The crowd paid no attention to him and he had to shout to stop their singing. Finally the hymn ceased and Carpophorus called, "Do any of you speak Latin?"
No one answered so Carpophorus tried again in Greek.
An old man answered in the same tongue. "I speak Greek but in spite of that, I want it clearly understood that I am not a Sadducee nor do I have any sympathy with those of my people who learn other tongues and other ways."
"Sure, sure," said Carpophorus impatiently. "Now I have a proposition to make. We're using a bunch of raw lions and they won't attack unless you do exactly what I tell you to do. Now wait a minute," he went on, holding up his hand. "Even if the lions don't attack, it only means we'll have to use bears or wild dogs and they'll kill you much more slowly than the lions will.
Here's my proposition. You have a lot of kids here. Only the kids who are sick or crippled and will die anyhow have to go into the arena with you. I'll use my influence with the Master of the Games to get the rest sold as slaves. I swear it by my gods."
"I am sure that we would all prefer to die together," said the old rabbi with dignity. "Nevertheless, I will repeat your offer."
He repeated it while Carpophorus waited impatiently. The lack of oxygen in the room was making him dizzy and the stink was sickening. There were no toilet facilities and the crowd of victims had been kept there over a week.
No wonder, Carpophorus reflected, that prisoners often dashed out into the arena as eagerly as though they were being given their freedom. Any fate was better than being cooped up here and even a few minutes' chance to get fresh air before the wild beasts attacked was a luxury.
He also understood why these holocausts were generally given on the first day of the games. The prisoners had to be gotten out of these cells as fast as possible before they all died.
When the rabbi had repeated the message, there was a wild outcry from the women. They screamed, clung to their children, and rocked back and forth in an ecstasy of grief.
Many of the men sank down and buried their faces in their hands, openly weeping. Carpophorus regarded this exhibition of emotion with disgust; as a Roman, he had been trained to conceal his feelings.
He wondered how the old rabbi could make any sense out of the confusion for everyone seemed to be talking ¦ to him at once, waving their hands, tearing their rags; of clothing and holding out their palms to him as though expecting help.
The rabbi listened calmly to the outburst, occasionally asking a question and shaking his head. Finally he turned to Carpophorus.
"I still think it would be far better if we all died together but the women are weak and will accept your offer. What is it that you want us to do?"
Carpophorus was ready for that question. The technique he was about to explain was later observed by Eusebius, one of the fathers of the early church, among the Christian martyrs.
Exactly the same technique is used today by white hunters in Africa to induce animals to charge for photographic purposes or to bring them in range for an easy shot.
"Well, first of all you've got to understand how these animals think," he started briskly. This was his great subject and be felt contemptuous of these ignorant heathen who knew nothing of the mental workings of the great cats.
"A lot of people think that starving a lion or a tiger makes 'em vicious. I've seen cats so starved that when they were turned loose in the arena, they lay down and died at the feet of the people they were supposed to eat."
Carpophorus shook his head sadly at such bungling. "Starving a cat only makes him weak. You've got to remember that most of the big cats can go for long periods of time without eating and then their stomach juices stop flowing. Even in a quiet cage, it's hard to make them eat under these conditions, so you can imagine what it's like getting them to attack strange prey in an open arena with that mob yelling their heads off."
"Exactly what is it that you wish us to do?" asked the rabbi patiently.
"I'm getting to that," snapped Carpophorus. "If you people just stand still, these raw lions won't pay any attention to you. Keep trying to remember that you don't smell like their natural prey so the poor things don't even know that you're good to eat. We'll try to help out there by covering you with zebra and antelope skins so you'll seem more like their ordinary quarry", he explained
Carpophorus continued, "Now if you shout or yell or start running around, you'll scare them. Lions are very sensitive creatures. In a wild state, they only hunt at night, there can't be any moon, it's the female who does the actual killing, the weather must be just right and lots of other factors that we can't reproduce here. So don't start yelling or screaming as those women were doing just now or you'll scare the yellow porridge out of these cats."
"The women will be quiet, I promise you," said the rabbi calmly.
"Well, see that they are. Remember you've got nobility sitting in those boxes and just the jewels they're wearing are worth more than the whole lot of you. Nothing personal, you understand, just stating a fact. All right, now here's what you've got to do."
"Stand quiet and spread out some so you don't form a compact mass. Then move your hands slightly and sway your bodies a little; just enough so the lions know you're alive. Once they realize that you're alive but not dangerous, they'll charge. Remember, no quick motions or loud noises. Easy does it," Carpophorus concluded.
"I understand," said the rabbi. He turned and translated. The people listened despairingly. A new volley of questions went up and the rabbi asked of Carpophorus, "How do we know that you will keep your word and spare the children?"
"You don't," said Carpophorus frankly. "But what have you got to lose? The kids will be killed anyhow."
The rabbi said sadly, "It is true," and addressed the people. More cries and sobs went up while Carpophorus listened with increasing restlessness.
Finally the rabbi said, "Select the children you will spare, if being sold into slavery is to spare them." He turned away, unwilling to watch the sight.
Roman Events: Those about to Die, Chapter Eight, Part 3 is next.
Roman Events: Those about to Die, Index or Table of Contents