A Clash of Cultures


Tertullian Apologeticus 15. 4-6 [A.D. 197/8] delivered to the Proconsul of the Province of Africa:

"But you really are still more religious in the amphitheater, where over human blood, over the dirt of pollution of capital punishment, your gods dance, supplying plots and themes for the condemned--except when (as so often) the guilty play the roles of the gods. We have seen, at one time or another ATTIS (that 'god' from Pessinus) being castrated; and a man who was burned alive, who had been dressed up as HERCULES; amid the noon's blend of cruelty and absurdity we have laughed at MERCURY using his burning iron to see who was really dead. We have looked upon Jupiter's brother PLUTO, too, hauling out the corpses of gladiators, his hammer in his hand. And who could inquire into all the details of this? If they upset the honor of 'deity', if they blot out every trace of majesty, it simply means the sheer contempt felt by those who do these things, as well as by those for whom they do them."

Tertullian, de spectaculis 9:
"Now as to the arts displayed in the Circus Games. Equestrian skill was a simple thing in the past, mere horseback riding. In any case there was no guilt in the ordinary use of the horse. But when the horse was brought into the Games, it passed from being God's gift into the service of demons. So to Castor and Pollux is dedicated this kind of exhibition, the pair of gods to whom (according to the poet Stesichoros) horses were assigned by Mercury. But Neptune also has to do with horses; he is called Poseidon Hippios among the Greeks. When they harness the horses, the four-horse chariot is consecrated to the Sun, the two-horse chariot to the Moon. But then, again,

King Erechthonius it was who first
harnessed four horses to his cart, and stood
Lord of fleet wheels

(Vergil Georgics III. 113).

Erechthonius, a son of Minerva and Vulcan, offspring of lust who fell to earth, is himself a demon-monster–no, a devil himself, not a snake. If indeed Trochilus the Argive is the inventor of the first chariot, he dedicated that work of his to Juno. If at Rome Romulus was the first to display the four-horse chariot, he is enrolled among the idols himself, if he and Quirinus are the same. Such being the inventors who produced them, chariots very properly have their drivers clad in the colors of idolatry. For at first there were only two colors: white and red. White is sacred to Winter, for the gleaming white of the snow, red to the Summer because of the Sun's redness. Later, as pleasure and superstition gained ground together, some dedicated the red to Mars, others the white to the Zephyrs, the green to Mother Earth (or Spring), the blue to Sky and Sea (or Autumn). But since idolatry in every form has been condemned by God, that form also is certainly condemned which is consecrated to the elements of nature."

Tertullian, de spectaculis 16:

"Seeing then that madness is forbidden to us Christians, we keep away from every public spectacle–including the Circus, where madness of its own right rules. Look at the pupulace coming to the show–mad already: disorderly, blind, excited already about its bets. The Praetor is too slow for their taste; all the time their eyes are on his urn, in it, as if rolling around with the lots he shakes up in it. The starting signal is to be given. They are all in suspense, anxious suspense. One frenzy, one voice! . . . Next taunts or mutual abuse, without any reason to h ate, and applause, without any affection . . . . God does not allow us to curse, even with good reason, when he teaches us to bless those who curse us. But what can be more merciless than the Circus, where men do not even spare their Princes or their fellow-citizens?"



May 22, 2009 1:17 PM

John Paul Adams, CSUN

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