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SIXTH READING BOOK.
THE COLISEUM AT ROME.
THE PUBLIC AMUSEMENTS OF ROME.
1. THE character of a people is marked by nothing more fairly than their amusements, for by these their estimates of enjoyment, and, hence, their standard of refinement and morals may be known. It is only too true that every country has to regret much in its popular tastes at some period of its history that needed correction, but it is to be considered whether these defects have characterized the whole people or only a class; whether they have been public in the widest and most universal sense, or have had attractions only for a public of their own.
2. To take the case of England; there was in the middle ages, when society was struggling out of barbarism, a taste for the combats of the tournament, but they were at the most only competitions of knightly skill for the prizes of love or honour, or in some cases the form in which the duels of the age were prescribed. Death was very rare, and was always regarded as an unfortunate accident against which greater precautions were continually to be taken.
3. This was the only kind of public spectacle in England in which at any time men might kill men, unless the very rare instances of death in the coarse and brutal amusement of the prize ring, when professional boxers strove for the mastery, be held a second. Englishmen may have been far from refinedthey may have found pleasure in what involved pain or death to the lower animals, or ferocity between man and man, as in prize fights, but there is an amazing difference between the bull or bear-baiting of our ancestors, or the cock-fights or even prizerings of the last generation, and the amusements that degraded ancient society.
4. The most popular public spectacles of Rome were the gladiatorial shows, and the great public hunts in the arena of amphitheatres. The former began, apparently, by a perversion of the custom in use among still older Italian nations, of
killing slaves and captives, at the funeral of the illustrious dead. Hence the first gladiators were exhibited at Rome on occasions of a public funeral, but, erelong, they were introduced even at private funerals both of men and women.