The story of Telemachus is the story of extreme courage in the face of evil. Telemachus was a Christian monk who, in 391CE, went on a pilgrimage to Rome. While there he noticed crowds flocking to the Colosseum to see gladiators do battle. He followed them in, only to witness a sight that repulsed him.
Emperor Honorius was celebrating his triumph over the Goths. Gladiators armed with spears and swords reenacted the battle. After their reenactment the bodies of the dead were dragged from the arena and its bloodied surface covered with a fresh layer of sand.
In came a new series of gladiators. Some were armed with swords and spears, others with nets. The crowd watched with excitement as they sought to outdo each other. When a gladiator was wounded, his opponent would loom over him, waiting for the crowd’s verdict on whether to slay him or let him live. So great was the bloodlust that at times wealthier spectators would climb down to get a better view of the execution.
Telemachus watched with horror as people died, battles raged and the crowds cheered. Prompted into action, this bald headed, robed figure found his way onto the arena floor. He ran toward two gladiators locked in battle, grabbed one of them and pulled him away. He exhorted the two gladiators to abandon their murderous sport. He appealed to the crowd to not to break God’s law by murdering.
The response was anything but favourable. Angry voices drowned out Telemachus’, demanding that the spectacle continue. The gladiators prepared to do battle again, but Telemachus stood between them, holding them apart, urging them to reconsider. Driven by the anger of the crowd and their rage at Telemachus’ interference, the gladiators cut Telemachus to the ground, as the crowd threw missiles at him. Telemachus was killed.
But his death was not in vain. In 405 Emperor Honorius declared gladiatorial battles were to end at the Colosseum. Tradition tells us that it was Telemachus’ brave protest that helped move him to do so.
Source: Reported in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.