Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words? Entry #23

July 13th, 2009 by Wordsman


“Now this is what I’m talking about!” Jack declared, throwing his arms wide and laughing.  It was a strange sound, like a cross between the cry of a carefree child and the insuppressible glee of a maniacal supervillain watching his plans come to fruition.  As usual, whether they could understand what he was saying or not, the other tourists kept their distance.

Matthew was feeling much better on his second day in Rome.  A good night’s sleep had done wonders for his mood.  When they first returned to the hotel he had worried that his roommate would keep him up with wild stories or nonsensical planning, but for once Jack had calmed down and gone straight to bed.  He said he needed to keep his strength up for the days ahead, whatever he meant by that.

The day was bright, and the waiting line had not been as painfully long as the guidebook had indicated.  If Matthew was forced to complain about something, it would be that his friend had not totally followed through on his promise to let him pick their destination.  Matthew had wanted to visit the Forum first, but as soon as they exited the subway station and Jack laid eyes on the white stone walls of the Colosseum, shining in the sun, he knew that it would be impossible to drag his friend away.  Matthew was not, however, inclined to be particularly upset about this detour.  After all, it was pretty much illegal to visit Rome without going to see the Colosseum.

“The Colosseum!” Jack announced, for what Matthew counted as the thirty-seventh time since they had come up the escalator from the subway station (named, appropriately, Colosseo).  “If this isn’t a place for excitement and intrigue, then I don’t know what is.  Back in the old days, this was the heart of Rome!  The living, breathing, beating, and above all bleeding heart of Ancient Rome!  No other place existed in the entire world at that time that had such power to draw people in!  This was their entertainment!  This was their life!  Every Friday and Saturday night, Romans would call up their buddies . . . I mean, send messages by birds or yell across rooftops or whatever they did before they had telephones.  Anyway, my point is, the question everyone wanted to ask was: ‘Hey, you going to the Colosseum?’”

“No, it wasn’t,” Matthew corrected politely.  He had been leaning on a railing and staring upward, trying to imagine what the building had looked like when it was first built, when it had been around for only a hundred years, when it was filled with screaming fans and when it was inappropriately silent at night.  “No one would have said that back then.”

Jack stumbled as if Matthew had physically tripped him.  “What?” he asked.

“No one would have said that,” Matthew continued, “because it wasn’t called the Colosseum back then.  Its original name was the Flavian Amphitheatre.”  As usual, there were any number of things from his friend’s speech that he could have corrected, from contrasting the importance of places like the Forum and the Circus Maximus as gathering spots to pointing out that the modern weekend originated primarily from Judeo-Christian traditions.  But Matthew knew how to pick his battles, and he believed that names were important.  “And before you ask,” he added, “the word ‘Flavian’ just refers to the dynasty of emperors that built it.  It doesn’t have anything to do with flavors, or flares, or flakes.”

Jack’s brow furrowed.  “But . . . this is still the place with the gladiators, right?”

“Yes,” Matthew said, chuckling.  “This is the place with the gladiators.”

“Well alright then!” said Jack, regaining his earlier momentum.  “Gladiator combat!  Battles to the death!  Two men enter, one man leaves.  That’s what Ancient Rome was really all about.  Fighting for your life, sword to sword, knife to knife, fist to fist, and all the while the citizens of the greatest city in the world watched as you struggled to survive.  Now that is a performance.  Anyone who entered this pit knew that if he did not perform to his very best, and maybe even if he did, he would surely die.  That would be something worth watching.”

Matthew did not agree that watching men die made for good entertainment.  “You know they don’t do that anymore, right?”

“Of course,” said Jack, slumping down onto the railing next to his friend.  “The great gladiator fights all took place centuries and millennia ago.  But,” he added, grinning slyly, “don’t believe that there’s nothing left here from those brutal days.  The blood of the gladiators has seeped into the ground, taken hold, changed this place in a way that no amount of history can undo.  The ghosts of hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of men that suffered horrible, horrible deaths reside in this ancient amphitheatre.”

Oh God, thought Matthew.  Now he’s going to have us chasing after ghosts.  “There’s no such thing as ghosts.”

“Sure, you know that, and I know that.  But what about those who want to reawaken the past and prey on the fears of the superstitious?  Wouldn’t this be the perfect setting for a ghost like that?”

Matthew groaned.  “You think there’s going to be someone running around the Colosseum wearing a bedsheet and saying ‘Boo?’  That’s ridiculous.  This isn’t an episode of Scooby D—”

Matthew froze for a moment, because he thought he had seen a figure moving through an archway across from where they were standing.  It was not a ghost, just a person whose features were concealed entirely behind faded gray clothes.  The figure walked with a halting step, as if it had recently fallen and twisted an ankle.  He stared at the spot for a minute or two, but the shuffling apparition did not come back.

“Like I said,” he repeated, though with less certainty and more directed at himself than at his friend, “this isn’t an episode of Scooby Doo.”

Posted in Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words? | No Comments »

Leave a Comment

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.