Idle Musings of the Hypothetical Citizen
The hypothetical citizen was deep in a massive dream in which he was back in the Roman Empire, walking with crowds of people toward the Coliseum; a gleaming structure festooned with pennants and the nests of carrion birds. There was an enormous shock-wave of sound as he went from the dark portal to the bright lit arena, quickly filling up with the crowds who had moved with him through the streets of Rome. Laughter. A man breaking wind. A family eating a meal. He sat there in a row high above the floor of the Coliseum thinking, "I am a man of the 21st century sitting in the Roman Coliseum and it seems so real. How odd." As he looked around at the crowd, some of it jovial, some of it pensive, some of it wrapped in fierce expressions of anticipation, he suddenly felt great kinship to the people. And he noticed he was sitting next to a person who was reading his thoughts. "You come from the 21st century but, truly, they come from all centuries."
"Yeah, I speak English.
"Very good. I'm not good in your native tongue."
"And you want to know why you are here, on this day?
"Yes, I'm curious about that. It seems so real."
"What do you mean? It is real!"
And the Roman took his hand and rubbed it up and down his bristly stubble on his chin.
"Eh? Real? Of course, we're real. We shit. We make love to the women. We get hot in the sun. We sweat and smell. We love the sight of little children playing with their toys.
Just then the crowd rose nearly as one and many were pointing to the arena floor.
"Ah, the musicians!"
The hypothetical citizen looked out over a very stately row of marching musicians playing some martial music that, even to a foreigner, stirred him; or, something in him.
Soon enough the first gladiator fight came into view. The combatants entered from opposite ends of the structure. "These are amateurs, criminals who have been condemned to die. Both will die but one sooner than the other." The hypothetical citizen nodded his head, transfixed by the scene in front of him. "Of course, that describes us all doesn't it?" The Roman added. The first gladiator death fascinated and horrified the citizen to the point that he asked to wake from the dream. "It's been rather interesting but now I am ready to wake up and go about my day."
He did not wake up. In fact he started to get into a protracted discussion with those around him about why they were at the games and what fascinated them about the games? And they spoke to him as a modern would. It was a dream, he kept remembering. "Why do I like to come here?" One of those seated around him asked rhetorically. "Why? It gets my juices flowing my friend. I leave here happy and joyful that I am alive. I notice that everyone who leaves here has a lilt in their walk and the rest of the day is rather festive. Why? Who know, it just is and it works."
"And, after all," one added, "aren't the gladiators, the lions, the martyrs, the criminals simply playing out our code of conduct? Aren't they enacting us on a grand scale?"
The Roman made note of the fact that they didn't have cameras, they had little mass media. They would hear tales of battles but had no context to put the battle in, no reference to what hand to hand combat was like. "Had there been cameras at Caesar's battles, no one would pay any mind to this silliness. We would all be cooped up in our houses looking at what the cameras were bringing us. And you will notice, in these games, there is no beheading. The death is honorable and has integrity."
The hypothetical citizen was increasingly aware that the dream was playing tricks on him. After all, he knew that at any time he could wake up and it would all disappear. Even the sharp cries of the victims or low, rumbling roar of lions would be dissipated into the back regions of his rather simple mind. And too, the people around him represented something to him. They were not Roman citizens. They looked familiar. Ah, people he knew disguised as Roman citizens! But acting in ways he could not predict. For instance, one took a photograph out of his toga and handed it to him. A picture of a mushroom cloud. "You have weapons that destory cities in a flash of light? Only gods can do that. And if you think you are the gods you are less than barbarians."
"Hmm. Everything has accelerated beyond anyone's good sense."
"And are you people humbled by the powers you've unleashed? Are you entertained by the powers you have? If this....this cloud appear over another city far away from you would you be fascinated?"
"Oh no, we are terrified and ashamed of it all."
The Roman made a grunting noise, "that's appropriate..." Then gazed out over the floor of the arena where five men were whipping each other and poking at each other with tridents.
Occassionally the Emperor would appear, sporting a boyish look and whipping the crowd up with his rhetoric. Those around the citizen would laugh and slap their knees.
As happens in dreams this one began to disintegrate into a series of images passing quickly one after the other until it was beyond control. In one scene the hypothetical citzen was running wildly around the floor of the arena being chased by a huge Numibian carrying a spear. In another scene his head was between the ample breasts of the Emperor's daughter sitting in the box but a few feet from the foul-smelling ruler. And in the last scene; one that startled the hypothetical citizen awake was when the whole dream stopped, all the thousands of people in the stands, the Emperor and his entourage, the gladiators, even the animals all stopped and looked at the hypothetical citizen with one long gaze and then shouted to him, "This is as civilized as it ever gets," and then what he felt or perceived was a huge roar of laughter but it could have been something else.
© 2004 David Eide. All rights reserved.
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