Roman Times and Events: Those about to Die, Chapter 07, Part 2 of 6

(by Daniel P. Mannix)

As the slaves raced from the arena carrying the last of the corpses, pipes set in the podium wall were turned on and began to flood the arena.

The Master of the Games appeared on the podium and shouted that he had an important announcement to make. Actually, this announcement should have been made by the young editor but he had been drinking huge quantities of cold wine and could hardly stand, let alone address the crowd. The Master of the Games shouted:

"Romans, it has been said that we are not a cultural people. Nothing could be further from the truth. Simply because we are a strong, virile race and enjoy manly sports does not mean that we don't appreciate the finer things in life."

He was interrupted by boos, catcalls, and unpleasant noises made by placing the tongue between the lips and blowing hard. Someone threw a wine skin which he dodged.

"Yes, looking at your noble, intelligent faces, my friends, I know that the next act will deeply appeal to the artistic nature for which Romans are famous. We have with us today the distinguished Greek singer, Mezentius, who will sing that beautiful ode 'The Death of Orpheus' while accompanying himself on the lyre. As you know, Orpheus was the famous musician in Greek legend who could charm even wild animals with his music. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the great Mezentius!"

Amid bellows of indignant rage from the crowd, an artificial rock on the summit of the mountain swung open and out stepped Mezentius, draped in a white gown and carrying a golden lyre. While the furious crowd screamed: "We've been swindled! Back to Athens, you damn fruit! What is this, the games or a musical? Wreck the joint!" the musician bowed to right and left and then struck the opening chords of the song.

There were now a couple of feet of water in the arena and the Master of the Games, who had been anxiously watching the plumb marks on the podium wall, gave a signal.

A flat-bottomed barge covered with beautiful girls and hung with garlands of flowers floated out, the girls singing an accompaniment to the song. As the girls were naked except for tiny gauze aprons which the motion of the barge kept blowing aside or pressing against their plump young thighs, the crowd stopped booing and began to take an interest in the proceedings.

Now that he could be heard, the musician redoubled his efforts and the girls sang for all they were worth, waving their arms in time to the music and keeping their shoulders well back so that their breasts with the nipples carefully rouged would stand out.

Meanwhile, a new novelty was introduced. From crates and cages, slaves were slipping crocodiles and six hippopotami into the rapidly rising waters. The crowd began to applaud.

The barge, moved by paddlers hidden in the interior, drifted closer to the mountain where Orpheus sat among the flowers pouring out the words of the immortal ode.

The water in the arena was so clear that the crowd could watch the animals swimming in it. The great crocodiles, fifteen feet long, gliding along like shadows and the ponderous hippos walking on the bottom as though on land. Occasionally one of the hippos would rise to the surface, blow two columns of spray into the air, and then sink again.

The crowd watched with interest for a few minutes and then began to grow restless.

The Master of the Games was an expert in timing. He sensed to the second when the crowd had had enough. He gave another signal.

Instantly a series of hidden doors on the sides of the mountain slid open and out wandered a number of wild beasts: leopards, bears, wolves, and black panthers.

Orpheus, absorbed in his singing, did not notice the animals until a panther strolled across the grassy turf directly in front of him. The horrified musician stared in astonishment but continued his song, looking around him desperately and trying to signal the Master of the Games that a horrible mistake had been made.

The girls continued singing gaily, tossing rose petals toward Orpheus and urging him to let them hear more of his golden voice.

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

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