Maximus! Maximus! Maximus! They call for you. The general who became a slave, the slave who became a gladiator, the gladiator who defied an emperor. A striking story.
Such are Commodus’ words to Maximus just before they fight in the dramatic ending of the award-winning classic Ridley Scott film ‘Gladiator’.
If you have seen the film, you will remember how Maximus escapes execution by the emperor Commodus to find his family dead. He is captured by slave traders and Proximo buys him to use him as a gladiator. At first Maximus refuses to fight: he refuses to take on the role that fate has cast him in. It is beneath him, it disgusts him and he will not cooperate. But Proximo (played by the late great Oliver Reed) knows men, and he gives them this speech before their first combat:
Some of you are thinking you won't fight... and some that you can't fight. They all say that until they're out there. Listen.
(‘Kill! Kill! Kill!’)
Thrust this into another man's flesh. They will applaud and love you for that. And you, you may begin to love them for that. Ultimately...we're all dead men. Sadly, we cannot choose how, but we can decide how we meet that end, in order that we are remembered... as men.
At that moment Maximus ceases to resist his fate and begins to embrace it. He will still need some further motivation later and Proximo gives it to him: win the crowd and you will one day stand in front of the emperor…
‘Gladiator’ is indeed a striking story of a good, brave man who receives some cruel hard blows at the hand of fate and how he bears them nobly. Accepting the worst, he becomes fate's instrument as he avenges his family and rids Rome of a tyrant.
I thought you might like these thoughts as an introduction to what the ancients had to say about acceptance, including of course Maximus’ friend and Commodus’ father, Marcus Aurelius.
Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart. Marcus Aurelius
Adapt yourself to the things among which your lot has been cast and love sincerely the fellow creatures with whom destiny has ordained that you shall live. Marcus Aurelius
Love only what befalls you and is spun for you by fate. Marcus Aurelius
Vex not thy spirit at the course of things; they heed not thy vexation. How ludicrous and outlandish is astonishment at anything that may happen in life. Marcus Aurelius
Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward. The Bible
Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Saint Francis of Assisi
Who except the gods can live without any pain? Aeschylus
There is no man in this world without some manner of tribulation or anguish, though he be king or pope. Thomas a Kempis
There is only one way to happiness, and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will. Epictetus
Ask not that events should happen as you will, but let your will be that events should happen as they do, and you shall have peace. Epictetus
He who cannot do what he wants must make do with what he can. Terence
What it is forbidden to be put right becomes lighter by acceptance. Horace
Better to accept whatever happens. Horace
To yield, I have learned, is to come back again. Lao-Tzu
Flow with whatever may happen and let your mind be free. Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate. Chuang-tzu
He who has calmly reconciled his life to fate ... can look fortune in the face. Boethius
Let a man accept his destiny. No pity and no tears. Euripedes
Let us train our minds to desire what the situation demands. Marcus Annaeus Seneca
The great soul surrenders itself to fate. Marcus Annaeus Seneca
What must be shall be; and that which is a necessity to him that struggles, is little more than choice to him that is willing. Marcus Annaeus Seneca
The ideal man bears the accidents of life with dignity and grace, making the best of circumstances. Aristotle
The beauty of the soul shines out when a man bears with composure one heavy mischance after another, not because he does not feel them, but because he is a man of high and heroic temper. Aristotle
Here is a rule to remember when anything tempts you to feel bitter: not ‘This is a misfortune’ but ‘To bear this worthily is good fortune.’ Marcus Aurelius
Image: promotional poster for 'Gladiator'