Obnoxious Sports Fan Keeps Having Opposing Team Summarily Executed
So annoying when fans do this
During the Grand Tournament o’er the week’s end, those in attendance expressed dismay after one particularly obnoxious sports fan kept ordering the opposing team to be summarily executed.
“We came out here for some goode olde fashioned family entertainment, and this guy ruined it with that annoying ‘thumbs down’ routine of his,” spake Lord Crumpetbottom, who attended the tournament with his 14 illegitimate children and concubine. “What ever happened to letting both sides fight to the death naturally?”
Ordering the competitors to their demise at a whim wasn’t the only thing the fan did to raise the ire of the crowd. He also forced e’eryone in attendance to shower him with fragrant roses and prostrate themselves before him whenever they were so bold as to pass within his vicinity.
“I couldn’t even get five minutes of peace to shout ‘cut his bloody head off’ or throw my olde teeth into the arena without this guy spoiling the experience somehow,” spake one peasant in attendance. “He hath no respect for those of us that came here for a quiet night of carnage.”
The other fans were particularly annoyed by the way he would give his favourite fighters an unfair advantage, then rub it in everyone’s faces after his side inevitably won. Royal Magistrate of Tournaments and Jousts Rundhar Horseswashing says sports betting can be a major problem when it unduly influences the lifespans of athletes in the arena.
“I am not one to cast accusations, but clearly he had Rogerius the Brave on his fantasy team,” spake Horseswashing. “He made all contenders fight Rogerius blindfolded whilst being actively mauled by a lion. That was not fair at all, although ‘twas quite fun to watch.”
The competitors themselves are often in on the gambit, throwing matches in exchange for a few farthings and a quick death.
“One can hardly get a clean decapitation anymore without it being rigged,” Horseswashing added. “‘Tis a shame what’s happening to sports ethics these days.”
Addendum: Pollice verso
In the film Gladiator, Emperor Joaquin Phoenix famously issues a “thumbs down” command from his post overlooking the colosseum, indicating that the victorious gladiator fighting below should execute his downed opponent.
The gesture is called pollice verso, or “with a turned thumb”, and it has raised much scholarly debate over the centuries, in part because nobody knows in which direction the thumb was supposed to be turned.
In 1872, French painter Jean-Léon Gérôme created the below painting displaying pollice verso in action.
Note that in Gérôme’s painting it is the spectators, not the emperor, who are issuing the thumbs down command. The emperor is in his box in the left-center of the painting, but as far as I can tell he’s eating an apple and not all that interested.
The painting apparently led to considerable controversy as to its historical accuracy. So Gérôme’s detractors did the 1870s version of dunking on him: They published a pamphlet which included evidence for and against his depiction, but leaned strongly against it.
Gérôme’s response to the pamphlet was that, based on his research, the favorable gesture (i.e., “don’t kill him”) was to stick the thumb underneath the fingers of a closed fist. The “kill him” gesture was to have the thumb protruded, either downwards or towards the condemned. In Gérôme’s words (translated from French by Google):
In fact, by squeezing one’s thumb one granted grace, and by turning it one condemned. So I repeat, the thumb out of the hand meant death, while the thumb in the hand was the sign of grace.
Gérôme’s critics claimed instead that a thumbs up meant “kill him”, and that either a thumbs down or a gesture with the thumb pressed on top of the index finger of a closed fist meant “let him live.” (The last one is the gesture you’ve probably seen a hundred politicians make while giving speeches. Perhaps it is ingrained in the human psyche as having a positive connotation.) The term pollices premere means “to press the thumbs” or “to turn down the thumbs,” and the translation of it seems to be a point of confusion over what exactly the gesture looked like.
At least one recent scholar agrees with the argument that pollices premere with the thumb pressed on top of the fist meant life, and a thumbs up meant death. A Roman medallion, in which a thumb is pressed on top of the fist, led Professor Anthony Corbeill to this conclusion. The inscription “STANTES MISSI” indicates that the gladiators were “sent standing.”
It also seems it was neither the crowd nor the emperor that determined the fallen gladiator’s fate, but the editor, who was a sort of referee. The editor would listen to the shouts of the crowd to determine whether death or life was the preferred ending, and would then issue his decision based on what would sell the most hotdogs.
Corbeill’s argument seems convincing. But on the other hand, the Dutch Wikipedia page for handgebaar seems to agree with Gérôme:
Ultimately, the differences in opinion come down to pedantic translations of Latin. It seems to me that Gérôme and his detractors were all at least partially correct. Best guess is that a thumb sticking out — whether up, down, or towards the condemned — signaled death. A thumb inside or on top of the fist signaled life.
Keep this in mind the next time someone gives you a thumbs up or thumbs down — or “likes” one of your social media posts. Either way, they are condemning you to death.