Prof Dame Mary Beard – Introduction: Murderous games


let me extend to you all a very warm
welcome to this series of Gifford lecture
at the University of Edinburgh for the session 2018 to 2019 my name is Stuart
brown I’m professor of ecclesiastical history and the deputy convener of the
Gifford lectures ships committee allow me to say a few words about the Gifford
lectures before I introduce our lecture the Gifford lectures were established in
1885 by a gift from Adam Lord Gifford a justice of the Scottish Court of Session
and a man of broad learning compassion and cultivation he endowed series of
public lectures to be offered at each of the four older Scottish universities
Admiral st. Andrews Glasgow and Aberdeen for promoting advancing teaching and
diffusing the study of natural theology with natural theology defined as the
knowledge of God and the foundation of ethics or morals the first series of
Gifford lectures was delivered in 1888 and at the University of Edinburgh our
past Gifford lectures have included such luminaries as William James onra Baron
James G Fraser Albert Schweitzer Reinhold Niebuhr Iris Murdoch Charles
Taylor and Rowan Williams our Gifford lecture for the session 2018 to 19 is
the distinguished historian classicist and public intellectual professor Mary
beard professor of classics and fellow of Newnham College at the University of
Cambridge Mary beard was educated at the University of Cambridge earning her
doctorate in 1982 with a thesis on Roman state religion she taught at King’s
College London before returning to Cambridge in 1984 as
a fellow of known ‘m and lecture in classics and she became professor of
classics at Cambridge in 2004 a highly gifted scholar teacher she has been
generous in sharing with us her scholarly expertise and also her wider
insights on life and culture she is a superb ancient historian and scholar of
classical literature she’s the author of over a dozen books on ancient
civilizations including Pompeii the life of a Roman town awarded the Wolfson
History Prize in 2008 and more recently the critically acclaimed SPQR a history
of ancient Rome in 2015 her historical writings are characterized by impressive
learning compelling analysis and I for just the right historical illustration a
lively readable style a gentle sense of humor and an abiding humanity and above
all she has the confidence to make her writings accessible to a wide readership
she makes effective use of television with such a claim series as meet the
Romans and ultimate Rome Empire without limit enriching classical studies for a
still wider public her thought-provoking add-ons life has a vast following one of
Britain’s best-known and best loved public intellectuals she’s promoted
compassion for refugees and a commitment to assisting those in need across the
globe there have been numerous honours to mention just a few she was elected
fellow with British Academy in 2010 she was awarded the OBE in 2013 the bodily
medal from the University of Oxford in 2016
and in 2018 she was made a dame for her services to the study of classical
civilizations for her series of differed lectures professor beard has defined the
theme the ancient world and us from fear and loathing to enlightenment and ethics
highly appropriate for a Gifford series her six lectures will explore the
foundations of ethics including why the classical world continues to matter and
how an understanding of antiquity can challenge the moral certainties of
modernity please note that the lecture and questions this evening are being
recorded and the video will shortly be available online on the University of
Edinburgh Gifford lectures web page professor beard could I now invite you
to give the first of your Gifford lectures on the topic of murderous games
exploring how we can view ancient cultures as standing both for the
pinnacle of civilizations and for the nadir of corruption and cruelty just gonna switch myself on ya it’s
worked um thank you very much today and let me
start more generally by thanking all the organizers of these Gifford lectures for
the invitation to be here today I feel hugely honored to be in a list of
speakers stretching back more than a century and including so many of my own
heroes and heroines to pick out just three I learnt an awful lot of my Roman
religious history from William Ward Fowler’s religious experience of the
Roman people which were the Gifford lectures here in 1909 I’ve always wanted
to sort of tread in the footsteps of Hannah Arendt who was the first female
different lecture Aberdeen in 1972 and I recently much enjoyed watching Judith
Butler’s 2017 Series in Glasgow on equality and violent non-violence when
he was about violence too but fully recommended and I still feel a little
bit anxious about what lore difference reaction to my own series might be I
mean I’m pleased to say that I fit some of the prescriptions he laid down in his
will fine I shall not be talking about miracles which was the topic he was
explicitly against I do fancy myself as a bit of a free thinker and that was a
category of lecturer he explicitly welcomed and I should be talking in
various ways about morality and ethics as I reflect on our own ethical
engagement with the ancient Greeks and Romans whose practices habits and morals
were I’m sure there’s no need to point out sometimes disconcertingly different
from own but if Lord Gifford wherever he is
has his ear open what I’m about to say I hope that he will listen with his usual
generous and capacious definition of what natural theology is right so if
he’s there I hope you enjoy it but can I also thank all of you for being here
today and also the staff of the University for taking the trouble to
change the location of these lectures so that more people could come along as
I’ve discovered their predecessors in the 1880s were far less flexible and
they didn’t make any changes at all when a mini rau broke out in the Glasgow
Herald in 1888 because max Mueller’s lectures had been
timed for three o’clock in the afternoon which the letter writer said one letter
writer said was fine for quotes students and clergymen because they were assumed
not to have anything to do at three o’clock in the afternoon but not and I’m
quoting for businessmen and clocks and had to say it wasn’t just Glasgow it was
even worse the next year in Edinburgh when the lectures were timed for midday
and the same rare broke out and the admins stock doggedly to their time it
was I have to say a start to the whole series there was just a little bit at
variance with the intentions of Lord Gifford who was committed to the idea of
the lectures being public and popular and open to the whole community and as I
can see that certainly an aspiration that is very much top of the agenda now
in the spirit I guess a bit of another great phrase I found in the will of Lord
Gifford which I read very carefully he said nothing but good can result from
free discussion so I hope that exactly what we’re going to have over
the next few weeks but to my topic the ancient world and us know the theme of
these lectures as a whole Springs from some casual encounters I had almost
twenty years ago now in the Colosseum in Rome we’re in the middle of some other
work I was dawdling with nothing much to do for a couple of hours and I ended
spending most of the time eavesdropping rather wickedly on the school parties
from different countries who were being shown around the Colosseum by teachers
and tour guides it was fascinating whatever the nationality whatever the
