Potent Quotables #1: Violence and the Crowd
[[Yes, this is a semi-blatant rip-off of Wes’ Quote of the Day series (the most recent of which is linked back there) and yes, it is an oblique reference to the Celebrity Jeopardy skits from SNL (pastors, +5 to relevance and -5 to salvation if you already got that reference. Everyone else, +20 to geekdom if you got that reference). Anyway, this is just an avenue for me to share thoughts on my current readings, theological and otherwise, so jump in and join the discussion!]]
Today’s Potent Quotable comes from a text I’m reading for my senior capstone course in Classics. It’s called The Lure of the Arena: Social Psychology and the Crowd at the Roman Games, by Garrett G. Fagan, and it examines, among other things, underlying causes of and motivations for the extreme violence of the Roman games. Fagan hasn’t given an answer yet (nor should he have, by page 39), but he’s offered a number of stimulating thinking points. Here’s one of those, by way of a story:
…A striking example [of the assumption that, if pain and death are staged as spectacle, people will come to watch] is the death of Peregrinus Proteus in the middle of the 2nd century AD. Peregrinus was a dabbler in philosophy and mysticism, who in his younger days had even given Christianity a try while travelling in Syria and Palestine. In AD 165, Peregrinus announced in advance that he would burn himself to death at the Olympic games. Lucian, who was a witness, regarded the whole business as a contemptible display of vainglory. But huge numbers of people (including Lucian himself), already gathered for the games, were determined to watch Peregrinus’ self-immolation. As it turned out, the event took place not at Olympia during the festival, but at the nearby town of Harpina the day after the festival ended. The spectators, therefore, had to walk or ride about two miles to see Peregrinus die. Why did they do it?
Well, why indeed? It’s a morbid thought, but people line up in droves to see violence, simulated or otherwise. Why? I’m not sure. I might be back with the answer when I finish the book. Until then, what do you think? Is this only a Western problem? What light might Christianity shed on this situation? Does it offer a solution?