The Dying Gladiator

   The gladiator is mortally wounded. He is stretched out on the floor of the arena, supporting with a feeble hand his unsteady head wet with a stream of blood. He feels his life slipping away. He consents to die, but he will conceal his agony, and it will not be said that he has been defeated and was seen to suffer.
   His blood still flows away; he has hardly any left. His strength slips away from him drop by drop. The amphitheatre still echoes with noisy cheers in salute of his adversary's victory. Savage people, you have to taunt this man's suffering like that; he has provided you with the joys of the circus through the years. Ungrateful people, he has no more blood left, so you want him to give you his tears. Cruel people, you have just insulted the man inside the gladiator.
   But he does not hear your cheers other than as a confused murmur, like a last echo of life when his soul is already fleeing to the house of the dead. It does not rouse him; people of blood, it is not to you that his last thoughts turn. He carries them down there, far away over the flowery banks of the Danube, to a rough hut that he perceives in his mind like a sweet and cruel image of his vanished life. Ivy wreaths the roof. There his wife is sitting and anxiously feeding two still young children. Ungrateful husband, unnatural father! He left all these blessings for the transitory applause of a few thousand depraved men who have just taunted him in his defeat. If only he could see them again and obtain their pardon. He was quietly dying. With sweat on her brow, spending her days in labours beyond her strength, she thought about him, reproached him perhaps for having abandoned his children. Had she known how he repented, how these memories for him were a harsh punishment perhaps she would have forgiven him, she had such a good heart, perhaps she still loved him a little bit.
   He is dying now for the pleasure of wicked, savage, perverted men, for Rome's pleasure. He is going to lose consciousness in the same way as one of those violent storms that after having shaken everything up pass away, leaving no trace, not even a memory. He dies like a lion in front of these tigers corrupted by blood. Will he not thus be revenged? Will this inconstant and ferocious multitude not be punished? May all these men die miserably, far from their wife and children, full of remorse, taunted in their final moments.
   But as he approaches the supreme hour, so accordingly his feelings are purified and lifted. He feels that he needs to be pardoned, that he is just as guilty as all these men. The idea of a judgement delivered after his death appears more and more plainly to his spirit. How can the supreme judge be indulgent to him, who is so harsh on others... But he has no time left. Death has overtaken his limbs, death is about to paralyze him completely, he is on the threshold of eternity. Then gathering all his strength, he begins a faltering prayer, he beseeches the judge who he makes out vaguely as if in a dream to forgive his enemies.

School composition, dated in Mme Adrien Proust's writing, 1st October 1884.


On another sheet of paper is the following outline for the same composition but crossed out:

The mortally wounded gladiator is stretched out on the floor of the arena, his head supported in his hand. He consents to die, but he conceals his agony. He will not acknowledge either his suffering or his defeat. As the last drops of his blood are falling the amphitheatre echoes with cheers in salute of his adversary's victory. It does not rouse him. His heart is far away from the circus. He dreams of the rough hut where he lived on the banks of the Danube, [of his children] and their mother. He is going to die for Rome's pleasure. Will he breathe his last without being avenged?


Return to Front Page