language they were being talked to in the script was almost always the same
and the reaction of the kids was almost always the same go something like this
the teacher would say what used to happen here
almost immediately some child it was usually a boy would stick his hand up
and say something like well it’s aware the Romans used to kill people for
entertainment and throw them to the wild beasts miss Wright the teacher were then
saying would we do that now and they would all say no miss in pretty much
unison and then you watch this horrible self-satisfied blow of the confidence in
human progress a sanctimonious fog of self-righteousness descending on the
whole bloody group right now if I witnessed that today I think
I’d interrupt I’d go over I’d say no I mean hang on
he’s been nowhere we see violence for entertainment in our own culture and
anyway who’s still getting a thrill out of gladiatorial combat which of you has
just brought I would get really school mistress so which of you has just bought
a gladiator model right or had their picture taken those dreadful ripoffs
scanned radiators outside the Coliseum movie
it’s just then out I think it really was today in 2019 and I think if the kids
are bit older I think I would have added how do you compare what went on here
with the fact that we know that millions of people have recently watched footage
of a real life mass murder on their smartphones and that at least one
mainstream British newspaper has posted footage on their website of real dead
murder victims let’s think a minute back then I wasn’t remotely brave enough to
do anything of the sort but word has stuck with me and it’s
raised some of the bigger questions that I want to explore in this series of
lectures you don’t have to worry I won’t actually be defending gladiatorial games
as sort of harmless sport and in a way of course the children’s reactions with
absolutely spot-on but I do want to question some of our own ethical
engagements ethical dimensions of our engagement with the Greeks and Romans
and in particular that kind of unreflective sense of moral superiority
the we often adopt when we confront the
ancient past I can’t think for example how many times
students have said to me when we’ve been studying ancient slavery that we don’t
have slaves anymore and I have to take a big breath and now I am braver and say
Joe are you absolutely certain and you can imagine how the conversation goes
now this isn’t meant to be at all a roundabout way of saying that the
ancient history classical history has something direct to teach us I’m going
to put my cards anslee straight on the table I don’t actually think that
ancient history or classical culture is relevant in any kind of straightforward
way or in the way that the media tries to draw superficially easy but
misleading parallels between then and now what you’ve got on the screen
obviously afraid it’s a bit of a cheating composite by me between the
Washington Post and the Daily Mail you know tendentious Lee claiming that it
was immigration that finished off the Roman Empire just like dot dot and you
then fill that in so I don’t think there’s a simple equivalence between
ancient circumstances and our own but I do think that looking harder at Greeks
and Romans helps us to look harder at ourselves if there’s a dialog between
now and antiquity oh I guess actually between now and any period of the past
but I hope I convinced you that antiquity is a particularly rich one
yeah if there’s a dialogue it must impact on now – not just on how we think
about then but on how we think of that’s the that’s the kind of the
underpinnings of these lectures and that at the same time raises further issues
about how we study the ancient world particularly those parts of it that we
find pretty repellant not just those that we think we don’t how do we deal
with some of the horrors from the sadism of what the ancients got up to and what
bits of the ancient world do we admire Fenian democracy has come to later in
this series would I think be one example but why did we admire it and what blind
spots do we have to have in place in order to admire those bits of the
ancient world that we do more generally to what extent should a historian judge
deplore or a proof as much as study what is the role of the role of a historians
ethical engagement in their subject study to bring this down to just one
concrete example which in a sense sets the scene for tonight how do we
begin to understand what went through the mind of let’s say an ordinary Roman
bloke as he sat through a full day’s slaughter in the Coliseum now the bottom
line of course is that we can’t possibly understand that but I think that doesn’t
prevent us and shouldn’t prevent us having a go understanding it or at least
thinking what the options are were the Romans simply crueler than we are or
were the coordinates of how they thought about the world so different but what we
think of as cruel didn’t appear the same to then and enter moral relativism with
a big coach and horses at that point now in saying this I don’t also want to
give the impression that these lectures are all going to be about doom and gloom
and horrible things that the ancients got up to and terrible soul-searching
they won’t be up I hope also that we’ll have some fun exploring some of the most
intriguing bits of the classical world some of the most vivid and surprising
evidence for what went on there whether that’s today gladiators painted statues
next time from Julius Caesar to the hero Achilles and from very high level
history to humble tombstones but through that I’m always going to be keeping in
mind a range of quick questions slightly different I think each time that shine
some of the spotlight of that inquiry back onto us that’s why it’s about the
ancient world and us know the rest of this evening I should be sticking to the
murderous games of the Roman amphitheatre games I hasten to say being
a conventional literal but perhaps misleading translation of the Latin term
Ludi in case you were thinking it sounded fairly jolly these games are
almost as much I think a part of our own culture now as they were of the ancient
world in 2018 almost seven and a half million of us visited the Colosseum
which was the prime location most famous and largest location of these games
that’s a lot more than ever visited it in the Roman world for whatever purpose
more than twice as visited Pompeii in the same year and it makes it’s the
world the world’s third most visited tourist or heritage attraction it’s
beaten only by the move 10 million and the National
Museum of China at 8 million and here is the key to get in they have slightly
improved things with a rather ferocious online booting scheme now but still
pretty much a queue so enormous numbers of people go to the very heart of
gladiatorial murderous display every year but it’s not only that it’s not
just a question of mass tourism riddled through Western culture Oh famous
representations of gladiatorial combat particularly over the last couple of
centuries in European art from Jerome’s famous painting of the amphitheater
which is said to have inspired Ridley Scott’s reconstructions in the movie
there’s Simeon Solomon’s focus on the women in the audience here demanding the
death of the fighter you can see the thumbs-down or even in modernist style
George de kere eCos gladiators practicing and that’s just high art and
there’s plenty more if you go to more popular versions this is my favorite
actually he’s ripped the scene off actually from Jerome in the amphitheater
