I believe that I saw my first crucifixion when I was ten, getting a pretty close look at the arresting spectacle as I rolled past in the family ox-drawn cart that was taking us from our villa in Apulia down the Apian Way to visit Uncle Antonius at olive picking season. My first experience gave me a lot of bang for my buck because there had been a little slave revolt in a neighboring town and a hundred of the rascals were all nailed up along both sides of the road at intervals of about an arm’s length. One could hardly miss taking in every detail with the crosses lining the road at no more than a man’s height from the ground, but my gaze stayed the longest on the ones that were most alive. We did whip up the ox a bit to get through quickly because the flies were really annoying. I asked my father how come I had never seen a crucifixion before, given that they were common; I heard all about them and had thought about practicing one for myself on a cat, but he got away and then I lost the nails.
“Well, figlio mio,” Pater explained, “crucifixions are for the vilest kinds of criminals, like slaves and traitors. So you wouldn’t see one every day.”
“But it seems like a waste when they could have gone to the Colosseum as entertainment. I’m sure we would rather see them trying to run from a hungry lion and then get ripped apart one limb at a time rather than hanging there groaning and making faces.”
“I guess there is no shortage of folks for the games, and the Tribune needed to make a lingering example. For some reason slaves keep trying to revolt; they don’t get it that there will always be slaves and that is their lot in life.”
“Maybe a revolt will succeed one of these days and there will be no more slaves?”
“No, no, figlio, there have always been slaves; that is the way of the world. It is human nature to take captives from a conquest. Look at the example of history. Everyone has done it. I think it is in our genes as humans to subjugate other weaker individuals. Some day we might evolve to be able to take another creature’s perspective, but as of now our credo is, “If it’s good for me, then it’s good.”
“But slaves are sort of like us.”
“No they are of an entirely different sort—not Roman at all; so we can do whatever we please.”
Pater’s way of looking at things has stuck with me for a long time and has worked out all right as my approach to living. However, there have been moments of doubt . . . when I think of our conversation I also remember the distorted bodies and anguished cries and at times I wonder at my feeling a vague sense of unease and dislike for crucifixions. However, I just cannot get over the immutable truth that both slavery and severe punishment are part of our culture, that Rome’s culture is the best, and that such practices have gone on for thousands of years. Who am I to question something that Pater and his pater and so on have done? We couldn’t live without slaves and my needs are perfectly served by the suffering of other creatures. Well! Glad I settled that. I’m off to the games to for some rollicking good entertainment. Wild beasts are on the schedule today; then off to a pig roast.