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The factions of the circus

A material difference may be observed in the games of antiquity: the most eminent of the Greeks were actors, the Romans were merely spectators.

The Olympic stadium was open to wealth, merit, and ambition; and if the candidates could depend on their personal skill and activity, they might pursue the footsteps of Diomede and Menelaus, and conduct their own horses in the rapid career.

[Read and feel the xxiiid book of the Iliad, a living picture of manners, passions, and the whole form and spirit of the chariot race. West's Dissertation on the Olympic Games (sect. xii-xvii) affords much curious and authentic information.] Ten, twenty, forty chariots, were allowed to start at the same instant; a crown of leaves was the reward of the victor, and his fame, with that of his family and country, was chaunted in lyric strains more durable than monuments of brass and marble.

But a senator, or even a citizen, conscious of his dignity, would have blushed to expose his person or his horses in the circus of Rome. The games were exhibited at the expence of the republic, the magistrates, or the emperors: but the reins were abandoned to servile hands, and if the profits of a favourite charioteer sometimes exceeded those of an advocate, they must be considered as the effects of popular extravagance, and the high wages of a disgraceful profession.

[Edward Gibbon: The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire vol. 4, chap. XL, sect. II, para. 1; London mdcclxxxviii]


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