Asterix the gladiator and you can find any number of cheesy jokes
about gladiator I’m a gladiator but that’s just to put food on the table
what I really want to do is to teach now to be sure part of this interest over
the centuries has been intensified by the way Christians came to tell the
story of Roman persecution the fact that the punishment sometimes faced by early
members of the faith was to be thrown to the Lions in the amphitheatre gave these
spectacle in retrospect at least a powerful and
pious extra resonance and the Colosseum itself still forms one setting of the
Pope’s Easter rituals yeah it’s hard not also to sense in the general modern
popularity of gladiatorial combat a particular form of dark tourism you know
apart from pious pilgrims why do we and by we I include me why do we flock to
visit a place of mass slaughter you’ve got kind of dark tourism here combined I
think with a slightly unsettling prurience about what went on there and
to go back from the Pope’s Asterix a certain kind of comic banner ization you
know actually gladiators have become one of the jokes of the ancient world but
what’s he all based on now the fact is we know both a lot and in some respects
frustratingly little about these games and by games aren’t including their
under that rubric a whole spectrum of contests and spectacles which include
fights between gladiators fights of men and wild beasts right up to what was
effectively as with the Christians the execution of criminals by throwing them
to the wild beasts all of which are things that you might have seen in there
in the arena it’s not just gladiators as I said we know a lot on a little and I’m
gonna start with some of the things that we basically know about gladiators
number one there’s no real doubt that these shows that were put on in
amphitheaters sometimes involve slaughter on a massive scale one roman
writer for example said that in the vast games held by the
emperor trajan in the early second century AD ten thousand gladiators
fought over several weeks and eleven thousand animals were killed that may be
an exaggeration and he doesn’t actually tell us how many of the 10,000
gladiators themselves were killed and it’s certainly not clear who’s counting
but even if you were to half it that is still pretty terrifying so nasty no
doubt in our turns nasty there is also no doubt that gladiatorial combat became
a defining feature of the culture of the Roman Empire there were MP theaters such
as you see on the top left on the same basic model found all over the western
Mediterranean and in the east theaters like this one which were designed for
drama and the difference between an amphitheatre which is designed for
gladiatorial combat is that the walls go all the way around and the seats in the
theater you’ve got a stage here the semicircle in the east theaters like
this were regularly converted in the Roman Empire to host Roman style games
you’re going to have beasts you actually had to keep the animals off the
spectators and if you go around you look you’ll see in places like the little
holes where the metal rails were put up to keep the whatever it was off the
people on the front row and certainly don’t believe anybody who tells you as
they are sometimes tempted to do that those lovely intellectual Greeks didn’t
go in for the kind of nasty stuff that the Romans did under the Roman Empire
the Greeks were just as keen on gladiators as
Romans though they did it slightly different buildings they’re not going to
be let off the hook so we’ve got them nasty ubiquitous and also is clear
there’s an awful lot of cultural meaning and significance of heavily weighted
culturally these games and their participants because just like in the
modern world you find hundreds and hundreds of images of gladiators and
wild beasts right across the Roman Empire there on those ax there in
paintings there on lamps this one’s particularly not example because there’s
actually a lamp in the shape of a gladiator I assume you put the oil in
the wick in there but not quite certain how it works I think it’s probably might
be a little rude right and you know if I I said you know modern images of
gladiators can be kind of made pretty banal so too could ancient one this is a
mosaic from an english roman villa with some actually appallingly cutesy Cupid’s
and you can see dressed up as gladiators fighting and training it’s really afraid
if we want to say that Romans in Britain had a palling taste
I think exhibit one would be this right but more than that even though
gladiators in the in real life were what we would call the socially excluded
often enslaved or condemned criminals they were in our old anthropological
saying good to think with gladiators were good to think with for the Romans
and they were repeatedly used in Roman literature and philosophy as a model of
human conduct the commitment of the wise man to virtue for
example was said to be like that of a gladiator to his fight and the games in
the Coliseum itself came to stand as a metaphor for the very nature of Roman
Imperial power in a short book of poetry written by the poet Marshal to celebrate
the opening of the Colosseum in 80 AD the audience at the first games, the very
first games put on there is treated by the poet as if they were the Roman
Empire in microcosm people who all over the world were there and emperors
themselves were repeatedly judged by how they behaved when they were sitting in
the Imperial box in the Colosseum the transgressions a really awful Emperor’s
were often summed up by their transgression at the games and the
classic example and you can see quite how transgressing it is it’s very very
bad Emperor’s used to arrange for example for arrows to be fired into and
at the audience so turning those people who are supposed to be spectators of
death into victims of it there’s quite a lot of stories about how there was some
Emperor’s you felt slightly less keen on going to the Colosseum under than others
and that was firing arrows at the audience was only one of their tricks
see some others later so there’s lots and lots of rich material but there’s
really big unanswered questions about all this we don’t know for example how
this gladiator culture started it’s ubiquitous but where does it come from
the Romans themselves Roman writers sometimes speculated that it came
originally from their northern neighbors the Etruscans
but that was a claim that they often made when they didn’t have the foggiest
clue right comes from the Etruscans there’s a story that the very first
gladiatorial display in Rome took place in connection with a funeral in 264 BC
but if so we can only speculate on the funerary meaning some people of thought
maybe it was a human sacrifice to the dead but that’s only guesswork and we’re
not much better informed about the end of gladiatorial displays references to
gladiators in Roman literature fade away in the mid-fifties entry AD, wild beast
hunts go on longer but gladiatorial combat we don’t get reference to after
the mid 400s the end of that combat must I think have been connected somehow with
the growth of Christianity but exactly how it was connected with that it’s not
clear there’s no sign of an outright ban on gladiators imposed by any Christian
Emperor and many all but many early Christian writers seem to be as invested
in the culture the metaphors and the symbolism of gladiatorial combat as
their pagan in inverted commas counterparts there’s absolutely no
reason to think of the first Christians as humanitarians in this respect perhaps
