chapter  6
4 Pages

ANIMALS AS SPORT: THE ARENA

The use of animals in entertainment can be traced in Greek society to such Bronze Age spectacles as the bull leaping contests depicted on Cretan freezes (c.1500 BCE), an activity whose meaning has been variously interpreted but which certainly fascinated spectators as an illustration of the triumph of human strength and wit over the sheer power of wild nature. One is most likely, however, to associate animal entertainments with Roman arena sports, a type of activity that again bore a number of symbolic meanings to spectators. Viewers were reminded of the power of human beings, of the astonishing variety of exotic species that inhabited the vast empire of Rome, and of the violence of savage beasts. Ironically, the systematic slaughter of thousands of rare and beautiful animals suggested to the Romans the superiority of human civilization over the bloodthirsty savagery of wild nature.