Roman Times and Events: Those about to Die, Chapter 05, Part 2 of 4

(by Daniel P. Mannix)

The boy grew up with few illusions about his job, the Roman mob, or the emperor himself. On one occasion, he carried wine and bread for the arena carpenters while they worked on a magnificent galley so cleverly contrived that by pulling a single dowel the entire ship would fall to pieces.

It was supposed that this galley was for one of the shows—in fact, such a galley had been employed in a spectacle only a few weeks before and the Emperor Nero had been deeply interested in it—but on completion the galley was taken to the port of Baiae.

A month later it was learned that the queen mother, Agrippina, had been given a splendid new galley by her devoted son, the emperor, which had unaccountably come to pieces in the middle of the bay.

Some of the stage carpenters who gossiped ended in the arena. Carpophorus kept his mouth shut but this incident confirmed the boy's belief that the entire world was like the arena—a place without justice or mercy, where only the smart and ruthless could survive.

Later, Carpophorus got a job as helper to some of the bestiarii in the circus and learned their techniques of handling dangerous wild animals.

Once when a bestiarius was trying to drive a bear from the arena, using a sort of cat-o'-nine-tails with lead balls on the ends of the lashes, the bear had turned on him and grabbed the man by the shoulder.

Young Carpophorus ran into the arena with a twist of blazing straw snatched from the hand of an arena slave and drove the bear off.

Rumors of this feat reached one of the instructors at the School of Bestiarii and he had a talk with the boy. He agreed to send Carpophorus through the school if the boy would agree to serve him as a slave for the next ten years.

Carpophorus accepted this offer and so became an auctorati (bound over). He spent two years at the school, learning how to handle animals ranging in size from foxes to elephants.

The boy grew up with few illusions about his job, the Roman mob, or the emperor himself.

Although everyone at the school admired the tough young man's uncanny ability with animals, Carpophorus was extremely unpopular and not even the most farsighted of his instructors imagined that the quiet, rather sullen youth would some day be the top bestiarius in Rome.

The boy was short, dark, heavy-set, and if not actually clumsy, at least not graceful. A good bestiarius was supposed to be slender and agile like a modern matador.

The boy was not a good mixer. His early life had made him suspicious of people—one of the reasons why he had turned to animals with such a passionate intensity—and he had cultivated a chip-on-the-shoulder attitude which his fellow students resented.

Carpophorus, on the other hand, regarded them as a lot of amateurs. Most of them had never been in an arena with a wild animal before they came to the school while Carpophorus had been handling wild stock since he was a kid.

He didn't think much of his instructors, either. They put too much emphasis on book-learning, always quoting Aristotle and Pliny. Neither of these two learned gentlemen, as far as Carpophorus was concerned, knew beans about animals.

They thought a mare could conceive if a south wind blew under her tail. Carpophorus knew better than that.

Carpophorus, because of his great strength and brutal technique, was made a venator—a hunter.

The boy went through the usual course at the school and learned many things which his rough-and-ready, rule-of-thumb education as cageboy in the arena had not taught him.

As with gladiators, there were usually many types of bestiarii: men who specialized in keeping ahead of the beasts by running, men who learned how to dodge them, bull-fighters, lion-tamers, pole-vaulters, and so on.

Carpophorus, because of his great strength and brutal technique, was made a venator—a hunter. He learned how to fight wild animals barehanded, strangling them or breaking their necks.

He learned how to blind a lioness by throwing a cape over her head and then cracking her back by striking the loins with the edge of his hand. (At least, the Roman writers claim that bestiarii could do this—it must have been quite a trick.) He also fought bears with a veil in one hand to distract the animal and a sword in the other.

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

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