Roman Times and Events: Those about to Die, Chapter 05, Part 5 of 5

(by Daniel P. Mannix)

When Carpophorus graduated from the school, he became a working bestiarius in the arena. Unlike most of his fellows, Carpophorus never lost sight of the fact that his basic job was to please the crowd, not perform some remarkable feat that could only be appreciated by other bestiarii or a few of the connoisseurs on the podium.

Having grown up "under the stands" he knew that it was the mob who ran the circus, not the highbrows in the front seats and far less was it the old-time bestiarii who used to meet in the evenings at Chile's wine shop off the Via Appia and talk of their past triumphs while the respectful younger men sat around and listened.

For example, these old-timers considered it a great feat to train stags to pull a chariot. Stags are very nervous animals and only a few bestiarii had ever managed to accomplish this stunt; in Egypt, the animal trainers of Ptolemy had trained stags to pull their royal master, and in Greece, a priestess had appeared in a coach drawn by these dramatic beasts.

It was every bestiarius' ambition to duplicate this feat—everyone except Carpophorus. He knew that the public cared nothing about such a stunt, difficult though it might be.

They'd just as soon see a chariot drawn by zebras or ostriches which was comparatively easy to do. As a matter of fact, they weren't particularly interested in seeing a chariot drawn by any sort of freak animal. They wanted stronger fare. Carpophorus determined to give it to them.

Sexual relations between a woman and an animal were often exhibited "under the stands" as they are today in the Place Pigalle in Paris. Such exhibitions were occasionally staged in the arena but the trouble was in finding an animal that would perform on schedule.

A jackass or even a large dog that would voluntarily mount a woman before a screaming mob was a rare animal and, of course, the woman had to cooperate. The fact that the woman was willing destroyed most of the crowd's fun.

Bestiarii had worked hard trying to train animals to rape women, usually covering the woman with the hide of an animal or even building wooden mockups of a cow or a lioness and putting the woman inside.

In a play called "The Minotaur," Nero had had an actor playing the part of Pasiphae put in a wooden cow while another actor, dressed as a bull, mounted him. These devices had nearly always failed with real animals and so the whole project had been abandoned.

Carpophorus, with his early training "under the stands" and his practical knowledge of wild animals, understood clearly enough what was the matter. Animals are controlled almost altogether by odor, not by sight.

The young bestiarius kept careful watch on all the female animals in the stockyard and when they came into season, collected their blood on soft cloths. These cloths he numbered and put away. Then he got a woman from "under the stands" to help him.

Working with extremely tame male animals who didn't mind noise and confusion, he wrapped the woman in the cloths and induced the animals to mount her.

As with the man-eaters, he established a habit pattern with these animals, never allowing them to come into contact with a female of their own kind. As the animals grew more confident, they also grew more aggressive.

If the woman, following Carpophorus' orders, struggled, a cheetah would sink his dewclaws into her shoulders and grabbing her by the neck with his jaws, shake her into submission.

Carpophorus used up several women before he got the animals properly trained—with a bull or a giraffe the woman usually didn't survive the ordeal—but he was always able to get more broken-down old bags from the provinces who didn't fully realize what their job involved until too late.

Carpophorus produced a sensation with his new technique. No one had ever dreamed of having lions, leopards, wild boars, and zebra rape women. The Romans were especially fond of acting out mythological scenes in the shows and as Zeus, the king of the gods, often raped young girls in the form of various animals, these scenes could be re-enacted in the arena.

Under Carpophorus' direction, a bull raped a young girl representing Europa to great applause. Apuleius has left us an animated account of one of these scenes. A woman who had poisoned five people in order to get their property was sentenced to be thrown to the wild beasts in the arena but first, as an additional punishment and disgrace, she was to be raped by a jackass.

A bed was set up in the middle of the arena, inlaid with tortoise shell and provided with a feather mattress and an embroidered Chinese bedspread. The woman was tied spread-eagle on the bed.

The jackass had been trained to kneel on the bed, otherwise the business could not have been concluded successfully. When the show was over, wild beasts were turned loose in the arena and quickly put an end to the wretched woman's suffering.

Carpophorus kept his method for training the animals a profound secret, pretending it was all due to a special amulet which he invariably hung around the animal's neck before letting it go into the arena. Although he was offered fabulous prices for this amulet, he refused to sell it.

At last, he gave it to his master at the school in return for canceling his remaining years as a slave. Somehow, the amulet never worked for his master.

The old-time bestiarii were very contemptuous of Carpophorus. They claimed that he had degraded his noble profession by putting on filthy exhibitions. They forgot that in their day they had been criticized by the still earlier bestiarii for training man-eaters to devour helpless men and women.

Actually, both groups were right. The shows were growing progressively more and more corrupt. What once had been real exhibitions of courage and skill, even though brutal, were gradually becoming merely excuses for cruelty and perverted sexual exhibitions.

Although Carpophorus boasted that he didn't give a hoot for what the old-timers said, their contempt bothered him. So he continued to fight in the arena as a venator, once killing twenty wild beasts in one day, presumably with his bare hands.

What the beasts were, the accounts don't say. At this savage and dangerous work, Carpophorus was unequaled. As a result, he was the only bestiarius whose name has come down to us.

Roman Events: Those about to Die, Chapter Six, Part 1 is next.

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