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Gladitorial games

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Kveto from Prague
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Gladitorial games

Post by Kveto from Prague » Sun March 20th, 2011, 8:51 pm

Just finished Alfred Duggans "Threes company". as always with Duggan, I learn new things in the course of being entertained. there was this little tidbit on the gladitorial games that piqued my interest. Ive always assumed that the gladitorial games were a way of entertaining the Roman populace, a "bread and circuses" argument for keeping the populace in line.

"His sons watched the fencing critically, never flinching when a blade disembowled a beaten man; the games were doing them good, teaching them to survey future battlefields without unmanly dismay. the ladies also watched with interest [] the Games would fortify feminine courage also, since at some future date honour might compel these ladies to stab themselves in the heart [rather than be ravished, captured,etc]"

In the view of Lepidus at least, the Games were a way of making Romans accustomed to violence and bloodshed. and maybe it worked. think about the way that our modern society is desensitized to violence through films and cinema.

Just thought it was an interesting perspective. I wonder if there was any historical basis for this view or if Duggan arrived at it on his own?

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Post by fljustice » Mon March 21st, 2011, 5:37 pm

"The Games" were complex social events that probably can't be shoehorned into one box labeled "entertainment." It's likely Duggan has some historical basis for his perspective. Gladiator contests arose out of funeral rituals where slaves fought to the death to honor the deceased. Emperors (and local nobles) used the games (including animal hunts, criminal executions, water battles, and other entertainments) to reinforce their personal superiority and right to rule ("Look what I can do!") and the superiority of the Roman people over animals, foreigners, and "others" ("We're No. 1!") It's hard to separate the ritual, religious, and political aspect of the games from the entertainment, because they are so intertwined. Donald G. Kyle addresses this in his introduction to Spectacles of Death in Ancient Rome.

From the emperors who took pride in the productions, to the spectators (high and low) who flocked to the shows, Romans of all classes approved of and enjoyed the games. Romans of different stations and from different viewpoints found something redeeming or entertaining about the games, be it how well gladiators faced death, the punishment of malefactors, the ability to interact with the emperor, or the viewing of foreign peoples and animals...Indeed, as social functions, arena spectacles were an occasion, as Turtullian said, for 'seeing and being seen', for seeing performances of skill and courage, and punishments and domination of foes and for being seen--as producers and patrons of games sitting at prominent vantage points, as citizens of status in seats of privilege, as citizen-spectators participating and sanctioning the rules and rulers of Rome..."

He doesn't get into the individual responses that Duggan cites, but it seems a likely conclusion, given what we know about the bloody spectacles.
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Post by annis » Mon March 21st, 2011, 7:50 pm

As Faith says, the gladiatorial games originally had a religious significance, to honour the dead in a similar way to the Greek funeral games mentioned by Homer in the Iliad. Supposedly the idea came originally from the Etruscans, but there's no real evidence to prove this. Given the Greek influence on Etruscan culture, though, it is a possibility.

Over time, the Games moved from their original modest purpose to entertainment on a grand scale, and from the sphere of religion to politics - entertainment as political bribery. There's been quite a lot of comparison made about desensitization to violence in the Roman acceptance and approval of more and more violent spectacle in the gladiatorial contests and the modern trend to more and more violence in films, games and even books.

Cicero commented on desensitization to violence:
“If we are forced, at every hour, to watch or listen to horrible events, this constant stream of ghastly impressions will deprive even the most delicate among us of all respect for humanity.”

It's a common element throughout history that people have always felt a need to justify violence and their vicarious enjoyment of it. Maybe Romans did rationalise their enjoyment in the ways Duggan describes in Three's Company.

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