Roman Times and Events: Those about to Die, Chapter 12, Part 2 of 4

(by Daniel P. Mannix)

These perverts were a great nuisance to the guards in charge of the prisoners and strict orders were given to keep them away from under the stands, but somehow they always managed to bribe or force their way in.

In their efforts to enjoy the suffering of the prisoners to the last moment, they crowded into the passageways that led to the podium and sometimes even onto the podium itself. On one occasion, Caligula gave orders for the guards not to drive them away.

Delighted, the sadists flung themselves on a batch of prisoners headed to the arena, kicking and pinching them as the captives struggled along. These degenerates became so absorbed in their sport that they didn't notice where they were going.

Suddenly they heard a gate slammed behind them and found themselves in the arena with the condemned prisoners! The perverts ran wildly up and down before the podium wall, screaming that they were Roman citizens and that a terrible mistake had been made.

After enjoying their antics for a while, Caligula ordered the wild beasts to be loosed and the perverts died with the others.

Not all of the acts put on dealt with blood and sex, although unquestionably these became the main attractions. The Roman shows went through somewhat the same evolution as did burlesque in America.

Originally, burlesque shows were a rough-and-ready sort of vaudeville featuring dancers, novelty routines, comedians, and, of course, plenty of pretty girls; although the girls were only a background to the feature acts.

As the tastes of the audiences grew more crude, the girls became strippers and the whole show revolved around them. Burlesque, which had produced such great comedians as W. C. Fields, Fanny Brice, and Bert Lahr; finally featured comedians who did nothing but tell dirty jokes and only came on to give the girls a chance to change their G-strings.

However, to break up the steady series of strip routines, there always had to be an occasional singer, an occasional vaudeville turn, a few dance teams, and so on.

In much the same way, the Roman mob had to be given some kind of break between the gladiatorial combats and the wholesale slaughter of animals by the venatores.

These "fill-ins" might be ballet dancing, little skits like our "black-outs," or exhibitions of trained animals.

Apuleius describes one of the dances: "A number of beautiful girls and boys in costume gave a Greek Pyrrhic dance. Lines of dancers wove in and out of circles, sometimes all joining hands and dancing sideways and then separating into four wedge-shaped groups with the base of the triangles making a hollow square. Then the boys and girls would suddenly separate and dance opposite each other."

The skits given in the arena were typical bedroom farces which have remained unchanged for two thousand years. A man and woman would be in bed. There's a loud knocking. "By gracious Vesta, it's my husband!" the woman screams. The man dives under the bed but the new arrival is only another of the woman's lovers.

They get in bed and there's another knock. That man also dives under the bed and so on until the husband really does arrive. Then after some byplay, one of the lovers crowns him with a chamber pot and everyone runs out of the arena.

The trained animal acts must have been very remarkable. The Romans had an unlimited number of animals available for the games, and the bestiarii could select only those individual animals which showed promise—a long cry from today when a lion tamer, for example, has to take virtually any animal he can buy, borrow or beg.

Also, the Romans had unlimited time and plenty of cheap labor for cageboys, trainer's helpers, and so on. They taught elephants to walk a tightrope, horses to dance on their hind legs, and bears to pull chariots while another bear acted as driver.

They also had trained ducks and geese as well as performing monkeys. The Thessalians had "bulls as well trained as chariot horses" which would lie down, ride in chariots or fight each other on command.

All of these feats modern trainers can duplicate, but the Romans also taught lions to retrieve hares and bring them to their master's feet uninjured, after first having them kill bulls to prove their ferocity.

They also staged special hunts by trained cheetahs (the African hunting leopard) coursing antelope, and caracals (African lynx) catching rabbits and partridges.

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

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