David and I were just traveling for several weeks in a car from town to town in Italy. We drove from Sicily to Rome through countrysides and towns, each unique, each more ancient and beautiful than the previous one.
I know I am not being very original to say it amazes me that Italians have access to such ancient strata of culture–Greek ruins from 6th C BC are common throughout southern Italy. Then came the Romans. The Saracens. The Normans. All pillaging and sacking exactly where I was having a cappuccino. Ruins marked by scars of fire.
This head comes from a Roman arena near Capua, Italy. It would have marked the entrance where your seat was located, rather than a number. I like recognizing images rather than numeration–at Pompeii, tiny risqué paintings were apparently helpful for locating where you’d hung your towel at the steam baths. Nowadays this evocative stone head is encrusted onto the side wall of an official building–to remind Capuans of their past heritage. Italy is a compost heap of architectural parts.
In the ruins in Siracusa, Sicily, I overheard a tour guide explaining how the Roman word ‘arena’ comes from the sand base that was necessary to soak up the blood of animals and humans’ fighting and wounding and killing each other in these amphitheatres. (I like overhearing snippets from tour groups! one morsel of information is often more appetizing than a full discourse). The guide went on to say that in Greek tragedy violence was never literal, always imagined, offstage.
Romans were entertained by spectacles where animals and people were pitted against each other until one was killed. We saw one painting of a gladiator fight entertaining guests at a fancy dinner party!
Musing and amusing myself, I fast-forwarded from the Roman appetite for literal blood to the reality TV shows where human beings choose to ostracize one person from the group. The group then bonds with itself by this exclusion, which amounts to psychic life and death decisions. It is a critical element for the audience’s interest that the action is real and not fictional–rather like the Romans.
Bonding by exclusion feels toxic and dangerous to me, even when it is imaginary.
There is nobody here but ‘us chickens,’ and never was. While we are on this subject let us definitely include ‘chickens.’ Why is it that when people talk about endangered species, they fail to include humans? African animal populations must have been decimated for the same grisly Roman spectacles, judging from the numbers that were shipped to private menageries and captured for fighting. But alas, we are not as far from the Romans as we would like to believe. Although I don’t think we would like to watch people really kill each other while we eat dinner, going on a tuna killing boat tour is still available in Sicily. You get to stick a spear into your very own endangered tuna fish for fun. We humans are not geared to acknowledge interdependence, are we? It makes me want to open my mouth (and eyes) as wide as possible–and scream, like this head seems to be doing. WAKE UP!