more strikingly though is that we really don’t know much about what went on at
these games across the Empire or even in Rome I mean it’s true we have a whole
load of very very vivid snapshots of the kind of combat that was involved I
mentioned Marshalls poetry written to celebrate the opening of the Colosseum
and that includes some verses which describe some truly exquisitely awful
ways that condemned were put to death in the Coliseum they
were made to mimic the death or torment of mythical characters so one condemned
man for example in 80 AD was made to play the part of the Greek hero
Prometheus who in the myth was chained to a rock and had his liver torn out by
an eagle marshal says that at these games in 80 they’d been a slight variant
and they’ve got a Scottish bear who attacked, how they got it heaven knows, a Scottish bear came and attacked the guy who was playing Prometheus and there
are more ordinary kind of momentary glimpses of the action and the fighters
this is a graffito from Pompeii which is bit difficult to decode in detail it
shows a fight between between two gladiators here – a musical
accompaniment these are horn players needs a pipe
players and their names and form is written next to there was an extra
gladiator name here it’s hard to know what it refers to but you can tell from
the shorthand this is Hilarius and he may he be kicked he won a missus crooner
and he this gives the number of fights he had he was missus he was defeated but
reprieved and there’s quite a lot of that kind of popular stuff and there
also a number of tombstones of gladiators who seem to have died after
the end of their gladiatorial service this is a guy who came to Rome from
Alexandrian Egypt to fight in some games that celebrated some Roman victories
some Roman massacres in the early second century AD and there are plenty more wonderful details like that the problem is you get
all those snapshots but it’s really unclear how it all fitted together and
the modern accounts that you quite often read would say things like the shows
usually started at 10 o’clock in the morning with fights between gladiators
the bloodiest spectacles I’m sort of quoting here the bloodiest spectacles
involving condemned criminals took place over lunch time and so on
all those a fantasy little sort of fantasy or they’re terribly terribly
willfully overgeneralizing even something like the famous phrase
that almost everybody knows Hail Caesar those about to die salute you our way
Kaiser morituri te salutant which gladiators are always supposed to have
said as most textbook tell us to the Emperor at the beginning of a fight that
phrase is attested in ancient literature only once and it’s not connected to the
gladiator gladiatorial games at all it was actually a part of what some mock
sailors said as they were performing in another Roman favorite which was a mock
sea battle on a lake outside Rome it’s become Asterix is quite right that’s
what we know think but that phrase has there’s no reason to suppose it’s got
anything to do with gladiators so we have new overview of what happens we
just get little glimpses and we have no idea either really about much of the
infrastructure and how an earth they transported the exotic animals we read
about is a complete mystery it took the British in the 19th century a whole
squadron of soldiers 2,000 liter water tank and enormous time
in trouble to get this poor old hippopotamus to London Zoo how on earth
did the Emperor Commodus get five of them to his games plus two elephants a
rhino and a giraffe at the end of the second century AD now
okay Italy is a bit nearer to where you might
find hippopotamuses but you know but still the basic kind of practical
problems remain and they have not been solved so question is how do modern
historians approach this problem well the standard tactic is we can we go to
write our chapter on the murderous gangs and I’m as guilty of this as anyone I’m
not just pointing a finger I’ve done this myself the standard tactic is to
start the discussion with a few sentences saying how ghastly or was an
almost beyond our comprehension and then when you got rid of that to proceed to
find ways to evade the issue and avoid the horror or if you like to play it
down to convert it into something that is all quite a lot more manageable for
us there’s any classicists here I’d say that the books that are best not doing
that still not quite good enough and those by Colin Barton and Garrett Fagan
but still what I’ve said is the standard tactic so they do that they park their
deploring of it and then they say something like look okay what where do
we go now how do we make this manageable well one way is to say look everybody
leaving aside one or two grand spectacles in the Colosseum those that
were sponsored at enormous expense by the Emperor and we’re almost certainly
there really was a lot of blood spilt and no expense is spared on the animals
leaving those aside most shows especially the local ones were much more
low-key the animals certainly wouldn’t have come
it wouldn’t have been hippopotamuses they would have been what you could
round up in the countryside nearby and there be a awful lot more wild boars
than wild elephants in the arena and the death rate among gladiators people say
just get real it was much much lower than you think’ll fear now but we’ve
already seen this man up here being reprieved missus interesting that on the
graffiti on the same wall in Pompeii all the defeated men Oh
laughs they’re all missus probably won arguments go on it’s an argument I’d
certainly make myself probably sucks reprieves were if not the norm at least
very common these guys were not it was not uniformed slaughter why
well again the bottom line says more than anything else
gladiators are extremely expensive expensive commodities to buy if they
were slaves and even if they were volunteers and there were a few they’re
expensive to feed and train you couldn’t afford to kill too many pushing that a
bit further it’s even being suggested including by me but a lot of the time in
the local ordinary everyday gladiatorial displays what you saw was a lot more
close to professional wrestling than to boxing that there was a parade of sham
fighting an awful lot of grunts but he was all a bit of a sham right no I
wouldn’t disavow that but I think it’s more
complicated another way run the problem is a sense to look through the murderous
Ness of it all and to concentrate on its kind of second order functions now I’ve
already touched on the politics of the Colosseum as a microcosm of empire and
the role of the emperor within it that good rulers shower the crowd with
presents and bad rulers tried to kill him but there’s not to it even than that
the audience if we go to the Colosseum itself was big there’s more than fifty
thousand people could fit into the Colosseum and it was not just a
microcosm of Empire it was a microcosm of the Roman political structure itself
we think that we think that it was normally free to attend but if you went
in you couldn’t just sit anywhere people sat in segregated groups according to
their formal political status the Senators sit on the front row and they
had the kind of business class seats with a lot more space the next rank of
Roman society is just behind them in a premium economy the Knights and the rest
of the free population of Rome then behind that with some special places
marked out for visiting dignitaries etc this reconstruction here must be the
women and slaves because they are relegated to the highest levels right at
