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Making a 'Spectacle' Out of a Learning Experience

05/09/13
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Robert Raimundo, a student in Michael Mordine's Ancient Athletics class, in character for "Gladiator Day."

By Sean Smith | Chronicle Editor

Published: May. 9, 2013

Students of Michael Mordine, a visiting assistant professor in the Classical Studies Department, recently staged a “Gladiator Day” on Bapst Lawn. The event was part of Mordine’s Ancient Athletics course, which examines the role and nature of sports, health and exercise in ancient civilizations, such as the Olympics in Greece and gladiatorial combat in Rome.

In this class project, students had to portray a character from Roman “spectacles” — a gladiator, an emperor or other leading official, a soldier, or even an animal — complete with an historically accurate back story and mock-up of era-appropriate garb. Mordine and the students voted on which characters were most convincing.

Carroll School of Management senior Kevin Zeckser chose to be vaunted gladiator “Decimus Maximus Meridius.” He explained that the name “Decimus” (Latin for “10th”) was derived from the Ancient Rome military custom that called for slaughtering a 10th of the opposing force. In Decimus’ case, said Zeckser, he would “take a 10th of his foe: an ear, a finger.

“That,” he said, “was what made him such a great gladiator.”

“Gladiator Day” also included a brief interval for restrained arena-style combat (students signed liability waivers if they wanted to participate).

“The idea is to give the students a different context in which to think about issues that are very much a part of our society today,” says Mordine. “We talk about athletic values, competition, cheating, gender and class, among other things, and I try to get them to view these in connection with their own lives.”

Adds Mordine, “I love teaching this class.  The students are always very enthusiastic and imaginative, especially when it comes to their projects for Gladiator Day.”