I’m a podcast addict – news, politics, true crime, international events, etc. So today I was listening to the first episode of a new podcast called “Gladiator,” which is about former Patriot Aaron Hernandez who was convicted of murder and then killed himself in his prison cell last year. In an autopsy, they found evidence of substantial damage to his brain from CTE, which is the condition that is so widely discussed today regarding the NFL and concussions.
But this post isn’t about Aaron Hernandez or the Shakespeare-esque tragedy that became of his life. Instead, towards the end of the episode, the narrator says, “In Ancient Rome, gladiators would put on their helmets and armor to compete for the public’s entertainment and amusement. Some of these men, and sometimes women, would die in their first contest in the arena.” Like anything else about Rome, that made me stop and immediately rewind the podcast so I could listen to that part again. It made me think of the 10-minute walk it would take me to get to the most famous of ancient arenas, the Colosseum. 10 minutes.
I am ever trying to solve the mystery of what draws me to Rome besides the obvious. My love affair with the city of Rome – with all its victories as well as its defeats and blemishes – is magnetic and everlasting and pure.
My dirty foot outside the Colosseum after a day of solo walking around Rome in July of 2015. (I have a weird habit of taking pictures of my feet after days exploring ancient cities including Beirut, Rome, Amman, Jericho, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem). I am stepping on the famous “SPQR” initials found throughout Rome. SPQR are the initials of the Latin phrase, “Senātus Populusque Rōmānus,” which means “The Senate and the People of Rome.” The phrase originally stood for the idea that ancient Romans believed that all authority of the Senate came from the people. There’s a lot more history to it, but that’s it in a nutshell. Today, it is used in the municipal symbol of Rome.
But those lines in the podcast reminded me how large of a role Rome and its history still play as cultural touchstones to this day. After all, the narrator of the podcast didn’t have to go into a lengthy (or short) history lesson to illustrate the mental picture he was trying to paint. Our minds’ eyes automatically call up an image of gladiators in the Colosseum of Ancient Rome, the jeering crowds, and caesar overseeing the melee. To me, and I admit my bias, so much of Rome’s past seems like a larger shared past of the whole Western world. Ancient Rome gives us many of our cultural touchstones – the Colosseum, gladiators, Brutus betraying Caesar, the phrase “All roads lead to Rome,” and “Nero fiddled while Rome burned,” the barbarian military general of Carthage, Hannibal, the image of the once-great Roman Empire being sacked by barbarians, and so on. It is why the title of the podcast, “Gladiator,” needs no explanation to evoke the fighters of Ancient Rome. And I live here. It still gives me goosebumps.
Is this a selfish way to look at the world? That I feel privileged that I live in this Eternal City (while still being a citizen of precious America), as if my living here is the most important thing in the world? Probably. Does it give me any insight into the world around me or the self within me? Not really, except that some Roman culture still echoes today.
The Colosseum at night, summer of 2015.
So at 8:52 a.m., on October 17, 2018, in Rome, Italy, I am selfishly grateful that I get to live here, in a city that literally gives me shivers every day and that I love for reasons I cannot fully articulate. “Just for today,” I will be happy and grateful no matter what the day brings simply because I am here in this place of ceaseless inspiration to me.
With gratitude and love from the Eternal City,
P.S. This post is dedicated to my dad, who will understand why.
P.P.S. It really bothers me that my autocorrect kept capitalizing the “a” in “Ancient Rome,” but there must be some reason the adjective is part of the proper noun. 🤔