A Matter of Life and Death: Gladiatorial Games, Sacrificial Ritual and Literary Allusion
By Desiree E. Gerner
Master’s Thesis, University of Oregon, 2010
Abstract: Roman gladiatorial games had significance far beyond that of mere spectacle and were more than savage and brutal entertainment for depraved emperors and bloodthirsty crowds. Classifying the games as a form of ritual, and by extension a means of communication, this study approaches Roman gladiatorial games as a type of text and employs literary theories regarding allusion to bring to light the more profound implications of the games. I focus on the ways in which gladiatorial games alluded to funerary and sacrificial ritual as well as to the idealized representations of masculine virtue in Roman literature and the native myths and legends that Romans used to define themselves. The gladiator was both the community’s ideal agent and its sacrificial offering, and gladiatorial combat was the embodiment ofRoman social values, religious practice, and national identity.