Curio's Double Theater
The consideration of such prodigality as this quite distracts my attention, and compels me to digress from my original purpose, in order to mention a still greater instance of extravagance, in reference to wood. C. Curio, who died during the civil wars, fighting on the side of Caesar, found, to his dismay, that he could not, when celebrating the funeral games in honor of his father, surpass the riches and magnificence of Scaurus--for where, in fact, was to be found such a stepsire as Sylla, and such a mother as Metella, that bidder at all auctions for the property of the proscribed? Where, too, was he to find for his father, M. Scaurus, so long the principle man in the city, and one who had acted, in his alliance with Marius, as a receptacle for the plunder of whole provinces? --Indeed, Scaurus himself was now no longer able to rival himself; and it was at least one advantage which he derived from this destruction by fire of so many objects brought from all parts of the earth, that no one could ever after be his equal in this species of folly. Curio, consequently, found himself compelled to fall back upon his own resources, and to think of some new devise of his own. It is really worth our while to know what this devise was, if only to congratulate ourselves upon the manners of the present day, and to reverse the ordinary mode of expression, and term ourselves the men of the olden time.
He caused to be erected, close together,, two theaters of very large dimensions, and built of wood, each of them nicely poised, and turning on a pivot. Before mid-day, a spectacle of games was exhibited in each; the theaters being turned back to back, in order that the noise of neither of them might interfere with what was going on in the other. Then, in the latter part of the day, all on a sudden, the two theaters were swung round, and, the corners uniting, brought face to face; the outer frames, too, were removed, and thus an amphitheater was formed, in which combats of gladiators were presented to the view; men whose safety was almost less compromises than was that of the Roman people, in allowing itself to be thus whirled round from side to side. Now, in this case, which have we most reason to admire, the inventor of the invention? the artist, or the author of the project? him who first dared to think of such an enterprise, or him who ventured to undertake it? But the thing that surpasses all is, the frenzy that must have possessed the public, to take their seats in a place which must of necessity have been so unsubstantial and so insecure. Lo and behold! here is a people that has conquered the whole earth, that has subdued the universe, that divides the spoils of kingdoms and of nations, that sends its laws to foreign lands, that shares in some degrees the attributes of the immortal gods in common with mankind, suspended aloft in a machine, and showering plaudits even upon its own peril!
This is indeed holding life cheap; and can we, after this, complain of our disasters at Cannae? How vast the catastrophe that might have ensued! When cities are swallowed up by an earthquake, it is looked upon by mankind as a general calamity; and yet, here we have the whole Roman people, embarked, so to say, in two ships, and sitting suspended on a couple of pivots; the grand spectacle being its own struggle with danger, and its liability to perish at any moment that the overstrained machinery may give way! And then the object, too, of all this--that public favor may be conciliated for the tribunes harangues at a future day, and that, at the Rostra, he may still have the power of shaking the tribes, nicely balanced as they are! And really, what may he not dare with those who, at his persuasion, have braved such perils as these? Indeed, to confess the truth, at the funeral games celebrated at the tomb of his father, it was no less than the whole Roman people that shared the dangers of the gladiatorial combats. When the pivots had now been sufficiently worked and wearied, he gave another turn to his magnificent displays. For, upon the last day, still preserving the form of the amphitheater, he cut the stage in two through the middle, and exhibited a spectacle of athletes; after which, the stage being suddenly withdrawn on either side, he exhibited a combat, upon the same day, between such of the gladiators, as had previously proved victorious. And yet, with all this, Curio was no king, no ruler of the destinies of a nation, nor yet a person remarkable for his opulence even; seeing that he possessed no resources of his own, beyond what he could realize from the discord between the leading men.
Pliny (Bostock and Riley translators), Natural History Book 36, chapter 24 (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1892), p. 350-52.