AFTER CHECKING to make sure that his beasts were cleaned, fed and watered, Carpophorus went to Chilo’s tavern near the Via Appia to discuss the day’s events and drink himself into a blind stupor before the trials of the next day.
Each of the different professions attached to the circus had a certain wineshop it frequented, and outsiders were not encouraged to intrude. Chile’s catered to the bestiarii.
The shop was several paces from the main highway, up a dark alley and near the “Wolf Den,” as the Romans called the red-light district. When Carpophorus entered, he saw to his surprise and disgust that there was a distinguished company; the Master of the Games was sitting at one table and there were also a number of wealthy patricians, each with a gladiator bodyguard.
The patricians were wrapped in cloaks and were ostensibly incognito although, of course, everyone knew who they were. Many of the patricians were connoisseurs of the games and the present group specialized in bestiarii. Although these aristocrats could make or break him, Carpophorus only gave them a surly nod as he sat down.
The walls of the inn were decorated by crude paintings, one of which was a copy of the fresco on the monument at Minturae to the eleven gladiators who had killed (and were killed by) ten bears, while another was a portrait of the famous venator, Aulus, inscribed:
“To my good friend Chilo in memory of many a pleasant evening, Aulus.” The inscription, however, had not been written by Aulus himself as he was illiterate. Another painting showed two men being thrown out of the inn, with the caption: “Watch yourself or you’ll get the same.”
Carpophorus shouted for wine. Chilo, a plump Greek, answered the summons. Chilo had been, by turns, a bandit, a fence for stolen goods, a beggar, and a cageboy at the arena. In addition to his present profession as innkeeper, he also pimped for the bestiarii and robbed travelers after slipping them a Mickey Finn composed of belladonna and hemlock.
“That was a fine show you put on with that tiger,” remarked the fat Greek sociably. “How about some good Rhodian wine to celebrate. Just got a shipment in from Greece.”
“I wouldn’t use your damned resined wine to clean out a cage,” retorted the venator.
“What do you want, a hundred-year-old Falemian?” demanded the Greek, stung by this insult to his native wines.
The innkeeper was made bold by the presence of the patricians and their gladiators. Carpophorus raised his head and stared at the man.
“Give me wine,” he said slowly and distinctly. Chilo opened his mouth to retort, thought better of it, and pulled one of the long wine jars out of a hole in the counter top.. Holding it by the two handles, he rested it on the pouring block and filled an earthenware cup. Carpophorus drained it at a draught and the innkeeper filled it again.
One of the patricians spoke up. “My friend—er, the cobbler here,” everyone smiled for the friend was a well-known senator, “and I were discussing which was the more dangerous antagonist—a lion or a tiger. What is your opinion?”
Carpophorus was about to tell the man to go jump in the Tiber but restrained himself and answered the question civilly. Several other patricians entered the argument, some of them asking not too unintelligent questions. Carpophorus, after they had stood him several drinks, began to feel more friendly.
The Master of the Games remarked quietly, “That was a brilliant job you did, getting those raw lions to kill the Jewish rebels.”
“Aw, you just have to know your lions and your Jews,” said Carpophorus, pleased with the praise.
“Still, it was a fine piece of work. We have fifty zealots who are to fight seventy bears day after tomorrow, the zealots using only their daggers. That should be a good show.”
“Haven’t you got any prisoners except Jews?” demanded Carpophorus irritably. For some reason the memory of the old rabbi moving out to bring on the lions’ charge bothered him.
“Thank Hercules for them,” said the Master sincerely. “They built the Flavian amphitheater, they were the first people to die there, and they’re still our main source of supply with their constant revolts.
These damn Nazarenes or Christians or whatever they call themselves are no good—die like sheep without fighting. I refuse to use them, myself.”
Everyone, nodded agreement. The group would have been considerably surprised if they could have foreseen that the Colosseum would be preserved only because of the edict of Pope Benedict XIV who wished it to remain as a shrine to the Christian martyrs—although comparatively few Christians ever died there; the great Neroian persecutions were in the Circus Maximus.
One of the young patricians was a friend of Titus, the juvenile editor giving the games. This adolescent lordling had been drinking too much and now burst out in praise of his friend. (This speech, by the way, is taken from the “Satyricon” of Petronius.)
“The next three days ought to be really good—no cheap slave gladiators but nearly all the fighters freemen. Good old Titus has a heart of gold and a hot head —the boys will have to fight it out and no thumbs-up.
