Roman Times and Events: Those about to Die, Chapter 11, Part 6 of 7

(by Daniel P. Mannix)

Another pair entered the arena and still another. As the fights went on the crowd stamped with enthusiasm, howled with rage, clapped with delight or flung miracles of insults at the fighters.

There were constant cries of "Good! Aim for breast! What's the matter with you, you filth-gorged privy maggot! Let him have it! Give it to him!"

When one man went down and the victor turned to face the stands, the crowd went into a frenzy of delight, especially if they had been betting on him.

Women especially broke into hysterical spasms, and not only the common women in the upper tiers. The noble ladies on the podium often lost their heads.

When one handsome young Myrmillo, only a few weeks before a simple farmboy living on the slopes of Apennine, paraded before the podium with his bloody sword upraised, a great lady screamed uncontrollably and flung her brooch and necklace into the arena.

Then she stripped off her rings, tossed them onto the sand, and finally ripped off her undergarments and threw them also. When the young Myrmillo came on the crumpled garments, he thought that the lady had simply thrown him her scarf or cloak.

As he picked up the clothing to toss it back, the underwear unfolded. The simple boy stood gazing horrified at what he was holding. Then he dropped the garments and fled from the arena "more terrified of a woman's underwear than he had been of his enemy's sword."

The crowd thought this was killingly funny and nearly died laughing. The patrician lady's husband was not so amused.

At that, he was more fortunate than the husband of Hippia, a noble lady who left her husband and children and fled to Egypt with a gladiator named Sergius. Juvenal says bitterly, "Sergius was maimed, getting old, had a battered face, his forehead was covered with welts from his helmet, his nose was broken and his eyes were bloodshot. But he was a swordsman!"

Whether Juvenal intended any pun, I don't know. Many great ladies enjoyed the company of famous gladiators in their private apartments, but few ever ran off with their lovers.

Retiarii and Secutores were fighting now. One of the Retiarii was wearing a visored helmet which concealed his face; a very unusual uniform for a net-man. The Secutor was a steady old fighter while the helmeted Retiarius was a clumsy, nervous young man obviously unsure of himself.

Suddenly the Secutor took a quick step under the circling net, knocked the trident out of his opponent's hand, and threw him down. The angry crowd contemptuously gave the death signal, which the editor instantly duplicated.

The despairing Retiarius tore off his helmet and stretched out both hands in supplication to the crowd. A horrified gasp went up. Everyone recognized the young man as Gracchus, a descendant of one of the noblest of the great patrician families.

A drunkard and spendthrift, the young patrician had been abandoned by his family, and sinking lower and lower had finally ended in the arena as a professional gladiator.

Unflinchingly, the Emperor gave the death sign, but the Secutor shrank from killing one "so noble and so vile." Amid a dead silence, the young man slunk from the arena.

Roman Events: Those about to Die, Chapter Eleven, Part 7 is next.

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