In the year 968 of the Common Era the Bishop of Cremona, Liutprand, was sent by his monarch Otto I, the King of Italy, on a mission to the Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus Phocas in Constantinople.
As he entered the audience chamber (he later wrote about it) he passed by an artificial tree of gold in which mechanical birds warbled and under which two golden lions roared. Approaching the throne he made the ritual obeisance to the Emperor (demanded of princes and ambassadors alike) of lowering his forehead to the ground with his arms before him. While he held this posture for the required time he heard another noise and when he was permitted to rise he saw the the Emperor’s throne had been raised to ceiling height and the Emperor himself had been clothed in an even more magnificent robe.
Now this is pretty awesome stuff but that which particularly interests me is the mechanical aspect of these devices. How would a golden lion have been made to roar? What would it have sounded like? I’m ruling out human reproduction of the roar, that would have sounded ludicrous, but would it have been a bellows of some sort, but even then how could you make it sound like a roar?
And the raising of the throne, would that have been simply a pulley system operated by men or would the Byzantines have had access to some other system of a more mechanical nature?
It would probably have sounded like “wooooooooooooooo.” (Hope that helps.)
It almost certainly had a horn of some type built into it, which would have been blown by a bellows or a slave. There is a long tradition of building statues like that to impress the rubes. As for exactly how it sounded, it is impossible to know, and depends on the shape and size (think about all the different types of horns in use today.)
As for “sounding like a lion”, Bishop of Cremona, Liutprand probably never heard a real lion in his life. A possibly similar object is the silver tree of Karakorum, which has a better historical description:
At the entrance to this palace, seeing it would have been unseemly to put skins of milk and other drinks there, Master William of Paris has made for him a large silver tree, at the foot of which are four silver lions each having a pipe and all belching forth white mares” milk. Inside the trunk four pipes lead up to the top of the tree and the ends of the pipes are bent downwards and over each of them is a gilded serpent, the tail of which twines round the trunk of the tree. One of these pipes pours out wine, another caracosmos [ airag ], that is the refined milk of mares, another boal, which is a honey drink, and another rice mead, which is called terracina. Each of these has its silver basin ready to receive it at the foot of the tree between the other four pipes. At the very top he fashioned an angel holding a trumpet; underneath the tree he made a crypt in which a man can be secreted, and a pipe goes up to the angel through the middle of the heart of the tree. At first he had made bellows but they did not give enough wind. Outside the palace there is a chamber in which the drinks are stored, and servants stand there ready to pour them out when they hear the angel sounding the trumpet. The tree has branches, leaves and fruit of silver. And so when the drinks are getting low the chief butler calls out to the angel to sound his trumpet. Then, hearing this, the man who is hidden in the crypt blows the pipe going up to the angel with all his strength, and the angel, placing the trumpet to his mouth, sounds it very loudly. When the servants in the chamber hear this each one of them pours out his drink into its proper pipe, and the pipes pour them out from above and below into the basins prepared for this, and then the cup-bearers draw the drinks and carry them round the palace to the men and women.
A strong air current (from a large bellows) pushed through a loose leather throat would produce something a lot like a roar, especially if the force and timing of the air was controlled with a big cam. It might not be a sound we’d identify as car roar on its own, but when staring into moving golden jaws, the context would carry it.
If it really sounded like a lion, yes. But you can’t assume that it did–or that anyone involved in any stage of the creation or observation of the statue had at any point in their lives seen a lion, much less heard one. Remember, this was pre- photography, and to see even an accurate painting or even line drawing would require that you had access to the expensive, rare original. Most people at that time would have little idea what an “exotic” animal would even look like. Even the people supposedly illustrating them were often working off of vague, nth hand descriptions. If the sound was like a large housecat, or an alligator, who were most of the visitors to question whether or not it really sounded like a lion?
Lions were common among the Greeks, roamed much of Europe until ca. 1 CE, and the regions eastward to Russian until the 8-900s CE. They were not creatures known only by explorers’ journals and sketches and they were thoroughly embedded in tradition, art and literature.
Indeed. There were lions in the middle-east at the time, so you could probably find them in the wild within the borders of the empire when Liutprand visited the court. It wouldn’t be surprising if the emperor even owned some, and he very probably at least have been shown one at some point or another.
Doesn’t mean that the golden lion actually sounded like a real one.
That, say, Englishmen, might have been unfamiliar with lions is one thing. But we’re talking about the Byzantine Empire, here. This map shows when lions went extinct in various regions. They disapeared from Turkey only in the 1870s and from Syria in the 1890s (the legend of the map reverses the last sighting in Syria and Tunisia).
Around 1000 AD, a lion isn’t some half-mythical creature in the Byzantine Empire.
That’s astonishing. I knew that the Romans had been familiar with lions and other exotic wild animals in the arena since at least the second century BCE and even when the gladiatorial and animal hunts in the arena were abolished in the sixth century the Byzantines would still have been familiar with lions, which still occasionally roamed the country and were kept as pets by the rich, but I had no idea that it was only in the late 19th century that they finally disappeared from Asia Minor and the Near East.
And thank you to all for the really instructive replies thus far.