Titus will see that they have sharp swords and no one backs out. The arena will look like a butcher’s stall before the day’s over. Titus is lousy rich. Suppose he does spend four hundred thousand sesterces a day on the games, his old man left him thirty million so why should he worry? These games will make his name live forever.
He’s got some fine chariot horses and a female charioteer and Glyco’s boy friend who’s going to be tossed by a w’ld bull. Glyco found the youngster knocking-up his mistress. It wasn’t the kid’s fault; he was only a slave and had to do what the woman wanted.
She’s the one who ought to go to the bull, but if you can’t beat a donkey you have to beat his pack, I suppose. Anyhow, it’ll be a good show. What did the other candidate for magistrate give us? A lousy show with stinking gladiators—if you farted you could¦ knock half of them over. I’ve seen better bestiarii, too. The shows were staged at night by torchlight; what did he think he was giving us, a cockfight?
The gladiators were either knock-kneed or bow-legged and the substitutes for the dead men ought to have been hamstrung before the fight started. The only one to show any guts was Thracian and the slaves had to burn him with hot irons to get him going.
The crowd was crying, ‘Tie ’em up!’ for they were all obviously escaped slaves. Afterwards, the louse said to me, ‘Well, anyhow I gave you a show.’ ‘You did and I applauded,’ I told him. ‘The way I look at it, I gave you more than I got.'”
Carpophorus was drunk by now as were most of the men. He shouted for food and the innkeeper brought him a steak. “I’ve seen bullock’s eyes that were bigger than this,” snarled the venator, hurling the plate to the floor. He grabbed for his wine cup and managed to spill it over the table.
“More wine!” roared the venator, pulling himself to his feet by holding on to the bar. “More wine for the greatest man in the empire! I’m greater than the emperor, you know why? That son of a diseased sow couldn’t hold his throne a week if it wasn’t for men like me.
Who was it who broke the Lucius Antonius mutiny? Me! I arranged to have forty little blonde girls all under ten years old raped by a band of baboons. The soldiers stopped the mutiny to watch the show. And what about the time lightning struck the Capitoline Temple, a very bad omen?
The mob rioted and would have wrecked the city if I hadn’t staged that chariot race, using naked women instead of horses. What’s that dog’s-dung, Domitian, ever done? I’m running this empire and I can lick any man in the house!”
An old bestiarius sitting in a corner cackled obscenely. He looked like a mummy, hairless, and eyes so sunk into his head that only the sockets showed, his skin taut against his bones.
“Ah, you bestiarii are nothing but geldings today,” screeched the old man as he gummed his wine-cup. “In my day, we were men. I made the sand smoke under me, I can tell you. We fought aurochs with swords and . . .”
“Hold your noise, you old wreck,” bellowed the venator. “I know you old-timers—a lion, to hear you talk; and a fox, to see you act. None of you were worth your own dirt. Look at you now!” , “Yes, look at me now!” screamed the old man. “Wait ’til you’re too old for the arena and have eaten your clothes and can’t even get employment as a cage-boy. I’ve seen you in the arena. You run around like a mouse in a pot. In my day . . .”
He got no further. Carpophorus had rushed across the room and seized the old man by the head and throat. Instantly half a dozen men threw themselves on the rabid venator while Chilo rushed up flourishing a heavy wooden stool.
He brought it down with all his strength on Carpophorus’ head, but before the venator was knocked out, he had twisted the old man’s neck in the grip he had learned in the arena. There was a sharp crack as the aged bestiarius dropped lifeless to the floor.
“The Watch! The Watch!” shouted a dozen voices. Into the wineshop strode a young centurion in gleaming armor followed by a squad of soldiers with iron-tipped staves.
“What’s going on here?” snapped the young man.
“Chilo, you’ll lose your license for this. Who’s, this man? By Mars, it’s Carpophorus! Throw some water on him—I have fifty sesterces riding on the bastard for tomorrow’s games.”
“He killed a man!” shouted Chilo, dancing in agony. “Who, this old sack of bones? Don’t lie to me, Greek, the man died of a stroke. Here, Telegonius, drag the corpse out and have it thrown in the Tiber.
Keep better order, Chilo, or you’ll find yourself in the arena one of these days. See that Carpophorus is ready for the hunt tomorrow afternoon or it’ll go hard with you.”
Several bestiarii carried Carpophorus to the nearest baths where expert masseurs kneaded him back to life, a feather was thrust down his throat to make him vomit up the wine, and a doctor patched his head and resewed the tiger scratches which had begun to bleed again.
By next morning, Carpophorus was back at the Colosseum, feeling as though his mouth was the Cloaca Maxima, but able to enter the arena.