Panem et Circenses (Bread and Games)

Let’s Play Different!


Hail Caesar

From Wikipedia: “Bread and circuses (or bread and games; from Latin: panem et circenses) is a phrase referring to superficial appeasement. It is attributed to Juvenal, a Roman poet active in the late first and early second century CE — and is used commonly in cultural, particularly political, contexts. In a political context, the phrase means to generate public approval, not by excellence in public service or public policy, but by diversion, distraction or by satisfying the most immediate or base requirements of a populace — by offering a palliative: for example food (bread) or entertainment (circuses).”


The vivid description in [1] tells how “literally bread and circuses was the formula for the well-being of the population, and thus a political strategy. This formula offered a variety of pleasures such as: the distribution of food, public baths, gladiators, exotic animals, chariot races, sports competition, and theater representation. It was an efficient instrument in the hands of the Emperors to keep the population peaceful.”

“The organization of games was an occasion to climb up the ladder of political popularity: this mechanism degenerated in performances so magnificent that they became “folly”, described as such by Lavio. During his youth, [Julius] Caesar [who established the Roman Empire and de facto ended the Republic] was famous for the magnificent games he organized, as he had hundreds of gladiators fighting each other. Besides using them as a political strategy, Caesar had a true passion for the games. The people were grateful to him and showered him with honor and positions in large quantities”

“Octavian Augustus, Caesar’s adopted son and prince of Rome, organized “extraordinary” games where 10,000 men battled against 3,500 wild animals from Africa. Also, in 107 A.D., Trajan, on occasion of the victory against the Dacians, organized battles of over 10,000 gladiators that lasted 123 festival days and in which 11,000 wild animals were killed.”

Juvenal coined the phrase in a satire criticizing the actions of Cesar Augustus and the behavior of his contemporaries. He used it to decry the selfishness of common people and their neglect of wider concerns. “The phrase implies a population’s erosion or ignorance of civic duty as a priority” (Wikipedia).

Let’s Fight!

For sports lovers, July and August of 2021 are packed with action. Tennis in Wimbledon. The NBA finals. The European football championship (call it soccer if you happen to be an American) affectionally known as EURO 2020. The Tour de France ends today, and the 2020 Olympic games will open in Tokyo this Friday. Perhaps we should remember that July and August are named after those same two Roman emperors, Julius and Augustus. It seems that not much has changed.

Indeed turn on a TV station anywhere in the world and you are likely to see program featuring either some competitive sport or food and cooking. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference — see for example the “Knife Fight”.

Knife Fight TV Series, Source: IMDB

Even TV programs about Nature have titles and images that portray Nature as a continuous World War rather than a beautifully orchestrated and balanced altruistic system where a myriad different parts and elements cooperate in perfect harmony.

The Olympics “Games”

A recent article published in Japan bears the title: As the Olympics press on amid the pandemic, their luster is fading. It reads: “The lofty Olympic spirit has promoted gender equality and supported the creation of a sustainable society over the years. But what we are being forced to witness is the loss of morality. Some involved in the Olympics appear to perceive the lives of citizens as being of secondary importance to the Games. I will never forget a senior International Olympic Committee official’s unreasonable assertion that the Tokyo Olympics can be held even under a COVID-19 state of emergency. And a top U.S. television network executive smugly stated to the effect that the Tokyo Olympics could turn out to be the most lucrative Games in the broadcaster’s history. The Japanese side, perhaps averse to forfeiting gate money, appears determined to avoid spectator-less Games at all costs. Experts have projected a maximum 10,000 additional infections in Tokyo if spectators are allowed in, but the government seems to be refusing to listen.”

The Olympic rings loom in Tokyo’s nightscape in February. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Another article asks: “Why are Olympics going on despite medical warnings and public outcry? Only 5% of Japanese are fully vaccinated, but the games are still going forward — largely because billions of dollars ride on it.”

There is reason to suspect that quite a bit of the Olympic games were played behind the scenes, and were likely related to greed, power and ego much more to the noble Olympic ideal that aims “to build a peaceful and better world in the Olympic Spirit which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play” [Wikipedia].

Aren’t We Forgetting Something?

You may have noticed that the so called “2020 EURO and Olympics are actually taking place in 2021! Nature had other plans for humanity in 2020. It wanted us to go back to school and learn how to be good children, how to be together instead of opposite one another. It appears we haven’t learned our lesson yet. But Nature’s plan hasn’t changed. It never does. This isn’t a game and we are not in a position to set (or break) the rules. This is life, and Nature is the supreme judge. How can we make peace with Nature?

Let’s Play Different

Don’t get me wrong. I love sports. I try to keep in shape and enjoy biking, swimming, a game of ping pong, and pretty much any physical activity. I never exceled in anything. I did share 2nd place at Israel’s under 18 chess championship and became a chess master, but I doubt it counts as a sport. Besides, any chess program running on your mobile phone today would kick my ̶a̶s̶s̶ brain.

I also enjoy watching many kinds of sports, from Gymnastics to football, and have been a fan of many clubs and individuals. Athletes keep pushing the boundaries of what human beings can achieve. How can you not marvel at Simone Biles performing a Yurchenko double pike vault? I can’t even say “Yurchenko double pike vault” without failing.²

Don’t try this at home

But as the years went by I became more and more aware of the negative influence that competitive sports and especially professional sports have on our individual and collective psyche. I’m not even talking about the commercialization of sports and athletes, the “performance-enhancing” drugs, the big money, the inevitable corruption. I am referring to the fact that from a very young age and throughout our life we are socialized for competition instead of collaboration, winning instead of playing together, my team against your team, separation instead of connection. This is the opposite “software” to that of Nature, and the implications are devastating.

The 2020 video above shows Spanish triathlete Diego Mentrida who realized the runner ahead of him, James Teagle from the UK, had missed the finish chute at the end of the race and crashed into a barrier. Instead of seizing the opportunity, Diego STOPPED at the finish line, and let his competitor pass him and win a medal. Moments like this remind us that sportsmanship and competition are not synonyms, in fact they may be opposites.

Human beings have a higher destiny than just flexing our muscles and filling our bellies. We must push not the boundaries of our individual physical bodies, but those of our common soul. As Cicero wrote 2200 years ago, we have a hunger that bread and circuses cannot satisfy. It is the desire to discover who we are and what is our purpose.

“Man was created only in order to lift the heavens”

Rabbi Mendel of Kozk

We need to up our game. If we learn how to come together, with true unity as our goal and integral education as our game plan, we will rewarded with a shared gold medal. We will reach the peak of the Olympus, the higher field of emotions and thoughts that is connecting and guiding all of us. It is waiting for us to come and play. Let the games begin!

[1] Panem et Circenses — Mercer County Community College

[2] Later on in the Tokyo Olympic games Simone Biles earned even more respect by proving that she is, well, human.



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