Monday, August 26, 2013

Gladiators by Michael Grant (1967)

This is part of a history series from the late 1960s, all written by what I think are probably top historians or writers of histories.  I'm interested to read more of the series.  I'm not sure that pithy little books of history as a series are written and published like this anymore.  I can think of Penguin Lives, and also the presidential series (which I loved and devoured) edited by Arthur Schlessinger (who I believe is now dead)(yes, for six years).  I'm definitely going to add the other books to my list of stuff to read.

Michael Grant is a renowned historian and writer of the ancient world, and I've read a couple of his books before.  I wasn't overly impressed with Gladiators, but I wasn't completely underwhelmed either.  His book was laid out in a pretty straightforward way:  why there were gladiators in the first place, who they were, where they trained, what kinds there were, how the arenas worked, etc.  The last bit dealt with what happened to them.  In a word, Christianity - although if you ask me, the Christians were just as brutal and ugly in many other ways (just ask the Jews).    But Grant's last sentence is poignant at least:  "Those who believed in the Gospel of Christ could not, and did not, for ever tolerate the fighting of gladiators for public entertainment."  Grant several times pointed out that the whole business of gladiators was a brutal, ugly aspect of Roman life, and while they considered it glamorous, it wasn't at all.  People were killing other people for the enjoyment of the crowd, which is rotten to think about.  The Hunger Games was real at one point, and enjoyed by a big chunk of the world. The beginning of the movie Spartacus shows the brutality and merciless cruelty really well too (although I thought the whole movie was quite boring).  

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Straightforward, unromantic portrait of gladiators from ancient Rome.  Who they were, why they existed, who they lived and fought.  Grant, who was a renowned historian and writer about the ancient world, is neither spectacular nor underwhelming in this short book - although there is more here than report fodder and an almanac of factoids.  Grant several times reminds the reader that although gladiators were the rock stars of their time, their profession was cruel, bloody and brutal.  Gladiators only disappeared from public life because "those who believed in the Gospel of Christ could not, and did not, for ever tolerate the fighting of gladiators for public entertainment."  Christianity did indeed change the Roman world and morals, and thinking about men hacking one another to death for the public enjoyment of the crowd, I'd have to say I'm glad. There's nothing even remotely romantic about that. 

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