the back apart from the venerable Vestal Virgins who got a ringside seat and the
Empress female relatives who sit with him in the Imperial box he with then
faces the people and in a sense what you see here is a kind of dramatic staged
encounter between the ruler and he’s ordered and ranked subjects it was a
chance to image what Roman politics and political order was it was political
theater as much as cruelty I suppose they’re the most common way of handling
this after all these new expressions of
horror is to kind of massage these games into a sort of manageable modern
equivalent and in talking about gladiators in particular
historians find it very hard to avoid the language of modern spectator sport
winners and losers and they find it very hard to avoid really kind of blurring
the boundary between this kind of stuff and our modern arena sports and in a way
I did that just now in smuggling in my wrestling versus boxing analogy now it’s
partly an irresistible tactic because it gives us some kind of language with
which to describe what’s going on here it’s partly also because gladiators
never mind their low status do you seem to have gained a degree of celebrity and
reputation is kind of erotic idols or pinups look a bit like what happens to
modern high achieving celebrity sportsmen or indeed movie stars or
whatever one Roman satirist for example pilloried upper-class Roman ladies who
left their upper-class upstanding husbands to run off with the gladiators
right that is clearly what this Italian painter has in mind
he’s recapturing here a kind of domestic gladiatorial display here’s the poor
dead guy being taken out and all the ladies of the house a simpering around
this kind of brute here wearing his gladiatorial kit there is an element of
truth in this I think but we probably shouldn’t overstate the case the remains
of a very apparently richly bejeweled lady found in the gladiator barracks at
Pompeii or not as used to be thought brilliant and rare evidence of her last
date with her Rough Trade fighter lover you know there they were as they develop
volcanic Deb Felda if it was her last date it was the
very private one as it’s recently been pointed out there were 18 other victims
were found in the same room well it was an orgy or it wasn’t that at all a lot
more likely this was just a lady who was taking shelter in the gladiatorial
barracks as she was unsuccessfully trying to get out of town and anyone who thinks
that the erotic of the amphitheater is simple need only look at this weird
object which is a set of wind chimes which appears to be in the shape of a
wild beast hunter to judge from the costume who is in the process with this
knife in his hand here he’s in the process of battling his own penis which
has turned into an animal now it doesn’t take much I’ve got no idea how you
explain it but it doesn’t take much to see that there is a sign of certain
anxiety here but leaving that on one side there clearly was some kind of
celebrity come over take charge to cata toriel performance which may explain why
summon president always just sit in their box but notoriously like Commodus
in the movie lept into the arena and acted as gladiators themselves they
wanted to be the real star of the show now all those arguments about how you
kind of deal with this seems to me fine up to a point
but they simply don’t face the question that stares at you which still is for me
how could they do it you don’t actually evade the problem by saying that it
wasn’t as deadly as we painted I think overall I’m sure overall that’s true but
sometimes it was all if you go back to my ordinary bloke sitting in watching
the shows all day in the Coliseum we don’t really think
that he was somehow sitting there in order to reflect on his own position in
the Roman social order however important that might be as a second-order
political reading of the games so how do you understand how they did it
now one logical position it’s a claim that the Romans or many almost Romans
because there were no more homogeneous as a group than we are it’s the claim
that the Romans were simply crueler than us and as such enjoyed watching that
kind of thing because no historical society I know
takes pride in its own cruelty and plenty of Romans vehemently deplored
five ITTIA as they called it or it must be that their definition of cruelty
was different from ours their culture the argument might go was so much more
inured to seeing wounds and death etc now okay there may be something in that
but I think you always need to be careful about that kind of argument
about the past the idea for example that people in history didn’t get upset about
the death of their young children because it happened so often it’s an
argument that has been roundly not on its head and in the case of gladiators
and massacres of wild beasts I think I should point out that the Romans in
general so far as we can tell did not simply think that animals were
disposable from Romans as we know were a soppy as we are about their pets so it
wasn’t simply that animals didn’t count and interestingly the Christian
hardliner Tertullian probably writing in the late 2nd century ad made
inadvertently a relevant observation he criticized the spectator at the games
and he expressed his shock at people who quotes recoiled in horror at the sight
of a corpse that had died a natural death but were happy to look at men
getting torn apart in the amphitheater from which you conclude that not all
Romans were laid-back about seeing corpses but maybe even more striking
really for me are the visual representations of gladiatorial combat
which are about as sanitized as our own are we can go back to this one or the
naff Cupid’s and the worst you get is something like yes mosaic and it really
isn’t all blood and guts they’re also very sanitized in their treatment so
what I want to do to finish with this say can we approach the question
differently or can we give a different set of answers and I think that maybe
what we have to do is is to think bigger about how what was going on in there in
the arena of the amphitheatre was defined for people what did what did
people think they were seeing now here some of the ancient objections to the
games can point us in the right direction
because there are indeed plenty of objections often in the very same text
that use all these metaphors and symbols and illustrations from gladiatorial
combat but then not the kind of objections we might expect almost none
and this is generally true of Christian criticisms – almost none are concerned
with the humanitarian aspects or the cruelty to fighters and animals they
focus predominantly on the spectators now some of those are predicted
predictably kind of snobbish critiques of popular culture you know there’s a
bread and circuses argument and you know the ordinary people who watch this don’t
have the same sophisticated view of it that I do kind of argument right posh
arguments but many others are actually concerned
with the effect of the shows on the audience what happened well if you get
the gladiatorial games irrational passions get aroused your reason gets
clouded try the remarks of the Roman billionaire philosopher billionaire lots
of the Seneca what he says nothing is so damaging to good character than the
habit, was very packed this, habit of wasting time at the games for then it is
that vice still secretly upon you through the avenue of pleasure I come
home after the games more greedy more ambitious more excessive more cruel and
