CRISTIN O’KEEFE APTOWICZ ~ HOW CARPOPHORUS DID IT

I.

It’s true. He was born poor with the name
Carpophorus and once at the coliseum
he jumped into the arena and drove off
a raging bear with a fistful of flaming straw,
and that is how he was granted the chance
to be a slave to the arena’s best bestiarius.
And that is how he learned how to handle
lions, foxes, elephants, leopards, how he
became known for his ability to fight them:
no weapons, snapping their roaring necks,
choking them to death with a stiffly curled
bicep before Rome’s mad throngs. But it was
his work with the animals that made him.

II.

It’s not like you’d think. It’s surprisingly
hard to train an animal to eat a man, unless
directly provoked, their instincts are to run.
So you need to start with a cub that hasn’t
been taught to fear. You need to build up
the big cat’s ego, give them slaves pretending
to be afraid, have them fall in a faux agony
whenever the cats give them the lightest swipe.
Cover the slave in meat. When the cats attack
they’ll be immediately rewarded. As the big cats
get bigger, let them go after live slaves. Break
the slave’s arms, knock out their teeth so they
cannot injure the big cats. Remember: the cat
needs to be convinced he can always, easily win.
As the confidence builds, give the cats children,
give them women, get them to point where they
will attack uncrippled slaves, stronger slaves,
but always have a blade ready if it looks like
the slaves might win. Never let the slaves win.

III.

And like this, Carpophorus created wild animals
so perfectly trained that they’d starve in a butcher
shop, not realizing that the immobile slabs of meat
were food, not even by scent because they’d lost
the taste for anything but man. Carpophorus became
so well know the crowds screamed his name. Even
when he was sentenced to death for a killing leopard
more valuable than him in a fit an anger, in the arena
he merely had to stand straight, call the animals
by name, and not a single one would touch him.
So, was it his ego? Power? Or was it the challenge?
He saw his next feat under the stands, where things
like that can be purchased for money. But it wasn’t
spectacular: usually a willing woman and dog,
sometimes a jackass. The first sign of resistance
from the woman, and the beast would dismount.
The woman had to ply the beasts, stay still, stay
quiet. And where was the fun in all that? But
that was how it had to be. No one could teach
an animal to rape, they said. And it was born.
Carpophorus, he understood his animals, their
needs, their triggers. Like all good bestiarii,
he kept the sexes separate, knew that the males
didn’t know what they were missing, knew that
animals moved on instinct, moved as trained,
were compelled by scent. When the females
came into season, he collected it with cloth
that he catalogue and numbered. He found
women from under the stands who would
willing wrap themselves in this clothes,
hunch on to the ground and wait. He picked
only the tames males, those that didn’t startle
at noise, who didn’t freeze when confused.
He released them in the pen and waited.

IV.

The women matched with bulls and giraffes
usually didn’t survive. As the animals grew
more confident – sinking their dewclaws
into the soft meat of a woman’s neck, snapping
torsos if the struggle became too much – more
were lost, but Carpophorus knew there were
even more who’d be willing, ready to perform,
properly broken down enough not to care
about anything but their promised pay.
And wasn’t it worth it? The first day he showed
his animals in the big arena, the crowd went mad,
screamed for more, threw women into the pit
just to see it happen again. Carpophorus didn’t
tell anyone how he did it; told them it was
a special amulet, then traded the amulet
for his freedom. No one cared that the amulet
didn’t work for anyone else, because they had
Carpophorus, who snapped the necks of lions
with his bare hands, who trained a tiger to stare
blankly at a wounded elk, but charge blood-lusty
at the Caesar’s latest enemy, who could bring out
a young girl and call her Europe, bring out a bull
and call him Rome, and raise his hands in victory
as the bull mounted, as the bull bellowed, as the bull
ravished and ravished, as the crowd screamed.

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