The attitudes towards the Roman games articulated by the ancient writers varied to a great extent between the diverse individuals. There were those individuals who enjoyed the games, and looked at them as an expression of Roman culture and all that embodied it. The games were lessons in the Roman virtues of strength and stamina while displaying the bravery and skill personified by the Romans. On the other hand there were also those individuals who looked at the games in a different light. Those individuals felt the games were a sure path to the destruction of the very moral fiber that binds out society to humanity.
Martial eludes to the fact that women fought in the arena, something that one might have considered to be looked down upon, was merely the opposite. The women who fought in the arena were compared to Goddesses and held on such a high pedestal as that of men. He compares the gladiators to the various Roman Gods multiple times in his writings. This fact alone is a clear representation of his opinion about the Roman games. There is nothing greater than one’s God/s and to compare the contenders of the Roman games to them is a sign of his approval.
Apuleius views the arena activities as a necessity of Roman tradition and culture. He describes Lucius whom engages in sexual intercourse with a woman mid arena in either a religious ceremony or appointment of punishment for the woman. In a different article he explains how a man hosts an elaborate and lavish show, a show that simply does not turn out as intended. However, regardless of the outcome of both, I think it is important to note that both events were described favorably in his eyes.
And both shows are a symbolism for Roman culture; the first being new life and punishment and the second being about personal stature. Pliny the Younger looked upon the arena games in a favorable light as well. He viewed them as a means of appeasing the people, and a sign of political hierarchy. The games in his eyes were more than the physical activity portrayed, but he saw them as a proper means to honor the loss of a loved one. He also viewed them as a sign of an individual’s generosity. The more lavish the event the more a leader cared for his people.
Cicero was unlike many of the writers who looked at the Roman games in a different light. He relates the animals that were brutally slaughtered to humans. Cicero approved of the Roman games when it was merely criminals fighting against criminals, however, I think during the later years when it was mindless slaughtering for entertainment he found only disgust. I think he felt the games lost their meaning and no longer embodied what he felt the Roman culture was all about.
He did not want to be remembered as barbaric blood lusting combatants. Seneca and St. Augustine shared similar opinions. They felt as though the games were a plague to society. They held no historical or beneficial value. They both expressed concern for the impact to the mind of the blood crazed attendees. To account for the difference and similarities of opinions between the various writers cannot be attributed to ignorance. All of the ancient writers were all well educated upper class individuals. Therefore the answer in my opinion is very simplistic. The majority of those who favored the Roman games found meaning in them.
They were able to look past the slaughtering of animals and humans, and see them as, hopefully, their intended purpose of historical relevance. Wiedemann in his articles details how many of the Roman games could be viewed in that light. Be it the Roman games as a way of dealing death to those condemned or a means of cultivating the land of dangerous animals; he found good in them. And that is exactly what those who were in favor of the games did as well. The ancient writers who were opposed to the Roman games were morally opposed to it.
They could not see past the bloodshed, and felt as though, no matter how justified that it was right. Without physically being there, I have no way of choosing which side of the fence I would stand on. If the Roman games were for a good purpose that helped educated, promote good morality, or served a religious purpose I’d side with those in favor. However, if they were merely to fulfill a need for blood, then I’d easily side with those who were opposed. I suppose the question would be were those individuals who were unfavorable of the Roman games very narrow minded, or simply a step up on the scale of morality?