more inhuman because I have been among human beings now that’s a very puzzling
comment I have to say but remember the stress on humaneness because I’m going
to come back to that what do I think is going on well in general there’s
something going on here with that awkward division between reality and
representation don’t we still struggle with to oversimplify a bit I think that
reading these discussions of the games you see that for the author’s the
reality of the games lay in the spectators and the focus of interest of
the critics was on the spectators and on the effect on them of the representation
and constructed spectacle that they watched it’s almost to say and about
this supplement that what was going on in the arena of the amphitheatre wasn’t
really real now you get a hint of that in the theme stressed in Marshall’s
poetry on the Coliseum the emphasis is always on spectacle which conjures up a
world outside the it is for example the world of mists
reenacted as in the mock-up of the torture of the mythic Prometheus same is
also true the the way that these fighters are dressed up we now tend to
take gladiatorial costume as if it’s ordinary Roman armor it’s a no Roman
soldier went out to battle dressed anything like a gladiator with kind of
gauze over his face in other words what you’re seeing there is a weird fantasy
image of what fighting might be like so I think that what these real spectators
looked at was a world of fantasy a representation and a sort of
second-order reality of me you went to see Miss half-made real gladiators were
in that sense actors whether they were celebrities or not it seems to me to
draw a modern analogy the boundary of the of the arena the separation of the
spectators and what they saw in the arena operated a bit like the screen on
our smartphones that’s to say one reason that millions of people can watch mass
slaughter streamed into their hands is it the screen in their hands turns what
they are seeing from reality Interactive representation it makes it watchable you
wouldn’t be able to watch people in front of us we can watch it on our
phones and I think something of that sort is going on in the amphitheater but
I think there’s more to it and there are themes I just want to broach very
quickly here because they’ll come up later in this series I think part of
what is at stake in gladiatorial spectacle wild beasts and everything is
the definition of what it is to be human now all cultures debate what it is to be
human and don’t mean that they debate what homos
ian’s is but they do constantly debate who exactly is to count as a human being
in the sense of a person with rights and agency attached to that status it seems
to me obvious that our own debates on abortion involve those questions as
someone who supports a woman’s right to choose I have to recognize uncomfortable
as it is for me but I am making a claim about the lack of humanity in its
fullest sense of the unborn child and that other people can differ about that
are we see similar if less radical issues in the rights of prisoners all
the rights of those sectioned under the Mental Health Act why is it that we get
so worked up about whether prisoners should be allowed to vote it’s because
something bigger is at stake and I think that what’s bigger is the humanity of
the prisoner but it’s often I think easier to approach those fault lines in
our own way of seeing the people the homo the hominid serpientes around us by
looking at the contested and different and difficult boundaries in other
cultures which may be quite quite different from our own the case of
ancient Rome for example humanity in the sense that I’m talking about did not
legally start now emotionally is another matter did not legally start in the
uterus nor did it start at birth it started a baby became human only a few
days after birth when the father would recognize the baby as a family member
before that legally the baby could be disposed of and what we mean is killed
with impunity what enabled in other words
and how this worked in terms of the emotional economy I think it’s not the
matter what enabled what was in Rome I suspect mass slaughter of newborns was
that they were not people no I suspect that we’re dealing with some of those
different boundaries but I think if we think about it we have to we have very
difficult decisions about where humanity starts we’re dealing with some of those
different boundaries in the games in one sense those on the floor of the
amphitheater the slave gladiators the condemned criminals the free volunteers
who’ve given up that status by becoming gladiators could be could be seen as
just different saying were not could be seen as not human in the way that the
audience was now it seems to me that if something along those lines that
explained Senecas weird stress when he’s talking about the audience in terms of
the humaneness of the spectators and the challenges to their humanist he’s not
talking though it’s often translated like this he’s not talking about humane
in the humanitarian sense he’s talking about the idea that what is
it is to be human is at stake in gladiatorial combat no of course it’s
never simplest hurt yeah as we know the boundaries between those we designate
human and non-human a contested and difficult and fragile and it’s
interesting that Cicero in the first century BC can write of a set of games
which the spectators did show compassion for the elephants in the show they took
no enjoyment and seen the Elam elephants slaughtered why asked Cicero he thinks
about this he says because there was a and you can’t explain it the feeling
that those elephants were almost human so what you’ve got is this something
here about uh where we are about where we’re going to draw the line on what
enables us to watch this is the non humanity it partly depends the watch
ability of the games partly depends on the shared illusion but the human
spectators are watching a spectacle with his glorious representational
edge-of-your-seat but they’re not watching the murder of
fellow human beings now at that point I think what I’m wanting to point to
because it won’t come back to this in later lectures is that that’s kind of
why they the kids answer you know we wouldn’t do that now would we no we
wouldn’t is missing the point because what you’ve
got and these are parent little puzzling problems that we have with Roman history
it’s not an issue about whether we would do that or whether you know whether the
Romans were crueler what it’s taking us into is both a world which is
fundamentally different from our own but it’s a world that can make us ask
different questions about our own now where do we watch this do we have
difficult batteries between the human and the nonhuman now that would be a
such a gloomy place to end that I’m going to finish instead with a simple
story and a fun story from the Colosseum that takes up in a different sense our
own ability to feel that we’re fellow humans with the Romans because that’s
another question it’s an eyewitness account I’m talking
about an eyewitness account of some games in the Coliseum in 192 aid given
by our old favourite here Commodus the eye waitlists
obvious games is a senator and a historian by the name of Dyer Casius who
sitting in the front row because he’s a senator Commodus has done what bad
Empress like to do he has stolen the limelight and transgressed and social
and natural and human order by performing in the arena himself that’s
on the movie and according to die oh he had just decapitated an ostrich
having done this will forget we’re going to be sorry for the ostrich having done
