Several of the hippos were approaching the barge, excited by the noise and the smell of blood. Although not carnivorous, the big brutes were as aggressive as bulls. Only their eyes and noses showed above the water as they floated studying the hysterical excitement on the remains of the barge.
The crowd was furious. People yelled, "Go on there, you big slobs! Do something! Get the fire!" for bulls that would not perform were occasionally goaded into action by throwing burning javelins into them.
Then one of the hippos charged the barge. Lifting his head and shoulders out of the water and opening
his huge mouth to its fullest capacity, he plunged his two tusks over the gunwale and began to shake the vessel like a terrier dog shaking a rat.
The submerged wreck heaved and shook as two tons of enraged hippo struggled with it. The last of the screaming girls were flung into the water and the white bellies of the crocs flashed as they twisted in the water, trying to wring off pieces cf their prey.
The mob was now uncontrollable. Women stood up in the stands drumming with their fists on the backs of people in the seats in front of them and screaming hysterically: "Kill! Kill! Kill!"
Even before the games started, smart young men could spot women who would give way to this madness and make a point of sitting next to them. While in the grip of hysteria, the women were unconscious of everything else and the boys could play with them while they screamed and writhed at the bloody spectacle below them.
Old men, long impotent, sat drooling gleefully. Even ordinarily normal men watched with mouths hanging half open, eyes staring eagerly to take in every detail, and then fought their way out through the crowd to take advantage of the prostitutes assembled in the arches under the building.
Children shouted and danced on their seats, as much to relieve their nervous tension as with joy at the sight below them.
Only in the lower ring of seats were there connoisseurs who watched with dispassionate interest, commenting to each other on, the strength and ferocity of the animals and criticizing the girl's figures as they were dragged to their death.
From above the watertight barrier which had been. hastily erected across the Gate of Death, rafts made of reeds and two-man boats of woven rushes were being" launched.
The rafts held six men each, Negroes from the cataracts of the Nile armed with harpoons. In each of the rush boats which had extravagantly high bows and stems sat a single harpooner and one paddler.
These curious craft were paddled toward the seething water, around the remnants of the barge. One of the rafts silently glided toward a hippo and, at a given signal, the harpooners all plunged their harpoons into its massive back.
Now even the blasé occupants of the podium became interested. The whole arena was quickly converted into a mass of foam, blood, struggling reptiles, bellowing hippos, and shouting men.
Several light dug-out canoes shot out. All but one headed for the mountain and a number of Egyptians stepped ashore.
Bestiarii had already come out of the interior of the structure and were driving the animals back into their holes with the lashing, lead-tipped whips.
The Egyptians lined up along the water's edge and stood with folded arms. They were magnificently built men, naked except for loincloths, and they stood motionless as images. They had brought several heavy nets which lay beside them carefully coiled.
In the remaining dugout was a lean, wiry man who from his coloring was probably half Egyptian and half Negro. His dugout was manned by four expert paddlers who made the light craft fly.
He seemed to be directing the harpooning, peering down into the water and then ordering the harpooners to take that animal or spare the next.
The crowd shouted furiously at him, "No! No!" but the man ignored them. When the angry cries of the mob rose to such a pitch that it seemed as though a riot threatened, Domitian turned to one of his aides and snapped an order.
The aide vanished and returned in a few moments with the Master of the Games. He gave the emperor some explanation that seemed to satisfy him because he nodded and continued to watch the show.
Roman Events: Those about to Die, Chapter Seven, Part 5 is next.
Roman Events: Those about to Die, Index or Table of Contents