Gladiators

Even Christ says, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18)

In the Gladiator movie, Comodus (Joaquin Phoenix), the son of the emperor Marcus Aurelius, is told by his father that not he, but Maximus (Russell Crowe) has been chosen to be his successor to the throne. Maximus is the natural choice, owing to all his good qualities.

Comodus is very disappointed. He replies that he had once received a letter from his father listing the four chief virtues: wisdom, justice, fortitude, and temperance. He says, “As I read the list, I knew I had none of them; but I have other virtues, Father.” He then lists these: ambition, resourcefulness, courage, devotion. “But none of my virtues were on your list,” he adds.

“Your faults as a son is my failure as a father,” says Marcus, right before Comodus cruelly kills him, accuses Maximus of the murder and snatches the throne for himself.

This story of a last-minute switch of command is a theme in many stories, notably the Hindu mythological story of spiritual rebirth, The Ramayana, where a similarly unworthy son replaces the worthy and beloved son on the very evening before the coronation, while the latter is sent into exile.

Still, after watching the film a number of times, I could never quite digest the fact that Comodus didn’t simply acquiesce to his father’s wish and accept the superiority of Maximus. Why couldn’t he have become Maximus’ loyal servant, serving by his side for many years and eventually learning—and acquiring—those chief virtues himself?

“Because he can never acquire those virtues,” said Domenico. “Those virtues belong to God alone.”

Sadly, he was right. Our ego is like Comodus; we usurp a power that has not been given to us, and eventually we find out that we are not fit to rule. If we want those chief virtues to win, we learn to step aside.

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