this Commodus comes over to the senatorial seats like you guys on the
front row and he waves the ostrich head and he’s got a sword in the other hand
and he says grins as if dive says to say o us next you
know if he can decapitate an ostrich what was it good to do next
um so how did the Senators react to this well
daya says it was a combination of fear and the feeling that air about to get a
fit of the giggles and horrible awareness but if they were caught
laughing they really might be for the chop so what they’re going to do it was
Dyer himself he boasts awful boasting passages who had a bright idea they were
all wearing laurel wreaths so he took a laurel wreath leaf from the wreath he
was wearing and he saw stir in his mouth and he chewed on it really hard and he
nudged his neighbor’s to do the same and they all managed to stop laughing by
trying on a laurel wreath leaves now it’s a nice story but I think it’s one
place it’s one of the very few places where any of us who ever has at school
remember biking on a ruler or biting on a rubber that to suppress the laughter
that would have been totally totally dreadful if the teacher had spotted not
quite the chop but bad enough it’s one of those few places where we can know
bodily exactly what the Romans felt thank you well thank you professor beard for a
superb first gifford lecture I think the applause of the audience has expressed
more eloquently than I can how much we valued the lecture and there’s not only
forming it was thought-provoking and it was good fun we look forward very much
to the next lecture in the series which will be tomorrow evening at 5:30 on the
title of whiteness a couple of announcements
we are holding an online discussion throughout the fortnight of the series
or the first one the first week of the month on the last week of the month on
our Gifford lectures blog which is led by mr. Andrew Johnson to follow and
contribute to the blog discussion visit the address at the back of the leaflet
and also on our Gifford lectures web pages could I also say that everyone is
warmly invited to attend the Gifford seminar co-hosted by the Royal Society
of Edinburgh and the University of Edinburgh to be held on Wednesday the
29th of May from 2:30 to 3:45 p.m. in the G 3 lecture theatre 50 George Square
the seminar will be chaired by Professor John Richardson professor emeritus of
classics at the University of Edinburgh and professor beard will be joined on a
panel by Professor Douglas Cairns professor of classics and dr. Lucy Gregg
senior lecturer in classics here at Edinburgh they’ll be discussing questions
from the audience arising from the Gifford series as a whole further
information and tickets are available on our University Gifford webpage and
tickets are free but will be subject to availability now normally I would say we
have a 2-3 minute break to allow those who have to
leave to slip away but I think that’s already happened so we now have some
time for questions a few questions from the audience if you have a question
could you please raise your hand and wait for the cordless microphone to
reach you before you speak and we have a couple of microphones roving somebody must have a question there’s
somebody at the back there yes there was a hand which was yeah there’s
one there so you mentioned the ability of people
nowadays to watch horrible things because there’s that kind of divide
creation by the smartphone screen and in some way it blocks a sense so I mean you
can’t touch what’s going on you can’t smell what’s going on for instance is
there in some sense what the barrier around the Coliseum could do there’s
there’s nothing like that although there’s there’s missus we don’t quite
know how it worked down there there’s necessarily a barrier because you don’t
want to get caught by the animals so there is I think a distance I once did
walk up to where the women and slaves sit and I’d always I went there on the
assumption that I was going to say well they got a lousy few didn’t they you
know actually it was it was like looking at an image you know it’s there’s
there’s something about the distance between you and it that really makes a
different than not for the Senators because they’re close and I don’t I
don’t think that my explanation as I put it is the be-all and end-all I mean I
think there are other I mean I think the other thing that we do in order to
enable ourselves to watch violence is to say it isn’t real so we talk about
acting or as I did a little energy about this with Martha Connie on the radio and
she said but it’s news so it’s news you can watch it and I think that’s very
kind of modern alibi where we’re allowed to watch really awful things but we
still have to find a way of making we have to have any
and I think just some extent our excuses are analogous they’re not the same but I
think the what what in some way going on is a kind of it’s a presentation of
something that is mythical not real a kind of fantasy world in which these
people are play acting in a sort of way that’s very few people in the neck
people get very very kind of nerdy about gladiate gladiatorial armor because it’s
slightly different sorts of gladiatorial armor there’s the man with the net and
there’s a different forms of helmet etc they rarely stop to say look these are
weird you know this is like kind of watching sort of spacemen in Roman terms
there’s something there’s a distancing here between us and the fighting and one
of the explanations for why there’s why the gladiatorial arena is so popular is
is the Romans are a warrior race and when they don’t have any real battles to
fight any longer well so they all go win when the average guys not serving in the
army he goes along to the Coliseum or his local amphitheater but what he sees
that he’s nothing like Roman military activity as I say no Roman ever looked
like that on the battlefield it’s weirdo stuff so but yes I mean I
Zia bout it but I think that’s that’s the way I’m going to push it I wondered
two things is Rome and the Roman world really unique as far as we know in the
scale of games that were held and secondly if we got much access other
than the instances you quoted to people’s Diaries and so on where we
might get some insight to what people actually felt about them people talk about bullfighting as a
compa random and there’s a lot of it’s a lot of desire in fact to prove a kind of
genealogical connection between the bullfight the gladiatorial games it then
it becomes what you mean by games and spectacle and I think that if you’re
going to look at the Britain you would talk about public execution I suppose
which well what hugely attended I think also there with with the sense of the
criminal has become non human by virtue of the crime so people are watching not
because everybody in the 18th century was horrible and bloodthirsty but
because they were watching something was not about the shedding of human blood
someone has counted themself out of that so I think you can find similar things
but not it’s hard to find anything which is a direct analog and I think in terms
of the other evidence I think I’ve given you a reasonable conspire of the kind
that kind of immediate evidence that we have there is there is some evidence
that I haven’t covered about the economic infrastructure of particularly
local gladiatorial festivals of and it’s clear that in the second century AD the
the sort of apparent compulsion for the local magistrates to put on shows like
this in their own in their own communities got to be overwhelming in
