Alypius was Saint Augustine’s student and friend who was later baptized with him by Saint Ambrose. But his conversion also entailed a turning away from his addiction to the gladiatorial games. Though he had forsworn them at one point, his resolve was undermined by (who else?) his young peers who one day dragged him along to the arena. Naive young man, he resolved to keep his eyes closed and to hold himself detached from the spectacle. But, as Augustine says in Book Six of his Confessions, would that he had plugged his ears as well:
For, upon the fall of one in the fight, a mighty roar from the whole audience stirred him strongly. He, overcome by curiosity, and prepared as it were to despise and rise superior to it, no matter what it were, opened his eyes, and was struck with a deeper wound in his soul than the other, whom he desired to see, was in his body. And thus he fell more miserably than the gladiator whose fall had caused the crowd to roar — a cry which entered through his ears, and unlocked his eyes, so that his soul was stricken and wounded. Alypius had been more audacious than courageous, and so much the weaker in that he presumed on himself, rather than on You.
For, as soon as he saw that blood, he immediately imbibed a sort of savageness; nor did he turn away, but fixed his eyes, drinking in the frenzy thoughtlessly, and reveled in the wicked contest. He became drunk with the lust for blood. He was no longer the man who came there, but one of the crowd he had joined, and a fit companion of those who had led him there. Need I say more? He continued to gaze, shouted, was excited, carrying away with him the frenzy which stimulated him to return, not only with those who first enticed him, but also before them, indeed, to draw in others.
Fast forward 1600 hundred years and open to an op-ed piece in today’s Boston Globe on the spread and commercial success of “human dog-fighting.”
at the Ultimate Fighting Championship in Las Vegas a few weeks ago, a Los Angeles Times writer observed: “The blood is gushing out. . . just a beautiful sight for the UFC 100 crowd, the folks here in Mandalay Bay screaming with hunger for even more.’’ Another reporter noted that the eventual winner “used at least 17 unanswered blows’’ while his opponent was flat on the canvas.
Las Vegas? At least Alypius had the real thing: Rome!