This thesis investigates the portrayal and reception of Roman spectacular entertainment within the literature of both the ancient and modern world. It does not seek to examine the physical event of the spectacle, nor is it concerned with questions such as how gladiatorial combat developed, or why the Roman crowd found pleasure in the consumption of this entertainment. Such questions have been examined repeatedly, and extensively, by academic authors. Instead, this thesis will examine the association between the arena – and in particular, gladiatorial combat, and societies perceived as experiencing degeneration. It will be demonstrated that the affiliation between the arena and societal decline can be identified not only in the historical literature regarding ancient Rome, but also in modern depictions of arena societies.
The perceived societal and moral decline experienced by arena societies is perhaps best illustrated by the dualities frequently associated with arena entertainments. For instance, the contrast between the ‘good old days’ vs. the inadequate present, reason vs. pleasure, control vs. excess, and even the elite vs. the mob. It is through the examination of such dualities that the decline of arena societies will be demonstrated. The literature of the Roman Stoics will be of primary interest for the ancient anxieties regarding societal degeneration in connection to the arena. However, it must also be acknowledged that non-Stoics and non-Roman writers will also be considered where relevant. Both pagan and Christian works will be explored, with the literary genres ranging from historical texts to philosophical treatise, to the works of Christian apologists.
In addition to these ancient sources, this thesis will also consider how the connection between arena entertainments and societal decline continues to be presented and adapted for contemporary audiences. For the purpose of this thesis, I have decided to focus attention on the genre of Young Adult (YA) dystopian literature. It is important to note that the YA dystopian literature of this thesis will not be considered in terms of accuracy. This thesis is not interested, for instance, in whether the authors of these dystopian works have incorporated historically accurate gladiatorial categories, or in investigating the possibility of identifying specific historical works as the sources for these authors. Instead, it seeks to explore how and why spectacular entertainment and its association with societal and moral decline, are presented in contemporary literature. It will question, for instance, what the inclusion of arena spectacle contributes to YA dystopian literature as a genre. Is the presence of an arena exclusively linked to a society somehow morally dysfunctional? Is it possible to identify the same themes or concerns in relation to fictional arenas and spectacles as those of ancient Rome? Does the inclusion of these dualities express the same criticisms of both ancient and fictional societies?