Tag Archives: panem et circenses

The Price of Bread and Circuses

An internal monologue about the thoughts and feelings of a slave condemned to death in one of the circuses of Rome, paying the ultimate price for the Empire’s requirement to keep the crowds happy.

When just one minute of it remains, life becomes something precious. 60 seconds left to live. Agonisingly, they tick away, each one stretching out a lifetime, yet flitting by wildly, erratically, carelessly. Not enough time. Nowhere near enough. The air is rank with the unmistakeable stench of fear, and the frantic cacophony of animal noises. I hear my heart pound manically in my ears, as though it knows it hasn’t long left to beat. I draw jagged, tortured breaths into my lungs.

Up above me I can hear the roars of the crowd, bloodthirsty and eager. The bars of the cage are oppressively solid, pressing in, trapping me. Across from me I can see the lion, also caged. Trapped, like me, for the remainder of its life; but unlike me, its captivity wouldn’t end today.

50 seconds.

I don’t stand a chance. The lion must be 10 feet long, with eyes filled with wariness, echoing a lifetime of persecution, years spent being trained to hate, to attack, to kill…to entertain. Kept starving and desperate, provoked into fury. Rewarded for aggression and punished for contentment.

Not that this fight’ll be particularly entertaining. As if there can be any question how it’ll end.

40 seconds.

I stare down at the sword in my hands. I’ve never handled one before; I have no idea what to do with it. I’m just something to keep the crowds happy between the real acts, unimportant, forgettable. They don’t expect it to be much of a fight.

30 seconds.

The blade glints in the near-darkness. I’m nearer to the ceiling now. The sounds of the crowd are closer now, baying for my blood. They scare me more than the lion.

The beast’s been forced into cruelty, trained into blood thirst, and so perhaps has Rome; the people brought at an early age to cheer and applaud at pointless slaughter; to gossip afterwards about the fight, chatter with vulgar enthusiasm; to judge the entertainment value of the end of a man’s life, of the destruction of exotic creatures. The lion is not really my executioner. All-powerful, all-controlling…the lion is as much a player in their games as I am. And so, perhaps, are the crowd.

20 seconds.

I’m going to die.

I’m going to die.

My life flashes before my eyes. My mother’s face, forever lined by worry; my sister’s toothy grin. The sunset over the hilltops. The smell of the ocean. Laughter, tears, love, loss, hopes, dreams…they all seem so trivial, now at the end of everything, these things that make up who I am.

Tears choke my throat. I can see light above me through the cracks in the ceiling. Ceiling? The floor. The floor of the arena. My hands shake on my sword, my whole body wracked with sobs. Everything seems hyperreal, the slits of daylight from above overly bright, the floor so solid beneath my feet. I relish the weight of the sword in my hand, the coarse material of my tunic, rough and dependable against my skin. It all seems suddenly precious, now at the end of it all. Pointless, all of it pointless, but somehow valuable nonetheless.

10 seconds.

O gods have mercy! This is really happening.

I’m going to die.

I can no longer see the lion – hidden behind a beam with just a paw visible. Its claws are out, knives in the darkness.

I can’t win.

I’m going to die.

My heart beats fit to burst, feeling as if it’s trying to escape from my chest. I’m dragging in great lungfuls of air.

The lion’s leg is covered in scars. Beaten and abused from its long years in the arena.

The crowd screams.

They’re eager for a fight, waiting to see me die, as gorily and excitingly as possible. Am I human to them?

I glance down at the sword in my hand, so foreign, so far from who I am.

5 seconds.

This is happening.

This is really happening.

3 seconds.

I stretch my legs as far as they’ll go, one last time.

2 seconds.

I’m going to die.

I’m going to die.

The trapdoor opens.

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