Posted by: The Amoeba | December 29, 2007

Bread and Circuses

… iam pridem, ex quo suffragia nulli
uendimus, effudit curas; nam qui dabat olim
imperium, fasces, legiones, omnia, nunc se
continet atque duas tantum res anxius optat,
panem et circenses.

… Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man,
the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time
handed out military command, high civil office, legions, everything – now
restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.

     – Juvenal, Satire 10.77-81

As I write this, the New England football gridiron Patriots are playing the New York football gridiron Giants in the last regular-season National Football Gridiron League game for both teams. The Patriots, in case you live in Iceland or something, have not yet lost a game, and are trying to complete an undefeated regular season.

I actually sat down to watch the game. Yes I did. I mean, it’s not as if you could miss it if you tried. It’s on three, count ’em, three separate television networks.

I lasted all of five minutes.

Long enough to see a Patriots wide receiver score a touchdown and get his team penalized fifteen yards for excessive celebration. Which the receiver and his teammates did. Yes, the play broke three league records. Too bad. It’s not exactly a new rule. And supposedly, the rules are the rules.

But not to the commentators. Who ragged endlessly on the referees for “interfering with the game”.

And it’s not as if the penalty was harmless. The Giants scored a touchdown on the ensuing kickoff – made possible in large part by the fifteen yards the kicking team had to give up. Who is at fault? The receiver and his teammates for not abiding by the rules? Or the referees who are charged with enforcing the rules?


… sporting events are rituals. Specifically, ritualized combat. Rituals that connect us with the other animals on this blue sphere, all the way back (at least) to the cartilaginous fishes of 450 million years ago. Rituals that permit the stronger of two contestants to be identified without exposing both to potentially lethal attacks except when absolutely necessary. Rituals whose rules serve to minimize the risk of mayhem, murder, war.

Trouble is, when the rules of ritualized combat break down, there’s only one thing left.

The real thing.

Like when the Christians got tossed to the lions in the Roman circus. Or gladiators fought to the death.

Ave caesar! Morituri te salutamus!
Hail Caesar! Those about to die salute you!

And Roman gladiators didn’t even get paid like the modern ones. Who make twice as much in a week as the average school teacher makes in a year. Like the one sitting next to me, working on school materials on a Saturday afternoon.

My telling you about a teacher who is working for free might get the attention of a few dozen of you. About the same number who, the stats say, read about the (now) $225 million in deferred repairs to academic buildings at the Central Pacific university that is sending its gridiron team to the Sugar Bowl. Meanwhile, the ESPN webpage dedicated to the Patriots-Giants contest had 7,000 comments. Before the first half ended.

Rollerball, anyone?

   – O Ceallaigh
Copyright © 2007 Felloffatruck Publications. All wrongs deplored.
All opinions are mine as a private citizen.



  1. of all the posts you’ve made
    i like this one the best

  2. so, how did the game end? 😉

  3. […] and act on them before the s**t hit the fan. Not stick our heads in the sand watching Britney and the Patriots. Until the sand gets too […]

  4. And I hadn’t yet finished editing the damned thing when you commented, n. Thanks.

    You are camped out at the edge of the universe, aren’t you, polona? The Patriots won. Dammit. That means that the reckoning for sports fans of the good city of Boston (cheating scandals, steroid/HGH scandals, salary/tax questions, trophies given back in shame) has just been delayed.

  5. The Patriots won? An entire undefeated season? Well then that means cheaters do win!

  6. Quilly, you’re right. But I suspect that everybody in the NFL is cheating, the Patriots were just stupid unlucky enough to get caught that one time. Which is why they got a fine instead of getting tossed out of the league. That, and the fact that tossing the Patriots out of the league would probably have started a riot. After all, We the People have long accommodated ourselves to fixing in professional wrestling, horse and dog racing, chess …

    We are the authors of our own distress.

  7. i wish
    you had kept the footballs in

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