One of my favorite scenes in Gladiator is also one of the simplest, quietest moments in the story. The night after his fateful conversation about the succession with the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Maximus says a brief prayer for his family.

That this is a daily ritual is acknowledged by his manservant Cicero in the moment of silence he allows as he douses the lamps. Then Cicero exchanges a few laconic words of advice with the troubled General before he, too, goes to bed.

This poem, based on the 28th Psalm, is inspired by that scene, but it unfolds as though Maximus had spoken to Cicero and resolved himself to fulfill the Emperor’s wishes before making his prayer, rather than after.

To you, ancestors, and to the gods, I pray.
My senses warn me – do not be deaf to me.
Lest you answer my prayers in silence gone cold
and I number with those gone back to the dust.
Hear me, kneeling before you, uninstructed
when I call up your examples before me,
when I lower the oil lamps and raise my lips
to my family’s effigies on your altar.
Do not pull me down like a despot at bay,
and number me with the worst of the Caesars,
whose oaths to the state were empty flattery
from men whose vices met no natural limits.
Deal evenly with the corrupt – repay them
only as their schemes to cheat the state deserve.
Give back in kind nothing but their handiwork.
Their dues will be repaid with meager justice.
For they have not shared in the dream that was Rome
and her future they would sell short, not strengthen.
Ancestors, I honor you facing this trial,
for your wisdom and courage go before me.
Gods, grant me fortitude. Guard my family.
In this long absence, their care I ask of you.
As you have long watched our footsteps, my heart smiles
when I seek out your guidance and protection.
The laws of Rome are the light of this wide world
and their imprint on us, the refuge of grace.
Ancestors, gods of my people, bring back Rome
to her estate – free her of this decadence.
Tend to her people, bear them up for all time.

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Filed under Gladiator, Poetry

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