terms of the outlay of cash when I said gladiators were expensive I’m sort of
drawing on that and Marcus Aurelius the philosopher emperors also one of the
most bloodthirsty he puts a cap and it’s apparently a very
welcome cap on the expenditure so the bits I’ve the kind of quality of the
evidence that I’ve missed out is on that of the gladiatorial infrastructure how
the local troops are organized which is as you would imagine outside Rome itself
is mostly private enterprise then hired and it’s a bit like you know you know
modern contracting our services really the local magistrate has got to put on a
gladiatorial show so they take ten you know so they put you out to tender and
then hope they get a decent you know I hope the lowest bidder comes in with a
good show and so there is that range there is an economic history economic
social history element that I didn’t talk about but otherwise you’ve got the
sort of things it’s a two parter question professor we
know that the the Romans were extremely practical people to what extent was this
a way of actually dealing with whether it’s your conquered armies conquered
people conquered whatever it was an extremely horribly practical way of
actually dealing with people who were essentially under the the the the room
and the the Roman thumb that’s the that the the first part the second one is
that over time is it possible that the gladiatorial experience evolved from a
practical way of dealing with a conquered people into something else
that then became more of an entertainment you’d find some historians
she might make similar arguments to that well I would resist a bit the the idea
the practicality and we would like to think the Romans are practical because
they kind of tried to convince us that they were I think gladiatorial combat is
a very impractical way actually I’m dealing with people who don’t want you
know it’s enormous expensive it requires vast plant huge organization when
actually at other cultures have found much more sort of cost-effective ways of
getting rid of prisoners like killing them in so I don’t I wouldn’t buy that I
would say there’s an enormous I mean I still got a big black hole what I also
think is fall no but there is an enormous amount of effort going into
this now one almost everybody I think would suggest that would would agree
with your second point though that somehow you know this did not whenever
it started let’s suppose 264 BC was you know the first little
gladiatorial display at her in some funeral and then you’re going on the
fifth you’ve got 700 years um there’s going to be changes but it’s
very hard to delineate what certainly I think the one thing you would say is
that it it becomes more cordoned off but the Coliseum isn’t built till the end of
the first century AD so where were the gladiatorial displays before then well
actually in the first century BC they were in the forum and as some, you know, a the
lads came and they put on some barriers and the gladiators and beasts for in the
Roman Forum now that is a kind of embeddedness
of the spectacle in the public space which must have resonated differently
from by the time you get to our iconic monument their iconic monument the
Colosseum you know you’ve got a wall round it and it is for that I mean we
have no clue what happened to the Colosseum on the other days of the year
and it was not being used for gladiatorial displays I mean was it
locked up you know was it a sort of Street Market you know car boot as it
were we simply do not know we have a few stories but they’re totally predictable
about you know a few prostitutes around the edge of it but that’s all so there
must be there is a change but haven’t oh you know but I can’t go further than
that perhaps one more question I think hi professor similar to a question far
already but a little different and I wonder could you shed some light on
other ancient traditions and spectacles contemporary to the ancient rooms and
how they viewed them and was there may be a sense of hypocrisy of their look
and other cultures or maybe lesser than them or barbarians was there similar
traditions and cultures or sorry spectacles like that within the ordinary
ambit of what the Romans would know about
then it’s very hard to point to on that scale now you know thing is that the
Romans wrote about it and they left purpose-built monuments so
that we know about it so I’m not kind of I wouldn’t like to say that those sort
of things didn’t happen elsewhere but the Romans don’t talk about it don’t say
oh we’re doing just like for what the ex do or no can we easily certainly in in
Middle Eastern North African cultures it’s very hard to show that I think that
what you ought to bear in mind and I in a sense conceals rather is that in some
ways and I’m not going back on this being the iconic bit of how Roman see
themselves in spectacular terms but so the Colosseum holds about 50,000 it does
a bit depend on how to squash they are really you know some people put it up to
75 the Circus Maximus where there is chariot racing holds calls for million
so actually if you were to say and and there is quite a lot of of charioteer
culture in Rome – it’s rather outplayed by gladiatorial culture in the surviving
traces and you can’t go and visit the Circus Maximus in anything like the way
you can visit the Colosseum that’s partly because it was excavated by
Mussolini nothing survives and what looks like as if it’s where you sit it’s
just Mussolini’s archaeologists spoil heaps
the Circus Maximus isn’t there to be seen but a reasonable critique of what I
said would be to say that me and popular culture and you know Jerome and you know
everybody else apart from Ben Hur has a slightly elevated this kind of spectacle
raw than the chariot races which were had a
Romans got a population of a million quarter of a million getting the Circus
Maximus that’s a very high proportion of people
going and maybe we ought to be thinking about this not on its own you know I’ve
kind of I’ve extracted it as this iconic Roman spectacle with problems because
although people you know it’s a bit like watching the Grand National you know
people get really badly hurt and that chariot races but they’re not sitting
out to get hurt because this is so so different for us I have put too much
symbolic light other people you know too much symbolic weight on it as against
the races which were not much bigger deal I think we’re going to need to draw
things to a close we’ve had a tremendous first Gifford lecture the lecture has
has defined the terms some of the themes that are going to be explored in the
series and she’s beautifully it’ll introduce some of the ethical questions
that she’ll be coming back to I’m sure I’m sure there could be many more
questions we’re all sort of filled with analogies and thoughts as a result of a
lecture and pleased to hold them there there will be an opportunity at this
coming seminar could I thank the audience too for your committed
attention your your questions and your obvious interest now everyone is warmly
invited to a reception to celebrate the opening of this series so there will be
a drinks reception immediately after you certainly do and it will be in the
business school atrium which is just next door but I think we you may have to
go down and up from the back of the business school but please do please do
come to the reception please do come to the lecture tomorrow afternoon and could
we thank our speaker once again




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