Friday, 8 May 2015

Death of a gladiator


...there was lately in a training-school for wild-beast gladiators a German, who was making ready for the morning exhibition; he withdrew in order to relieve himself, – the only thing which he was allowed to do in secret and without the presence of a guard. While so engaged, he seized the stick of wood, tipped with a sponge, which was devoted to the vilest uses [*], and stuffed it, just as it was, down his throat; thus he blocked up his windpipe, and choked the breath from his body. That was truly to insult death!
* The xylospongium or Roman toilet brush.

Seneca - Epistulae morales ad Lucilium c. 65 AD

Not quite the popular image of a gladiator is it? As far as I know there is no reason whatever to disbelieve Seneca's story, yet something makes me wonder if it was an ancient urban myth. I'm not sure why, but it is easy enough to imagine how gladiatorial combat could attract such myths. We are still fascinated by combat in its various forms, still cranking out myths.


James Higham said...

Doesn't sound like an altogether fun activity.

Sackerson said...

A terrible thing if true. Two thousand years ago and I'm pitying him now.

Andrew Zalotocky said...

Gladiators were slaves who suffered and died for the amusement of their owners. The anonymous German had nothing to look forward to except a miserable life of pain and humiliation until the beasts finally tore him apart. So it's not surprising that he committed suicide. It's just a question of whether he was motivated by fear, despair or a spirit of defiance.

A K Haart said...

James and Sackers - unimaginably cruel times with no prospect of escape other than death.

Andrew - Seneca seemed to see it as an act of defiance.

Andrew Zalotocky said...

AKH, I'm glad to hear that.

Sackerson said...

AKH - especially since it is said that otherwise he had no privacy and was constantly guarded.

I think there's a story in Slzhenitsyn's "One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovitch" of a man nailing his scrotum to his bench as a protest.