The Gala Programme

An Unrecorded Episode in Roman History

It was an auspicious day in the Roman Calendar, the birthday of the popular and gifted young Emperor Placidus Superbus. Every one in Rome was bent on keeping high festival, the weather was at its best, and naturally the Imperial Circus was crowded to its fullest capacity. A few minutes before the hour fixed for the commencement of the spectacle a loud fanfare of trumpets proclaimed the arrival of Cæsar, and amid the vociferous acclamations of the multitude the Emperor took his seat in the Imperial Box. As the shouting of the crowd died away an even more thrilling salutation could be heard in the near distance, the angry, impatient roaring and howling of the beasts caged in the Imperial menagerie.

‘Explain the programme to me,’ commanded the Emperor, having beckoned the Master of the Ceremonies to his side.

That eminent official wore a troubled look.

‘Gracious Cæsar,’ he announced, ‘a most promising and entertaining programme has been devised and prepared for your august approval. In the first place there is to be a chariot contest of unusual brilliancy and interest; three teams that have never hitherto suffered defeat are to contend for the Herculaneum Trophy, together with the purse which your Imperial generosity has been pleased to add. The chances of the competing teams are accounted to be as nearly as possible equal, and there is much wagering among the populace. The black Thracians are perhaps the favourites—’

‘I know, I know,’ interrupted Cæsar, who had listened to exhaustive talk on the same subject all the morning; ‘what else is there on the programme?’

‘The second part of the programme,’ said the Imperial Official, ‘consists of a grand combat of wild beasts, specially selected for their strength, ferocity, and fighting qualities. There will appear simultaneously in the arena fourteen Nubian lions and lionesses, five tigers, six Syrian bears, eight Persian panthers, and three North African ditto, a number of wolves and lynxes from the Teutonic forests, and seven gigantic wild bulls from the same region. There will also be wild swine of unexampled savageness, a rhinoceros from the Barbary coast, some ferocious man-apes, and a hyæna, reputed to be mad.’

‘It promises well,’ said the Emperor.

‘It promised well, O Cæsar,’ said the official dolorously, ‘it promised marvellously well; but between the promise and the performance a cloud has arisen.’

‘A cloud? What cloud?’ queried Caesar, with a frown.

‘The Suffragetæ,’ explained the official; ‘they threaten to interfere with the chariot race.’

‘I’d like to see them do it!’ exclaimed the Emperor indignantly.

‘I fear your Imperial wish may be unpleasantly gratified,’ said the Master of the Ceremonies; ‘we are taking, of course, every possible precaution, and guarding all the entrances to the arena and the stables with a triple guard; but it is rumoured that at the signal for the entry of the chariots five hundred women will let themselves down with ropes from the public seats and swarm all over the course. Naturally no race could be run under such circumstances; the programme will be ruined.’

‘On my birthday,’ said Placidus Superbus, ‘they would not dare to do such an outrageous thing.’

‘The more august the occasion, the more desirous they will be to advertise themselves and their cause,’ said the harassed official; ‘they do not scruple to make riotous interference even with the ceremonies in the temples.’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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