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Juvenal and the Circus

"...all Rome is in the Circus today. The roar that assails my eardrums means, I am pretty sure, that the Greens have won--otherwise you'd see such gloomy faces, such sheer astonishment as greeted the Cannae disaster [against Hannibal in 216 BC]."

Juvenal, Satires

But, if all Rome was at the Circus, one contemporary of Juvenal was not.

"The Races were on, a type of spectacle which has never had the slightest attraction for me. I can find nothing new or different in them: once seen is enough, so it surprises me all the more that so many thousands of adult men should have such a childish passion for watching galloping horses and drivers standing in chariots, over and over again. If they were attracted by the speed of the horses or the driver's skill one could account for it, but in fact it is the racing-colours they really support and care about, and if the colours were to be exchanged in mid-course during a race, they would transfer their favor and enthusiasm and rapidly desert the famous drivers and horses whose names they shout as they recognize them from afar. Such is the popularity and importance of a worthless shirt....When I think how this futile, tedious, monotonous business can keep them sitting endlessly in their seats, I take pleasure in the fact that their pleasure is not mine. And I have been very glad to fill my idle hours with literary work during these days which others have wasted in the idlest of occupations."

Pliny the Younger, Letters (IX)


The illustration depicts a member of the Blue faction, the great rival to the Greens, and is part of the Quattro Aurighe mosaics in the Museo Nazionale Romano (Rome).


Reference: The Letters of the Younger Pliny (1969) translated by Betty Radice (Penguin Classics).

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