A shout rises from the stadium beyond the temple. Cheering swells in a crescendo from 30,000 people packing the stone stands for games in Aphrodite’s honor. Like Roman provincials everywhere, Aphrodisians thrill to foot races, javelin throwing, to the clang of swords and the snarl of wild animals. They dedicate stelae and statues to gladia¬tors, wrestlers, boxers, and other profes¬sional athletes they admire. Partisanship and passion for gambling run high. Compet¬ing factions—the Reds, Whites, Blues, and Greens, who bribe contestants in the arena, boost rival matinee idols in the theater, and back opponents for city office—carry on as if their team’s victory were a military triumph and its defeat a public disaster, as Mediter¬ranean soccer fans do today. (The historian Tacitus reports violence in Pompeii’s am¬phitheater between locals and visitors from neighboring Nuceria. Zealots first hurled abuses, then picked up stones and finally weapons, escalating the brawl into carnage so frightful that Emperor Nero punished Pompeii by forbidding such gatherings for ten years.)
Though Aphrodisians have no weekly Sabbath day of rest and religious observance to interrupt their daily affairs, the imperial Roman calendar marks a holiday for nearly every day worked. Sports, pageants, plays fill many of these.
In the odeum, or concert hall (pages 546¬47), beside the agora, imagination brings us a soothing harmony of pipes and flutes, the plucking of lyres and zithers, the martial music of trumpets, hydraulic organ, drums, and cymbals. Or perhaps the philosophers Alexander or Asclepiodotus are declaiming. “When cool evening collects a larger crowd to hear you,” as Horace observed, a local au¬thor might “publish” a new work. If this public reading stimulates demand, teams of slave scribes will make copies, writing the work on rolls of papyrus in ink made from resin, soot, wine dregs, and cuttlefish.
But this afternoon Aphrodisians seated in the tiered semicircle of the torchlit hall feel their pulses race to the vision of Virgil: