Roman Times and Events: Those about to Die, Chapter 10, Part 2 of 3

(by Daniel P. Mannix)

The Master of the Games remarked quietly, "That was a brilliant job you did, getting those raw lions to kill the Jewish rebels."

"Aw, you just have to know your lions and your Jews," said Carpophorus, pleased with the praise.

"Still, it was a fine piece of work. We have fifty zealots who are to fight seventy bears day after tomorrow, the zealots using only their daggers. That should be a good show."

"Haven't you got any prisoners except Jews?" demanded Carpophorus irritably. For some reason the memory of the old rabbi moving out to bring on the lions' charge bothered him.

"Thank Hercules for them," said the Master sincerely. "They built the Flavian amphitheater, they were the first people to die there, and they're still our main source of supply with their constant revolts. These damn Nazarenes, or Christians, or whatever they call themselves are no good—die like sheep without fighting. I refuse to use them, myself."

Everyone, nodded agreement. The group would have been considerably surprised if they could have foreseen that the Colosseum would be preserved only because of the edict of Pope Benedict XIV who wished it to remain as a shrine to the Christian martyrs—although comparatively few Christians ever died there; the great Neroian persecutions were in the Circus Maximus.

One of the young patricians was a friend of Titus, the juvenile editor giving the games. This adolescent lordling had been drinking too much and now burst out in praise of his friend. (This speech, by the way, is taken from the "Satyricon" of Petronius.)

"The next three days ought to be really good—no cheap slave gladiators but nearly all the fighters freemen. Good old Titus has a heart of gold and a hot head—the boys will have to fight it out and no thumbs-up. Titus will see that they have sharp swords and no one backs out. The arena will look like a butcher's stall before the day's over. Titus is lousy rich. Suppose he does spend four hundred thousand sesterces a day on the games, his old man left him thirty million so why should he worry?"

He continued with, "These games will make his name live forever. He's got some fine chariot horses and a female charioteer and Glyco's boy friend who's going to be tossed by a w'ld bull. Glyco found the youngster knocking-up his mistress. It wasn't the kid's fault; he was only a slave and had to do what the woman wanted. She's the one who ought to go to the bull, but if you can't beat a donkey you have to beat his pack, I suppose."

He added, "Anyhow, it'll be a good show. What did the other candidate for magistrate give us? A lousy show with stinking gladiators—if you farted you could knock half of them over. I've seen better bestiarii, too. The shows were staged at night by torchlight; what did he think he was giving us, a cockfight? The gladiators were either knock-kneed or bow-legged and the substitutes for the dead men ought to have been hamstrung before the fight started. The only one to show any guts was Thracian and the slaves had to burn him with hot irons to get him going. The crowd was crying, 'Tie 'em up!' because they were all obviously escaped slaves. Afterwards, the louse said to me, 'Well, anyhow I gave you a show.' 'You did and I applauded,' I told him. 'The way I look at it, I gave you more than I got.'"

Carpophorus was drunk by now as were most of the men. He shouted for food and the innkeeper brought him a steak. "I've seen bullock's eyes that were bigger than this," snarled the venator, hurling the plate to the floor.

He grabbed for his wine cup and managed to spill it over the table. "More wine!" roared the venator, pulling himself to his feet by holding on to the bar. "More wine for the greatest man in the empire! I'm greater than the emperor, you know why? That son of a diseased sow couldn't hold his throne a week if it wasn't for men like me. Who was it who broke the Lucius Antonius mutiny? Me! I arranged to have forty little blonde girls all under ten years old raped by a band of baboons. The soldiers stopped the mutiny to watch the show. And what about the time lightning struck the Capitoline Temple, a very bad omen? The mob rioted and would have wrecked the city if I hadn't staged that chariot race, using naked women instead of horses. What's that dog's-dung, Domitian, ever done? I'm running this empire and I can lick any man in the house!"

An old bestiarius sitting in a corner cackled obscenely. He looked like a mummy, hairless, and eyes so sunk into his head that only the sockets showed, his skin taut against his bones.

"Ah, you bestiarii are nothing but geldings today," screeched the old man as he gummed his wine-cup. "In my day, we were men. I made the sand smoke under me, I can tell you. We fought aurochs with swords and . . ."

"Hold your noise, you old wreck," bellowed the venator. "I know you old-timers—a lion, to hear you talk; and a fox, to see you act. None of you were worth your own dirt. Look at you now!"

"Yes, look at me now!" screamed the old man. "Wait 'til you're too old for the arena and have eaten your clothes and can't even get employment as a cage-boy. I've seen you in the arena. You run around like a mouse in a pot. In my day ..."

Roman Events: Those about to Die, Chapter Ten, Part 3 is next.

Roman Events: Those about to Die, Index or Table of Contents