The horse and the lion: between iconographical and symbolical rivalry

Margaux Spruyt – Sorbonne University / Natural History Museum of Paris

The representations of lions in Neo-Assyrian reliefs, studied particularly by E. Cassin in its relationship tothe king, still raisesa lot of questions when it is attached to other characters. The comparative analysis of this feline with the other emblematic animal in the reliefs, the horse, highlights new elements of reflexion. Indeed, these two animals, largely represented within neo-assyrian reliefs, seem imbued with different symbolical meanings. On the surface of the reliefs, they encounter and gaze at each other in one of the most aesthetic manner, but it is mostly through their physical confrontation that they reveal their opposite forces(for example: cf. BM 124176). Therefore, the study of the reliefs from Ashurbanipal’s palace in Nineveh, now held in the British Museum, form a homogeneous corpus while bearing valued features. When the horse is the king’s ride, bearing its values and sharing the same will –defeat evil –the lion becomes the emblematic enemy, the supreme opponent. This opposition can be perceived both on the iconographical level, through the anatomical depiction and the formal study of the composition, and on thesymbolical level, the two becoming allegorical forms of the Good and the Evil in the Neo-Assyrian ideology.The frontal and fierce opposition which exists between the horse and the lion –always both male characters when entered in physical combat –allows the Neo-Assyrians to assert, through a violent collision the discrepancies and different roles given to these animals at a symbolical and ideological level.