Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Truth About Gladiators And Their Sex Appeal

Last weekend, I got to check a point off my bucket list: a trip to Rome.

It was everything my brother - not a big fan of large cities, but a huge fan of Rome - and my imagination promised, and more. Overflowing with life, so very Italian and something amazing to see around every corner, be it fountains, ancient buildings, paintings, sculptures, cafes, picturesque side streets. And everything is old. Many things are ancient. Some are immemorial.

The amount of history contained in this one city is incredible and at times overwhelming. Ruins up to 3.000 years old still stand, many of them intact enough that you can imagine what they once must have looked like, what it might have felt like to be there all those years ago.

One of the things that stuck with me most was the tour of the Colosseum, the arena where gladiators fought for the entertainment of the people. Our guide told us that the movie The Gladiator does not give an accurate account of a gladiator's life. Yes, they were slaves, indebted to their owners and able to buy their freedom with their winnings. But far less of them died during these fights than I always believed, because nobody actually wanted them to. For their owners, they were an investment, because the best of them were the city's superstars. They were famous, they had the most sex appeal, and they even had groupies; women who gave up their lives and wealth to be with their favorite gladiator.

The sex appeal thing is especially funny today, because, as our guide pointed out, if you're picturing Russell Crowe, you're getting it all wrong. The handsome, tall, muscled physique did not a good gladiator make, and the reason is pretty simple. The audience may not have wanted the combatants to die, but they did want to see spectacular fights and bloodshed. So the gladiator games were all about special effects. Without the possibility of CGI, the blood had to be real and come from the gladiators themselves. So they would cut and stab each other in the non-vital body parts, like arms and legs. Layers of fat served to protect the muscle. Ergo, our guide told us to forget hunky Russell, and instead picture a bunch of Danny DeVitos and Jack Blacks with punch-flattened noses battling it out in the white-hot arena. They, apparently, were the ancient Roman's idea of sexy.

There's a story in there somewhere; maybe I'll tackle it for NaNoWriMo.

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