Few could resist the attraction of the gladiator combats.
Pollice Verso by Jean-Leon Gerome (public domain photo)
Gladiators came from the dregs of society and the combats were rude and cruel; and yet they seduced not only the rabble but the patricians and leaders of the state, who also came to watch the killing and the gore.
The most famous account of an irresistible attraction comes from St. Augustine. He was able to turn away but his friend Alipio got hooked.
Alipio’s parents had sent him to Rome to study law, says Augustine, and one day some of his classmates had the idea to go and see the combats. Alipio, who was a fine, sensitive young man, refused to go with them. The very idea horrified him. But his friends cheerfully picked him up and carried him off to the Colosseum. “All right,” Alipio told them. “You can take my body there, but you won’t be able to make me look at what goes on. I will sit with you but keep my eyes closed. It will be as if I weren’t there.”
He held out for awhile but suddenly the crowd roared. One of the gladiators had fallen to the ground wounded. Fans were all surprised but they were angered or disappointed or gladdened, depending on the fighter they supported. One hundred thousand spectators stamped and shouted at the top of their lungs. Alipio was so curious to see what had incensed them that he peeked between his fingers. “And so he received a greater wound in his soul than that gladiator had received in his body,” says Augustine. “Because afterwards with the spilled blood he drank in the joy in cruelty.” From that moment on he became a crazy fan of the combats and never missed a show.
Nevertheless there were some men and women in all the centuries who did resist.
Julius Caesar (public domain photo)
Julius Caesar, who sponsored many gladiator shows and even founded a gladiator school, didn’t himself show any interest in the fights while he sat in the ring. He used the time to write letters and dispatches and rarely even looked up from his work.
Seneca ( Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license photo by Calidius)
And Seneca called them barbaric and de-humanizing at a time when Rome’s degeneracy seemed at its height (Nero).