Blood Sport

James H. Johnson

in Venice Incognito

Published by University of California Press

Published in print February 2011 | ISBN: 9780520267718
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520948624 | DOI:
Blood Sport

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)


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This chapter discusses one of the most popular forms of daytime amusement during the closing weeks of the Venetian carnival. A public sport which was marked by glee and gore was the caccie dei tori or “bull hunts”—a refinement of games that dated back to Roman times. This public sport was often sponsored by Venetian patricians. Unlike gladiator bouts which divided the populace, the bull hunts were believed to foster solidarity. For all the participants of this public sport, the acts of slaughter were experiences of displacement. The gruesome ritual of bull hunts gave the Venetians the strength and resolve to confront their enemies. It reprsented a controlled public version of what might follow one day on the battlefield in the mayhem and uncertainty of war. The masks and costumes turned the hunt into a theatrical piece. On this level, it operated as a show of strength, cast as an entertainment but meant to convey power.

Keywords: daytime amusement; Venetian carnival; public sport; caccie dei tori; bull hunts; acts of slaughter

Chapter.  1756 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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