Living by the Sword

It’s easy to consign the horrors of the Roman gladiatorial contests to a benighted culture distant from ours, as though we moderns would be constitutionally incapable of such evils. It’s also easy to write a jeremiad based on selective parallels between ours and ancient cultures.

Without doing either, I’d like to register my concern at what the Washington Post describes as a growing trend: the dissemination and enjoyment of videos portraying real violence. The Post profiles a number of people including Blake Cater, who says “I’m not in any way a violent person,” but regularly records himself in “brutal” fights. And there’s Rogier Both, who picks fights with rival soccer fans, enjoying video replays:

“It’s like an addiction,” he adds. “You can’t leave it. When there is a good football fight, the best sex is not better. . . . People who have never been in football matches in Europe will never understand it, but it’s like a second life.”

His description reminded me of a friend of Augustine’s, who though having left enjoyment of the gladiatorial games was drawn back into it by his friends, at first against his will:

But he, closing the passage of his eyes, forbade his mind to range abroad after such evil; and would he had stopped his ears also! For in the fight, when one fell, a mighty cry of the whole people striking him strongly, overcome by curiosity, and as if prepared to despise and be superior to it whatsoever it were, even when seen, he opened his eyes, and was stricken with a deeper wound in his soul than the other . . . .

For so soon as he saw that blood, he therewith drunk down savageness; nor turned away, but fixed his eye, drinking in frenzy, unawares, and was delighted with that guilty fight, and intoxicated with the bloody pastime. Nor was he now the man he came, but one of the throng he came unto, yea, a true associate of theirs that brought him thither. Why say more? He beheld, shouted, kindled, carried thence with him the madness which should goad him to return not only with them who first drew him thither, but also before them, yea and to draw in others.

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