Do you know what it once meant to have a "Roman Holiday."

Have you ever heard the term “Roman Holiday?” Do you know what it means? defines it as: “An event or occasion when pleasure is taken from the suffering of others. Etymology: so called because days of gladiatorial combat in ancient Rome were public holidays.” Does this definition surprise you? Did you think the phrase had a more benign meaning? Perhaps, you thought it meant something like having fun in Rome while on vacation. Well, in one sense, it does, but the “fun” came at the death and suffering of others. Do we still take Roman Holidays? Some people might say boxing, football and many contact sports are enjoyed more for their violent elements than for the athletic prowess they display. Nevertheless, while we might enjoy these sports, it does not mean that we enjoy the suffering of others.

We may in fact enjoy violence, but I draw the line at thinking that many of us really go to events to see people hurt or suffer. In fact, I have a hard time understanding how even the ancient Roman citizens could have been so callous and insensitive. Perhaps, we would have to live in that era to understand why a Roman holiday would have been fun. Today, I think there is a greater sensitivity and awareness of obvious cruelty. Even in contact sports, I see little evidence of a Roman holiday.

Has the world really grown and become more caring or do I have my rose colored glasses on? Are we less likely to go on a Roman holiday? Do you want to see anyone hurt or get any pleasure from the suffering of others? Do you secretly hope to see a crash during a NASCAR race or do you want to see the acrobat fall during the high wire act at the circus? I will bet not. Why would you or anyone else want to see someone hurt?

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. bgalbreath
    Oct 26, 2011 @ 15:23:41

    I read recently someone's analysis of cruelty. His answer was that, when we feel bad about ourselves, it somehow helps if we can make someone else feel even worse. It's important for some people to have someone to look down on. I think hearing about or seeing the misfortunes of others can make us feel better by comparison. “I may be screwed up, but at least I'm not as bad as him.”
    I think this pattern has become less prevalent (but maybe I have rose colored glasses too). A remaining permissible case is where a “big shot” suffers a fall. It satisfies the envy of people who never were big shots to see someone taken down a peg. I think that's part of the reason going after “millionaires and billionaires” resonates with the voting public, even though there aren't enough such people to balance our books, even if we took all their income.



  2. John Persico
    Oct 26, 2011 @ 23:07:11

    Bruce, I guess many people will not blame themselves for their problems and need a scapegoat. The etymology of the word scapegoat is also interesting. I doubt we have really changed much as humans but I would like to think we are getting less cruel.



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