and accounts. The influential artist Jean Léon Gérôme used genuine gladiatorial art and equipment from
Pompeii as models for his paintings of ancient Rome and the arena, but he also invented freely in
dramatizing his scenes. Movies from Quo Vadis to Gladiator have drawn on such works to depict a world
of strangely armed gladiators, Christians nobly awaiting attack by lions, and "thumbs down" death
gestures by emperors and rabid crowds. Actual Roman images of the arena are quite different: crowds
and emperors are rarely shown, we are not sure which direction the thumb actually pointed in the
famous death gesture, and victims of attack by big cats were certainly neither dignified nor noble.
The Romans glorified the bravery shown in the arena, but trivialized the events and degraded the
participants. Mosaic pictures of executions and combats, graphically violent to our eyes, were displayed
in the public rooms and even dining rooms in the homes of wealthy Romans. How can the viewer today
possibly understand such images? Until fairly recently, modern authors writing about the arena
minimized its significance and represented the institutionalized violence as a sideline to Roman history.
The tendency was also to view the events through our own eyes and to see them as pitiful or horrifying,
although to most Romans empathy with victims of the arena was inconceivable. In the past few decades,
however, scholars have started to analyze the complex motivations for deadly public entertainments and
for contradictory views of gladiators as despised, yet beloved hero-slaves