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Winning the World Cup: All Blacks and Ancient Gladiators

Winning the World Cup – what do the All Blacks have in common with ancient gladiators?

What does modern day New Zealand have in common with ancient Rome? More than you might think, according to two of Victoria University’s most well-known and popular lecturers.

In ancient Rome gladiators entertained the masses with their exploits in giant arenas. These elaborate spectacles created icons of the Roman Empire and were central to Roman identity. In 2011 New Zealanders will flock to giant arenas where our modern day gladiators the All Blacks will seek to bring pride to a nation, and continue their central role in New Zealand identity.

The theme of mass entertainment in these two very different places and times will be explored in Wellington on Wednesday 7 September in a public lecture by Victoria University’s Dr Matthew Trundle and Dr Marc Wilson.

Associate Professor of Psychology Dr Marc Wilson says rugby is central to New Zealand’s sense of national self worth—which can be a problem given New Zealand’s recent track record of not winning World Cups.

“We love our rugby. That’s great when the All Blacks are winning (like between Rugby World Cups), but when they lose it’s a different story.”

Associate Professor of Classics Dr Matthew Trundle will explore the allure of arena spectacles in a very different era—ancient Rome

He says, much like World Cup rugby in the professional era, there was a huge business that underpinned the arena spectacles of ancient Rome, which grew bigger with each Emperor.

“As Rome grew and the power of Roman elites grew with it, the shows put on for the urban poor became more elaborate and bloodier.”

Yet unlike the All Blacks, the gladiators had a much more complex relationship with their fans.

“There is a huge ambiguity around gladiators because they were loved and idolised, but they were also feared and hated.

“Gladiators were the ultimate outsiders, unmentionable (infamia) slaves, yet central to Roman identity—their blood was said to cure epilepsy; their touch brought fertility. Feared and loved simultaneously, they were icons of the Roman Empire.”

Dr Wilson says his lecture will show why the All Blacks are sometimes “tall poppies”, ask if Richie McCaw really is the victim of unfair refereeing, and speculate on the effects of the World Cup result.

“Will All Black success win National the election, and will a loss mean the economy crashes? I’ll also provide some therapeutic suggestions for how to deal with it if (shudder!) we don’t win.”

Both agree the lecture will be of wide interest.

“We both care about providing an educational experience for people, so we won’t be providing a jargonised lecture. These lectures will be very engaging and easy to follow for a general audience,” says Dr Wilson.

A short video of Matthew Trundle and Marc Wilson talking about their lecture topic is on YouTube:


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