Instrumentum Vocale, Gladium Vocale
So Cattalus the Greek, one of the original gladiators
gave Spartacus the Roman general's stallion
after the battle of Salinae
and the defeat of the four legions near Lucania.
The women were stripping the Romans' armor,
cutting the throats of the wounded,
taking off fingers for the jewels and rings,
to be traded to Cilician pirates
for passage from Brundesium.
The dying cried to Mithras, the bull-slayer
God of legionnaires, or to mothers
of slaves in forgotten voices.
The wounded horses whinnied and shrieked,
killed and butchered for their meat.
A circle formed around Spartacus,
who put his arms around the stallion's lathered neck.
He kissed its mouth and in its wet eyes,
the widening mirror pools,
he could not see the end of days,
where he knew all this would take them.
He didn't see Pompey's legions, fresh from Spain
landing at Brundesium,
where the Cilician pirates should have been,
their barren fleet of empty vessels sailing east,
riding high in the water.
No racks of broken manacles, the standard
of the slave army, posted on the mastheads.
No ships brimming with the tribes of Sun City,
Thracians, Celts, Gauls, Africans,
Persians, Arabs—the confederacy of slaves.
He put his ear to the vaulted chest
and heard the beat of veins and heart,
or was it the hammer of spikes, the curses and screams,
six thousand crosses trembling on the Appian Way?
He heard the sound of the bells
that the donkey in the jester's cap wore
that dragged the bodies from the arena,
before the sand was raked
and swept clean for the next pair.
The limping gladiator who sharpened
the tridents, spears and blades croaked:
Think of yourself as already dead.
It will take away the hesitation.
The banners snapped over the canopy
that shaded the patricians eating their sweet meats,
drinking Falernian wine, as they dabbed
rosewater on their faces.
As he stroked the stallion's lathered neck
the long muscles rippled
and he remembered being massaged
before the special matched pairs,
what it felt like the first time
he pushed a knife through muscle
and struck ungiving bone;
the deep burn of a belly cut
that you didn't feel
until you were back in the barracks
being bandaged and stitched with cat gut.
He didn't hear the rattle of the swords and greaves,
the tramp of Crassus' legions
who would trap him from behind.
He didn't hear the unanswered questions:
Why didn't he march on Rome with his army
a hundred and twenty thousand strong?
Why did Crixus leave Sun City
with his contingent of Gauls?
The old Essene wagged his head:
Why do men act against their own self interest?
Why did the slave revolt fail?
He didn't hear the scratch of Livy's
goose quill pen describing the final defeat:
"No wounds in the backs of any of the rebels,"
remarkable for slaves.
Turning to Cattalus he said,
I thank you for the gift
but we are not Romans who favor
the lives of animals over those of men,
who keep lap dogs and monkeys and colored parrots
while they watch gladiators take each others' flesh.
We are not instrumentum vocale,
tools with a voice,
a blade in pair of hands on a stick.
We are men.
If we lose the battle with Crassus and Pompey
I won't need a horse,
and if we win, we'll be riding
Cilician ships from Brundesium.
He whispered something in the horse's ear.
Then cross-drew the sica
with one quick upward stroke
to cut the artery in the stallion's neck.
It whinnied and began to rear.
He switched his grip
and plunged the dagger into its chest.
Tens of thousands of desperate men (slaves)...a protracted battle of epic proportions. Spartacus took a spear wound in his thigh. Collapsing on one knee, he fought off those who were attacking him until he and a large number of men around him were finally...cut down....The killing was on such a large scale, it was not possible to count the dead....the body of Spartacus was never found.
(Appian, second century A.D.)
We must think of ourselves as already dead.
It will take away the hesitation,
and make us all the more dangerous,
Spartacus told the slave army
Before the final battle in Lucania.
Cattalus, his lieutenant, had Roman legionnaires
crucified around the camp to remind the slaves
what awaited them if they lost:
talking through blackened tongues to crows,
and their comrades twitching
on crosses down the road.
A sword without a face,
Spartacus dressed plainly in battle.
Crassus issued a reward of a thousand denarii
and freedom for the lucky slave,
but the body was never found.
Cattalus saw to that when they were caught
between the legions of Crassus and Pompey,
who bought off the Cilesians and landed at Brundesium
where the slaves planned to take ships and leave.
Spartacus took an arrow under the arm, not the thigh
as the Roman histories would have you believe.
Cattalus saw him go down, and rushed to him
with his flying squad of special guards.
Cattalus, we've agreed to this before.
Clear your eyes, man.
Cut my throat now, quickly, while there's time
and then disfigure my face,
and the gladiator tattoo on my shoulder.
They know only a few of us remain.
There must be no body for them to find.
Surrender before you are killed so you can
start the rumor among our people
that will get back to the Romans—
Spartacus escaped and has gone
to Sicily to raise another army.
It will gnaw their bellies,
a rat in the rafters of their oily, perfumed heads,
the small revenge of our story
before we are swallowed by the past.
Do it now, Cattalus while my eyes are open,
a matched pair, you and me,
bound together, years of blood.
Now, finally, one of us kills the other,
but not in their arena.
And in Spartacus' unblinking stare
he saw the duel that never happened,
the two of them shuffling, circling,
the thrust and hiss of their double-edged sicas.
He remembered the Retiarus, two years ago,
the tall Africans casting nets at his feet
and probing with their tridents.
The outside chance that you might survive
twenty five matches, be a crowd favorite,
maybe even buy your freedom.
The silence in the barracks before the matches.
Gladiator, befriend no other gladiator.
He saw the campfires of Sun City,
the talking drums of the Africans
now dancing to their rumbling chants,
the Celts, painting their faces blue,
inscribing each other with battle prayers
and tattooed symbols of good fortune.
The General council meeting
under the standard of broken manacles.
Crixus and his Gauls arguing for a march on Rome
now that the slave army was seventy thousand strong.
Cattalus saw his own coming and going—
First, a boy sold by his father in Thebes,
then a gladium vocale,
another bladed weapon with a voice.
Then a free man for two short years.
Soon he would be a thing again—
a tool that once could speak,
the instrumentum vocale
hanging from a stick.
("Gladiator, befriend no other gladiator": Howard Fast, Spartacus)