A relief depicting Roman gladiators, made in the first century B.C., is displayed by Italy’s Ministry of Culture after a dozen panels were recovered in 2007. Today’s Super Bowl owes a debt to the noble warriors.
By Scot Herrigel
PORTLAND — Picture the high walls buzzing hive-like with activity, 10,000 voices in Latin competing with one another in the cacophonous vibrations of a human mass, thereby becoming an inarticulate drone.
They are excited, blood pulsing, hearts racing. Earlier, the doldrums of a day’s labor completed, they shuffled their sandaled, sunbaked feet along the stone corridors where they now perch to view the action.
Perhaps they have a particular gladiator with whom they identify, one whose victorious conduct in the arena has earned him the respect of a retinue of ancient adorers, cheering his name and representing their affiliation by color or insignia on their togas and tunics.
A violent sport surrounded by that mighty edifice and monument to human artifice and industry. There in the dirt, man raises sword against man and an electric delight ripples through the legions of spectators – the cheers, the curses, the lust.
INSTINCTS AND APPETITES EVOLVE SLOWLY
Things have changed a bit, sensibilities have evolved – as they do. The thought of the unrestrained truculence of death combat as a sport is no longer tolerable to collective moral doctrine.
But the act of the coliseum, the social necessity of sport, remains. Today, in the American village – our modern Rome – we pursue and consume the competition of football with the greatest ardor and in greatest numbers.
Since the process of biological evolution does not operate with great effect over the rather small epoch of a couple millennia, it is probable that the experience of those ancients shuffling about the stone rings of that colossus of entertainment, was not decidedly different from our own.
That is, the same instincts and appetites, the same physiological and psychological necessities that compelled the behavior of the citizens of that august republic and subsequent world-conquering empire also motivate us Americans of the 21st century as each of us pursues the various enterprises and vanities that constitute our 80-some-odd year sojourn on the planet Earth.
This theory, when extrapolated, holds that the whole human drama is the same play repeated over and over again with different costumes and scenery.
When confined to sport and its recurrence we see the Byzantines with their adoration of racing so fanatical that different emperors saw fit to sublimate gangs of chariot hooligans as a de facto police force in order to preserve imperial authority in Constantine’s great city – mellowing candle of the fire of Rome.
STRENGTH IS PRIZED
We see the culture of the knights with their love of the tournament – dark days illuminated by the scattered residue, sparks and embers; we see the Native American with lacrosse – atavistic light in the North American forest.
Why, then, does history repeatedly reveal this theme? I see in sport a miniature of evolution itself.
The stronger is victorious – a valid principle as long as one comprehends the complexity of the concept of strength. It is not that might makes right but that strength is good.
In sport, there is a metaphor for the modern scientific paradigm of nature. The whole history of this planet is one protracted contest, form competing against form under the governing hand of chance.
Thusly the arena, like the casino, performs the function of a church with far greater honesty and efficacy than any of the conventional institutions that manifest as nodes of dissemination for this or that religious creed.
This is true if the function of those institutions is to acquaint supplicants with a pattern or mock of the mind of God.
Chance and competition, scepter and sword of the monarchy of nature. One sees in the casino the irrational and inexplicable, and one sees in the arena the contest of strengths, thereby becoming acquainted with a Gospel both demonstrable and vital.
A BOW TO MODERN WONDERS
As we all prepare for this upcoming Christmas and hajj of the religion of life, the Super Bowl, it is apposite to recognize that the new coliseum is not any modern arena festooned and electrified with advertisements.
The new church and monument to sport is the American living room.
Owing to one of the modern wonders of the world, the Internet – an epic achievement of digital architecture – space has, to a certain extent, been subdued.
Where there were stone and the sound of voices intermingling in Latin, there is collective perception via television and ceaseless communication via Twitter and Facebook.
Consciousness moves at the speed of light, soundlessly, and a cosmic drum beats at the center of human civilization.
The great festival is approaching. See you there.
— Special to the TelegramTweet