Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words? Entry #30

August 31st, 2009 by Wordsman


Their descent from the Palatine Hill was much less rapid than their climb.  Matthew thought it was ironic that when he had been leading, they charged up the hill like they were being chased by the hounds of Hell, and when he was following Jack, they moved at a gentle pace.  Then, just like everyone else who is too smart for his own good, he started to wonder if this was actually ironic or just one of those things that seemed like irony but that smart-alecks will tell you is just a coincidence or something like that.

Matthew did not have to spend any time figuring out why they were moving so slowly under Jack’s direction, because that was perfectly obvious: he was looking for the cave.  Matthew did, however, start to worry that his diversionary tactic may have worked a little too well.  His friend had hardly spoken since they decided, after fifteen minutes of arguing, that the ruins of the arena or garden or whatever it was had nothing at all to do with the Lupercal.  Matthew was sure that his friend would not find anything, because experts had tried for centuries and failed (and because his friend spent much of his time looking in places where one would be unlikely to find a cave, such as between blades of grass).  He was also sure that Jack would have no idea what to do even if he found it, because his friend knew as much about spelunking as he did about radiology.  Still, the fact that he kept looking so intently was unnerving.

Matthew was never able to decide for sure if his thought was ironic or not, because he was interrupted by a sudden command from his friend.  “Hey, look over there!” Jack said, pointing ahead of them at a long depression in the earth.  “I bet that could be—”

“It is not the Lupercal,” Matthew said forcefully.  He didn’t know whether to grin or groan.  At least they were getting a chance to see another one of the sites he had wanted to visit.  “This is the Circus Maximus.”

“Are you sure?” Jack asked.  “It doesn’t look like a circus.  There’s only the one ring, see?  Circuses have three.”

“That’s not what ‘circus’ means,” Matthew said with a sigh.

“No, I’m pretty sure that it is.  I’ve been to plenty of circuses before, and—”

“I mean, that’s not what ‘circus’ means in Latin.  It’s a race track.  Can’t you tell by the fact that it’s a big oval with raised areas on the sides for seats?  Think of it like the English word ‘circuit,’ not ‘circus.’”

Matthew felt that this explanation would have been completely satisfactory to any normal person, but he saw that his friend remained unsatisfied.  “Look, you know the part in Ben-Hur with the chariot race?”

Jack’s eyes lit up.  “Oh yeah!  Messala was riding a Greek chariot,” he added pointlessly.

“Yes, well, that was a circus.”  This seemed to shut Jack up for a while; presumably he was busy thinking about various other scenes from the movie.  Matthew took the chance to call up in his head scenes from history, trying to imagine what an actual chariot race would have looked like, as opposed to the over-dramatized Hollywood version.  He imagined the crowds in the now non-existent stands, cheering, booing, some of them even throwing things; this was long before the days when an event would be brought to a total halt simply because an errant beach ball bounced its way onto the field.

“So why is it called the Circus Maximus?” Jack asked, when he had finished his internal review of the epic.  Only Jack could manage to compress a three-and-a-half-hour movie into a few minutes.

Matthew opened his eyes.  Was his friend’s grasp of foreign language really so bad that he could not even recognize simple cognates?  “It’s because it was so big.  You know, like ‘maximum?’”

Jack frowned.  “It doesn’t look that big.  I bet the Indianapolis Speedway is at least twice as big as this thing.”

Matthew cringed at the thought that someone could compare ancient Roman chariot racing to modern NASCAR.  The comparison was perfectly apt, but it still made him shudder.  “It was big for back then,” he muttered, knowing that his friend was unlikely to accept such an excuse.

“So you say that Ben-Hur was here?” Jack said after a minute or two of silent thought.

Matthew had not said that, and if he had it would have been utter foolishness.  The chariot race in the movie took place in Judea, not Rome, and the character of Judah Ben-Hur was entirely fictional anyway.  But Matthew was still somewhat tired out from his earlier panicked running, so he did not have the energy to explain this to his friend.  “Sure.”

“And Ben-Hur was friends with Jesus Christ,” Jack continued.  Matthew recognized the look on his face: he was putting things together like a child determined to get pieces to fit into his jigsaw puzzle no matter what their shape.  “And we’re near the birthplace of the founder of Rome, where the headquarters of the Catholic Church is located.”

“Didn’t I already say that this isn’t the cave?” Matthew protested.  “And the Lupercal isn’t the birthplace of Romulus and Remus anyway; it’s where they were cared for by a wolf.”

“So it was still important to them.  And even if we’re not right by this cave, it must be close.  That’s the hill right over there, isn’t it?  He could have easily made a stop there before the race, pretending he just wanted a better view.”

Matthew sighed.  “So where are you going with this?” he asked wearily.  Knowing his friend, not even the sky was the limit.  Aliens featured frequently in Jack’s conspiracy theories.

“I’m not sure . . . yet.  But there’s definitely something here.  Something big.  Something . . . maximus.”  Jack grinned at his little joke; Matthew thought he might cry.

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