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Claudius, Chapter 21: Games.
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He [Note 1] often distributed largesses of corn and money among the people, and entertained them with a great variety of magnificent spectacles, not only such as were usual, and in the accustomed places, but some of new invention, and others revived from ancient models and exhibited in places where nothing of the kind had been ever before attempted. In the games which he presented at the dedication of theatre of Pompey, which had been burnt down, and was rebuilt by him, he presided upon a tribunal erected for him in the orchestra; having first paid his devotions, in the temple above, and then coming down through the tiers of seats, while all the people kept their seats in profound silence. He likewise exhibited the secular games, giving out that Augustus had anticipated the regular period; though he himself says in his history, "That they had been omitted before the age of Augustus, who had calculated the years with great exactness, and again brought them to their regular period." The crier was therefore ridiculed, when he invited people in the usual form, " to games which no person had ever before seen, nor ever would again; " when many were still living who had already seen them; and some of the performers who had formerly acted in them, were now again brought upon the stage. He likewise frequently celebrated the Circensian Games in the Vatican, sometimes exhibiting a hunt of wild beasts, after every five races. He embellished the Circus Maximus with marble barriers and gilded goals, which before were of common stone and wood, and assigned proper places for the senators, who were used to sit promiscuously with the other spectators. Besides the chariot races, he exhibited there the Trojan game and wild beasts from Africa, which were encountered by a troop of praetorian cavalry with their tribunes, and even the prefect at the head of them; besides Thessalian horsemen who drive fierce bulls round the circus, leap upon their backs when they have exhausted their fury, and drag them by the horns to the ground. He gave exhibitions of gladiators in several places, and of various kinds; one yearly on the anniversary of his accession in the praetorian camp, but without any hunting, or the usual apparatus; another in the Saepta as usual; and in the same place, another out of the common way, and of a few days' continuance only, which he called Sportula; because when he was going to present it, he informed the people by proclamation, "that he invited them to a late supper, got up in haste, and without ceremony." Nor did he lend himself to any kind of public diversion with more freedom and hilarity; insomuch that he would hold out his left hand, and joined by the common people, count upon his fingers aloud the gold pieces presented to those who came off conquerors. He would earnestly invite the company to be merry; sometimes calling them his "masters," with a mixture of insipid, far-fetched jests. Thus when the people called for Palumbus ["The Dove", a gladiator], he said, " He would give them one when he could catch it." The following was well-intended and well-timed; having, amidst great applause, spared a gladiator, on the intercession of his four sons, he sent a billet immediately round the theatre, to remind the people, " how much it behooved them to get children, since they had before them an example how useful they had been in procuring favour and security for a gladiator." He likewise represented in the Campus Martius, the assault and sacking of a town, and the surrender of the British kings presiding in his general's cloak. Immediately before he drew off the waters from the Fucine Lake, he exhibited upon it a naval fight. But the combatants on board the fleets crying out, " Health attend you, noble emperor! We, who are about to die, salute you; " and he replying, " Health attend you too," they all refused to fight, as if by that response he had meant to excuse them. Upon this, he hesitated for a time, whether he should not destroy them all with fire and sword. At last, leaping from his seat, and running along the shore of the lake with tottering steps, the result of his foul excesses, he, partly by fair words, and partly by threats, persuaded them to engage. This spectacle represented an engagement between the fleets of Sicily and Rhodes; consisting each of twelve ships of war, of three banks of oars. The signal for the encounter was given by a silver Triton, raised by machinery from the middle of the lake. |
Note 1: he = Claudius