From the Past


By Uthman Shodipe

THE stage was constructed on a field of gold. Here, everything was luminous, loud and-radiant. Here, there was a sparkle of magic and theatre. There was a general sweep of festal license, banishing inhibitions, eclipsing decorum, loosening the bacchanalian crowd in a wild, exuberant colour. There was a garish distastefulness about the whole spectacle. The banners and the buntings, the idolatry emblems, the hovering, helium-filled balloons, the prancing and the prattle, the exaggerated passion, the feigned seriousness and the cultish din — all bespoke tragedy and farce.

Perhaps, in a comic turn, one could laugh at the hollowness of the rented voices. The speakers were perfect mannequins animated in a bizarre meaningless chiming of some ill-chorused lines. They were mostly half-hearted actors; shallow, ill-trained crusaders bouncing upon the stage in halting incoherent drivel. Here there was no message.There was no conviction, no train of persuasive logic. It was all sound and fury.

There was a fascist bluster in this philistine drama. The crusaders ‘had come in omniscient armour. They had already raced to the future in heralding selflessness, now intimating the visionless with the wondrous promises in the’continuity of Caesar’s guidance. And, of course, they are well armed with the infinite catalogue of messianic attainments justifying a consensus mandate for the imperator.

And thus, on the firmness of this Wisdom, on the professed certitude of their own vision, they herded every¬one into a repressive unanimity. It was a great, swamping hurrah of men and women cavorting in the air, feign¬ing power and glory, furiously erecting monuments of fraud.

One after the other, trooping in jar¬ring soliloquies, seized in fervid fraudulent exertions, the speakers hus¬tled for prominence and advantages in the struggle for Caesar’s ear. Yes, the manufactured clatter about patriotism, the unctuous verbiage about harmony and flawless guidance were” not.meant for the lifeless, purchased audience who swayed, clapped and giggled in distressed captivity.

Truly, the speakers had no use for the listless, bemused, uncomfortable rabble which was often immobile, distant, drifting between befuddled dormancy and dramatic arousal, permanent in artificial colouring. The rabble had no voice, no rallying importance. Despite its specious applause and its hoarse echo, the rabble was largely stamped; in anonymous dispensability. It was there, but it was unseen.

Indeed, the rabble was a peripheral part of the theatre. Its representation was a mere cheer-leading restrictiveness. While its presence gave an appearance of a popular acceptance and a committed conscionable movement, the rabble was perhaps the greatest fraud in this circus of universal deceit.

While the speakers could wax in oratorical conceit, posturing in ideological purity, masking their own mercenary fixity in the ebb and flow of Caesar’s circus, the rabble was incapable of such fabricated placidity. When it was not detained in gawky, wondering isolation, when it was not eclipsed forced laughter and gaiety, you could see the strained, tortured visages of hungry men and women, clad in the miserable uniformity of cheap clothing. They were woven in beggarly drapery, disused, tarnished in body and soul.

There was a despairing irony about this gaunt, famished and frail horde. The horde would have been believable had it been evocative of the barest badge of fulfilment. It might have been credible had it been visible in vigour and faithful in enduring animation.

But that was too much for an hungry, exhausted, idle chorus. It could chant inanities in dispassionate ardour, festooning Caesar in obscene, obsequious adulation. It could swear that the structures of the nation would dissolve in violent welter should Caesar cough, should Caesar slip, should Caesar sprain the tender imperial muscle in some arduous exertions of the state, or should Caesar suddenly relinquish the usurped sceptre.

And in fit of buffoonery, it could challenge all the powers of earth and heaven, equating Caesar with the primal divinity.But nothing more. The hired chorus invariably betrayed its own inner gravitations. These were variously dis¬played in acrimonious huddles where little men struggled for a meal, where angry, ill-paid rabble turned themselves into riotous mercenaries over monetary gains, where pitiable afflicted men flung themselves into a scavenging frenzy beneath Caesar’s table. For the chorus: Caesar’s circus was about food and money! It was all purely a survivalist compulsion.

Though the same was true of the over-fed speakers, the monstrous Goebellian actors, swollen in prodigal obscenity, excessively odious amid folds and folds of superfluous fabric, but their own farcical mercantilism was more painful, more tragic. For these men, at least some of them, were once beheld in principled purity, portrayed in honourable signification.

No more. They had diminished into tawdry midgets. Now old and wilted, stripped of yesterday’s halo; fallen, soiled, distorted in verminous rubbish. Driven to the stage for some ephemeral rehabilitation, shouting hallelujah for some pitiable sustenance – we saw in the diminution of these men, the gradual withering of truth, the dwindling of the roll of the conscionable phalanx: the few, the defiant; resolute and sure, still unwavering in freedom’s holy cause. It is true: In Caesar’s circus, there was the hideous etching of a national shame.

First published Tuesday, 10 March, 1998.

About the author

Uthman Shodipe

Uthman Ademilade Shodipe, a descendant of King Ado, the first King of Lagos, is from the Dosunmu Royal House. A student of Classical Antiquity and History of Political Thought, he studied Comparative Literature and Intellectual History of Europe 18th Century at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).