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Of Ill Means Employed To A Good End
by [?]

“Nil mihi tam valde placeat, Rhamnusia virgo,
Quod temere invitis suscipiatur heris.”

[“Rhamnusian virgin, let nothing ever so greatly please
me which is taken without justice from the unwilling owners”
–Catullus, lxviii. 77.]

And yet the weakness of our condition often pushes us upon the necessity of making use of ill means to a good end. Lycurgus, the most perfect legislator that ever was, virtuous and invented this very unjust practice of making the helots, who were their slaves, drunk by force, to the end that the Spartans, seeing them so lost and buried in wine, might abhor the excess of this vice. And yet those were still more to blame who of old gave leave that criminals, to what sort of death soever condemned, should be cut up alive by the physicians, that they might make a true discovery of our inward parts, and build their art upon greater certainty; for, if we must run into excesses, it is more excusable to do it for the health of the soul than that of the body; as the Romans trained up the people to valour and the contempt of dangers and death by those furious spectacles of gladiators and fencers, who, having to fight it out to the last, cut, mangled, and killed one another in their presence:

“Quid vesani aliud sibi vult ars impia ludi,
Quid mortes juvenum, quid sanguine pasta voluptas?”

[“What other end does the impious art of the gladiators
propose to itself, what the slaughter of young men, what
pleasure fed with blood.”
–Prudentius, Contra Symmachum, ii. 643.]

and this custom continued till the Emperor Theodosius’ time:

“Arripe dilatam tua, dux, in tempora famam,
Quodque patris superest, successor laudis habeto
Nullus in urbe cadat, cujus sit poena voluptas….
Jam solis contenta feris, infamis arena
Nulla cruentatis homicidia ludat in armis.”

[“Prince, take the honours delayed for thy reign, and be
successor to thy fathers; henceforth let none at Rome be
slain for sport. Let beasts’ blood stain the infamous
arena, and no more homicides be there acted.”
–Prudentius, Contra Symmachum, ii. 643.]

It was, in truth, a wonderful example, and of great advantage for the training up the people, to see every day before their eyes a hundred; two hundred, nay, a thousand couples of men armed against one another, cut one another to pieces with so great a constancy of courage, that they were never heard to utter so much as one syllable of weakness or commiseration; never seen to turn their backs, nor so much as to make one cowardly step to evade a blow, but rather exposed their necks to the adversary’s sword and presented themselves to receive the stroke; and many of them, when wounded to death, have sent to ask the spectators if they were satisfied with their behaviour, before they lay down to die upon the place. It was not enough for them to fight and to die bravely, but cheerfully too; insomuch that they were hissed and cursed if they made any hesitation about receiving their death. The very girls themselves set them on:

“Consurgit ad ictus,
Et, quoties victor ferrum jugulo inserit, illa
Delicias ait esse suas, pectusque jacentis
Virgo modesta jubet converso pollice rumpi.”

[“The modest virgin is so delighted with the sport, that she applauds the blow, and when the victor bathes his sword in his fellow’s throat, she says it is her pleasure, and with turned thumb orders him to rip up the bosom of the prostrate victim.” –Prudentius, Contra Symmachum, ii. 617.]

The first Romans only condemned criminals to this example: but they afterwards employed innocent slaves in the work, and even freemen too, who sold themselves to this purpose, nay, moreover, senators and knights of Rome, and also women:

“Nunc caput in mortem vendunt, et funus arena,
Atque hostem sibi quisque parat, cum bella quiescunt.”

[“They sell themselves to death and the circus, and, since
the wars are ceased, each for himself a foe prepares.”
–Manilius, Astron., iv. 225.]

“Hos inter fremitus novosque lusus….
Stat sexus rudis insciusque ferri,
Et pugnas capit improbus viriles;”

[“Amidst these tumults and new sports, the tender sex,
unskilled in arms, immodestly engaged in manly fights.”
–Statius, Sylv., i. 6, 51.]

which I should think strange and incredible, if we were not accustomed every day to see in our own wars many thousands of men of other nations, for money to stake their blood and their lives in quarrels wherein they have no manner of concern.