Monday, March 17, 2014

Something about Juan Luna's "SPOLIARIUM"


        The Latin word "Spoliarium" refers to a holding area in the Roman Colosseum where corpses of fallen gladiators were brought. If a gladiator met his death in the arena, a ceremony would be started  in which a man dress like Charon claims the body. The gladiator's weapons like his "gladius" (meaning sword-thus we get the word gladiator) will be gathered or collected. A group of Roman slaves or workers would then come in to collect the corpse. They will drag the body from the sandy arena using chains and a big hook inserted or attached to the corpse, but if it is a legendary gladiator they will carry him in a stretcher, entering first a gate which was appropriately called the "PORTA LIBITINARIA" (or the gate of Libitina ). Libitina is an ancient Roman goddess of funerals and burial. This people who takes care of the corpses together with their chiefs/heads or the undertakers were collectively known as "libitinarii". Today we can liken them to the "Ahente ng Punerarya". 

The gate of Libitana is actually a passage leading to the "Spoliarium". One German Professor/historian called it "Totenkammer"- the chamber of the dead. Once inside the Spoliarium,  the body of the dead gladiator would finally be strip of whatever armor or protection he still has and would be prepared for burial. If it is a legendary gladiator who fell, people would often mingle in the place hoping to collect or have a dip of his blood which they believe holds special power. If it is a gladiator with no name, then he really died a lonely death, for in the Spoliarium he would just be treated worst than the dead animals that perished in the Roman games. (wild animals that perished in the arena were usually butchered and sold as exotic meat in Roman markets)

Many says that Luna's Spoliarium was an allegory of 19th century Philippine society that looking at the painting brings horrors to the eyes of a simple looker. But its also a record of history. It shows the brutality and indifference of the human race. Juan Luna's Spoliarium is universal.

Juan Luna

Roman gladiatorial games. Zilten mosaic (present day Libya) 100 BC to 80 BC

19th century illustration of a scene in a gladiatorial games. The "Porta Libitinaria" or "Porta Libitinensis" is a common feature in  Roman amphitheaters. In Roman provinces, amphitheaters were built with this gate named after the Roman goddess of funeral and burial. This gates were connected to a spoliarium.

"Libintinarii"-  Were Roman workers and undertakers tasked to retrieved the body of dead gladiators and bring them to the spoliarium in order to prepare it for burial.

The gates of Libintina in the Colosseum, Rome

Passage leading to the Spoliarium