Iason Hirudo, Discipulus in Veritas

(Reading time: 6 - 11 minutes)

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N.B. For those unpractised in Latin, a dictionary is advisable

Ronald Vellars was in front of a pint at the ‘Goat,’ rabbiting on to anyone who’d listen. As most tales were fairly humorous, his performances were generally well received and usually earned him complimentary drinks. However, for the past two days he’d been coming in much later, due to some reality show – the Apprentice - the BBC were showing.

“You see all the history books tell you Vespasian was the real constructor of the Roman Colosseum, but actually he only did the middle part, with son Titus finishing off the topmost upper galleries.

The initial building was Nero’s brainchild and, right from the start of building, many wild and bloody games were held on its lower floors when he wanted to impress, satisfy and placate the citizens, or simply keep them off his back!”

“Now, in order to find money for this project, Nero decided to cut back on earlier ones. A few years earlier he’d scoured his world for the best teachers, businessmen, merchants and scholars he could find; enslaved them, and put them to work forming the greatest library Rome had ever seen.

And the Senate, highly impressed with the idea, had immediately voted full funding.”

“Iason Hirudo was a well known Greek scholar who’d been working on a thesis explaining how the innate, and taught, brutality of the Legions invariably took over when they invaded a country.

A novel way of looking at Roman warfare and Nero didn’t like it, nor the aspersions cast on his troops. Initially he’d wanted to execute Iason straight off, but wiser senators counselled him to pick the young man’s brains first. So Iason ended up working on the library.”

“Now, though, Nero had stonewalled this project and appropriated its funding; he still wanted to earn even more by using the bodies of his slaves. So he had them re-designated from academics to intellectual ‘gladiators’ –Discipuloi, actually, which translates as Apprentices - and, in order to learn basic survival skills, sent them to a special section of a well known gladiatorial academy run by his loyal henchman, the subtle Senator Saccharon.”

“Saccharon thought that ‘a veritas show,’ where groups of young men and women would compete against each, with one person from the losing team being ritually burned alive at the end, would be an excellent way of focussing citizen interest on the project; and keep away any revolutionary thoughts regarding those parts of the city Nero, himself, had burnt down the previous year, so as to appropriate taxpayers’ land for personal use.”

“It was also very cost effective, he thought, in needing only 15 bodies burnt, and would last three months. The 16th contender, the winner, would be given their freedom and a paid job at one of Saccharon’s estates. Yes, an excellent financial earner, in addition to being popular; and the Senator smiled as he visualised the final scenes of the victim.”

“First they’d be dismissed from service. ‘Missos facere’ he’d say with a finger pointed at them. Then, after a last glass of wine with their comrades, tied to a stake. Again his finger would rise and the word “cremare,” uttered, at which the torches would fire the kindling.”

“Oh, how the citizens would love those agonized, piercing screams as the loser slowly turned to ashes. And what a spurring effect it would have on the performance of the others!” Saccharon felt very satisfied, intuitively knowing this contest would appeal to the people and, also, greatly enhance his own standing with Nero.”

“Even nicer was the thought of the spin off he’d get – in addition to that from issuing betting licences. His aides could place bets for him at the best odds and he could ensure those would be the winning ones. ‘Yes, what a delightful and prosperous plan’ he thought.”

“As I said earlier, Iason was a well respected historian and, due to his eclectic working style, often referred to as the Chamaeleon Historicus. Many also remembered an earlier work - Dux - that focused on intellectually seducing one’s ruler by teaching him how to rule effectively – if not always popularly - that was praised by the Egyptian Pharaoh.

” This manuscript was discovered long after, and represented as his own, by a certain Machiavelli who renamed it ‘De Principe.’ However, neither Nero nor Saccharon had read it.”

“On the first Games day the two teams were led out in front of the citizens. Most were already known as advertising tablets had been around the Forum for the preceding fortnight, whipping up interest and bets as to winners or losers.”

“One girl was a Druid medicine woman from Hibernia. Tall and blonde, she was quite a stunner, while another, with delightful slanting eyes, came from the East, beyond the boundaries of the known world.

Among the men was a tall rugged Pathan with an outsize ego, a chap from Cambria with strange eyebrows believed to be favoured by disciples of the blood sucking Vespertilioi cult, and a failed mathematician who’d calculated the size of a flag destined for the Roman Forum as that of a pocket handkerchief. The others, all handsome specimens, came from various parts of the empire.” 

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