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The Day I met a Gladiator



If you don’t mind, I’ll start with a narrative poem I wrote shortly after my visit to Pompeii . Brace yourselves, one of my hobbies is writing poetry and I like to think that this is one of my better efforts :-
A hot summer day in Naples
The dusty road shimmers with heat
Each garage passed is “chiuso”
A thirst we’ll never beat
On reaching our destination
Already I’ve seen the sign 
“This way to ruined Pompeii”
Its destiny is mine
A city of Campania, 
Built on volcanic rock,
Still Vesuvius mutters, 
And her smoky vapours mock,
“A life of a mere eight hundred years
I gave only a short span, 
When I took away what I’d given
As I drew the breath from man”
In the whisper of a breeze
I hear the City reply
“Won’t you enter the Vesuvian gate
And see who lives or dies?”
So, I take up the challenge
And look! before my eyes
By Jupiter and Apollo
The City is alive!
Follow the Via di Stabia
A major arterial road
To the Forum – the sacred Capitolium
Find the Macellum, the merchants abode
Come and see the gladiator 
Drink his wine before the games
Come and see him “per favore”
With his trumpet to call the names
Hear the bucolic conversation
Old men talk of years ago
A fight with the Nocerini
Then the Senate delivered a blow
No games to be played in Pompeii 
For a decade or more
“But we showed them that day,
Settled many an old score”
The quarrel with  Nuceria
Concerns not the gladiator
He’s too young to remember 
This ancient breach of law
And when in a moment 
His dark brown eyes meet mine
He raises the vessel to his lips
He stands so tall and fine!
Then the tavern keeper
Fills his cup again
He says “Put it on my account”
Cuts X in the stone frame
I gaze upon the figure
Newly marked upon the wall
Then I feel a tremor
There is no time at all!
Maybe I had a touch of the sun when writing this or I was overcome by the atmosphere of this historic city. Whatever century we live in, we all share our flawed humanity, which transcends time. There is evidence of some poetic licence in the poem, as it is unlikely that the gladiator would have been drinking before the games!  He would undoubtedly have been under the watchful eye of his coach, while waiting to go into the arena, armed with the weapon, in which he had been trained. 
Gladiators lived in schools and were mainly selected from slaves, chosen for the potential they showed to take part in the games.
 Pliny tells us that Gladiators were known by the somewhat derisory name of “hordearii” which translates as Barley Eaters.  This refers to the fact that their main diet was barley and beans, with very little meat or dairy products.  They drank a supplement made from charred plants, which boosted calcium levels.
A diet full of carbohydrates meant that as well as strength, gladiators carried extra flesh, that could withstand wounds that bled, and gave  spectator value, but were not necessarily fatal. Gladiators were in the business of living to fight and not to die, which would affect the prosperity of the school.
They were in effect treated like prize racehorses are treated today and received good medical care to keep them fit. The thumbs up  (not down) when given in the arena meant that the vanquished gladiator must submit bravely to death at the hands of his opponent, showing the virtue of courage admired by the Romans.
It was true that Gladiators were figures of admiration and attracted romantic attention from spectators. We can imagine excited screams from young fans and assignments, similar to the behaviour of groupies following rock bands today. The Gladiator Maximus in the film starring Russell Crowe, is a fictitious character.
Commodius, who fought with him in the film was a real Emperor and liked to fight in the arena himself, with the odds always stacked in his favour! He would fight wild animals provided they were inside their cages.  
The most famous Gladiator is Spartacus, who led a revolt of the slaves. He escaped from his school and succeeded in gathering an army of nearly 100,000 slaves. His army was defeated by the Roman General Crassus.
The film Spartacus has a spectacular ending, showing his crucifixion, but there is no way of knowing how he died, other than that he was killed in battle in 71BC.  Between 1992 -2000 there was a popular television show  on  ITV called Gladiator.
No one was killed, or had to fight wild beasts, but contestants took part in challenging games, taking on the characters, known as the Gladiators. The appetite for adventure and challenging sport in hopefully less violent expressions than the Roman games, continues today.
I seem to have come a long way from the Gladiator I met in Pompeii, so I will raise my glass to him, say “thanks for the memory” and bid him “Farewell” 

In the nineteen sixties I worked in London stores. Worked as an Insurance Clerk in the City of London during the nineteen seventies. Divorced in the nineteen nineties. Now I am a retired Civil Servant, managing home and garden and escaping onto social media whenever possible.

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Folklore & Mythology

The ghost bus of Notting Hill



There are also relatively recent testimonies of this apparition dating back to the 90s. This is a number 7 bus that appears in the Cambridge Gardens area of Notting Hill at 1.15am in the morning only in May.

The first appearance was in 1934 when a gentleman driving a car swerved quickly to avoid something and crashed into a wall and died instantly.

Some eyewitnesses said the man tried to avoid a number 7 bus, while a couple of others said there was no bus.

Other motorists since then swear they see a driverless bus with the lights off driving at high speed into their vehicle. But when they avoid them and turn to see what it was, the bus disappears.

No one has an idea of the reason for these apparitions and why they are seen always at the same time and only in the month of May.

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Herbal Medicine

How the ancient Egyptians used medical plants



Of all the ancient civilizations, the Egyptian one was definitely the first of which we have a good knowledge of how they used herbs and plants for medicinal reasons. Sure, everything we know is a bit vague, but we have some ideas.

The first Egyptian physician we know was called Imhotep and worked for the pharaohs of the third dynasty, around 3000 years BC. We also know about him that he was an astrologer and had the ability to cure many diseases.

Obviously our knowledge is partly based on legends, anyone who was able to cure diseases was considered a magician and therefore seen as if an almost divine character, a magician and for his healing powers. But in general in Egyptian civilization, medicine and religion went hand in hand. So it wasn’t just the medicines that healed but the gods through medicines.

The concept of active ingredients, chemistry and pharmacology are modern concepts that were not found in Egyptian medicine. Another aspect of Egyptian culture that developed knowledge of the properties of herbs and plants was mummification. In fact, many substances that we use even now were used to mummify and perfume.

The interesting thing is the use of certain plants or natural remedies such as frankincense or myrrh (which would be the resins of plants and therefore require a little processing) which are still used today. They certainly used different essential oils such as peppermint, camphor and others that we also use.

Frescos have been found in Egyptian times showing the production and use of essential oils. Of course, even in this case everything was very much linked to religion.

Another thing we know for sure because papyri have been found, such as Ebers’s, which list the medicines that were recommended to a patient, were basically the ancestors of our medical prescriptions. Obviously not all medicines were plants, the Egyptians also used minerals as medicine but the majority were undoubtedly of vegetable origin.

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The Oldest Song in the World that can be played



This is the oldest piece of music that can be reconstructed and therefore played is the Hurrian Hymn no 6. It was found in the Royal Place of Ugarit which is found in modern Syria but those days was in Canaan.  This piece of music is about 3400 years old. It was only discovered in the 1950s with other  five tablets containing instructions to play music but unfortunately the others were too ruined to be able to be deciphered. 

The song was meant to be played with a lyre, it also had lyrics but only some of them can be read. It appears to be a prayer to Nikal the Goddess of Orchards. It was written in the Hurian language. 

The instructions for another song were also found, this would be even older going back about 4000 years but there are only fragments and it’s impossible to play it. 

Watch  the Hurrian Hymn no 6

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