘cattle will not fear the great lions’’ (22). If

such harmony will reign in the messianic kingdom, Milton imagines that it

reigned before the fall as well: ‘‘Sporting the lion ramped, and in his paw /

Dandled the kid’’ (PL 4.343--44); but when Satan enters the garden Milton

likens him to a (fallen) lion and tiger, seeking prey (401--08), an allusion to 1

Pet. 5.8, comparing Satan to a roaring lion. In heaven, according to Blake, the

lion will weep tears of pity and say, ‘‘And now beside thee bleating lamb, / I

can lie down and sleep; / Or think on him who bore thy name, / Grase after

thee and weep’’ (‘‘Night’’ 41--44). Shelley foresees a transformation in this

world, where ‘‘The lion now forgets to thirst for blood: / There might you see

him sporting in the sun / Beside the dreadless kid’’ (Queen Mab 8.124--26).

Wordsworth imagines a place in the past where meekness tempered pride,

where ‘‘The lamb is couching by the lions side, / And near the flame-eyed

eagle sits the dove’’ (Ecclesiastical Sonnets 2.7).

The Asiatic goddess Cybele was depicted in Latin literature as riding a

chariot pulled by lions (Virgil, Aeneid 3.113, 10.253), as if to say she tames wild

nature; Lucretius has the same image for mother Earth (2.601ff.); both may be

traceable to the Sumerian goddess Inanna, who is shown seated on a lion

throne. Kings, if they are not called lions themselves, or ‘‘lion-hearted’’ like

Richard I, have often been symbolized as hunters or tamers of lions; and the

lion is a frequent heraldic animal and national symbol, as it is of Britain.

Another old tradition is that a lion will not harm a true prince or princess --

an excuse Falstaff makes to account for his cowardice before the disguised

Prince Hal (1H4 2.4.267--71). A lion rushes suddenly upon Spensers Una, but

then ‘‘he kist her wearie feet, / And lickt her lilly hands with fawning tong’’

(FQ 1.3.6).

In Latin literature lions are associated with Africa (i.e., North Africa),

particularly Libya (Seneca, Oedipus 919), Gaetulia (Horace 1.23.10), or the land

of the Carthaginians (‘‘Punic lions’’ in Virgil, Eclogues 5.27). These places

became ‘‘decorative adjectives’’ for lions, and lasted into modern poetry.

Liver The most celebrated literary liver belongs to the Titan Prometheus, whose

punishment for stealing fire from the gods was to have his liver (Greek epar)

devoured each day by a vulture or eagle (it was restored each night) (Hesiod,

Theogony 523--25). The Greeks traced certain emotions and faculties to various

bodily organs, but it is not clear what function the liver serves in the

Prometheus myth; perhaps his torture is meant simply to be excruciating and

intimate. In Homers Iliad, Hecuba, the mother of Hector, wishes she could

attach herself to his killer Achilles and eat at his liver (24. 212f.), perhaps

because Achilles is known for his ferocious anger (cholos, ‘‘bile’’), which was

sometimes thought to be a liver product (see Bile). It was not until Aeschylus

that the liver was generally taken to be the seat of the passions. The chorus of

the Agamemnon sings that ‘‘many things touch the liver’’ (432); in Sophocles

Ajax the chorus says, ‘‘True grief, I know, goes to the liver’’ (938); in both cases,

modern translators make the liver into the ‘‘heart,’’ a more familiar seat of

feeling and courage (‘‘courage’’ comes from the French word for ‘‘heart’’).

By the Renaissance the liver was usually taken as the seat of sexual desire.

It is frequently so used by Shakespeare. Tarquin seeks Lucrece ‘‘To quench the coal which in his liver glows’’ (Rape of Lucrece 47). Ferdinand assures Prospero,

‘‘The white cold virgin snow upon my heart / Abates the ardour of my liver’’

(Tempest 4.1.55--56). As the seat of courage or martial valor the liver is the

occasion of insults, as when Macbeth dismisses a servant as a ‘‘lily-liverd boy’’

(5.3.15) or Goneril taunts Albany as a ‘‘Milk-liverd man’’ (Lear 4.2.50), the

proper color of the liver being dark red with blood. Hamlet blames himself

for being ‘‘pigeon-liverd’’ and lacking gall (2.2.573), for the notoriously timid

pigeons were thought to lack that source of bitter anger. (See Dove.)

Livid see Blue

Locust In parts of North Africa and the Middle East locusts come in vast swarms and

devour all vegetation. They are one of the plagues sent upon Egypt (Exod.

10.12--19), and if Israel disobeys the laws of God they will come again (Deut.

28.38, 42). Locusts are included with famine, pestilence, caterpillars, etc., as

typical disasters (1 Kgs 8.37, Pss. 78.46, 105.34). John of Patmos prophesies they

shall come in the last days from the bottomless pit: they shall sting like

scorpions and look like horses with human faces (Rev. 9.3, 7).

Fortunately it is permitted to eat them (Lev. 11.22), and John the Baptist

famously does so, along with honey, in the wilderness (Matt. 3.4) (see Dante,

Purgatorio 22.151--52).

Locusts make good similes and metaphors. Milton likens Satans legions to

the locusts of Egypt (PL 1.338--46); Wordsworth saw that France ‘‘all swarmed

with passion, like a plain / Devoured by locusts’’ (1805 Prelude 9.178--79); Byron

laments that Spain has been overrun by ‘‘Gauls locust host’’ (Childe Harold

1.215). Nathanael West invokes the biblical apocalypse in the final scene of

violent riot in his novel The Day of the Locust.

Lode star see Star

Lute see Harp

Lynx The lynx is proverbially sharp-eyed. It is invoked twice in the Romance of the

Rose as the keenest-sighted animal (8023, 8901). A troop of monsters in Spenser

is the more dangerous because ‘‘every one of them had Lynces eyes’’ (FQ 2.11.8).

As ‘‘modes of sight betwixt each wide extreme,’’ Pope would have us admire

‘‘The moles dim curtain, and the lynxs beam’’ (Essay on Man 1.211--12). ‘‘I did

look,’’ says a character of Brownings, ‘‘sharp as a lynx’’ (‘‘Youth and Art’’ 41).

Ezra Pound dwells on lynxes in an insistent but mysterious way in one of

his ‘‘Pisan Cantos,’’ written while in detention by the US army; perhaps tranfiguring

his guards into the watchful lynxes, he prays to one as to a god, ‘‘O

Lynx keep watch on my fire,’’ ‘‘O Lynx, guard my vineyard’’ (Cantos 79).

One of the Argonauts is named Lynceus, after the cat: ‘‘beyond all mortals

else his eye was sharpest,’’ according to Pindar (Nem. 10.61--62); he ‘‘had the

sharpest eyes of any mortal, if the report is true that without trouble he could

see even down beneath the earth’’ (Apollonius 1.153--54, trans. Hunter; cf.

4.1477--79). Lynceus became proverbial too. Horace advises us not to examine

bodily perfections with the eyes of Lynceus (Satires 1.2.90--91). Goethe

mentions him in Faust (7377) and then names two watchmen after him

(9218ff., 11143ff.); the first says, ‘‘Eye-beam [Augenstrahl] is given me / like the

lynx at the top of the tree’’ (9230--31). Galen describes an eye-salve called

‘‘lynceus’’ (12.778).

Ovid describes Bacchus as driving a pair of lynxes (Met. 4.25); Propertius

imagines Ariadne borne to the sky by them (3.17.8); Virgil speaks of ‘‘Bacchuss

colorful lynxes’’ (Georgics 3.263). Elsewhere Bacchus drives tigers or leopards.

Lyre see Harp