Men confined to one side become misshapen

ben-hur-8 rowerThere is a scene in Ben-Hur, the novel by Lew Wallace published in 1880 and made into a famous film starring Charlton Heston in 1959, which comes once and again to my mind. And no, it is not the chariot races.

You know the story: Judah Ben-Hur is a wealthy prince and merchant who lives happily in Jerusalem. One unlucky day, during the parade for the new governor of Judea, Valerius Gratus, a tile falls from the roof of his house, and Gratus is thrown from his horse and nearly killed. Ben-Hur is condemned to the galleys for life, his mother and sister are imprisoned in a cell previously used for lepers and all the family property is confiscated. Ben-Hur swears to take revenge.

Living in a roman warship rowing day and night chained to the oar(1), should not leave much room to hope. However, Ben-Hur is determined to stay alive and escape. And there is no better proof of his determination and capability to foresee and prepare for a tough future than this seemingly casual observation from one of the galley’s hortators(2) during a conversation with Quintus Arrius

“Knowest thou the man just come from yon bench?” he at length asked of the hortator. A relief was going on at the moment.
“From number sixty?” returned the chief.
The chief looked sharply at the rower then going forward.
“As thou knowest,” he replied “the ship is but a month from the maker’s hand, and the men are as new to me as the ship.”
“He is a Jew,” Arrius remarked, thoughtfully.
“The noble Quintus is shrewd.”
“He is very young,” Arrius continued.
“But our best rower,” said the other. “I have seen his oar bend almost to breaking.”
“Of what disposition is he?”
“He is obedient; further I know not. Once he made request of me.”
“For what?”
“He wished me to change him alternately from the right to the left.”
“Did he give a reason?”
“He had observed that the men who are confined to one side become misshapen. He also said that some day of storm or battle there might be sudden need to change him, and he might then be unserviceable.”
“Perpol! The idea is new. What else hast thou observed of him?”
“He is cleanly above his companions.”

(Lew Wallace, “Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ”, Book III, Chapter III)

I am sure it happens the same thing with women: everyone confined to one side become misshapen. I do not intend to be sexist here.

(1) Contrary to the popular image of rowers chained to the oars, conveyed by movies such as Ben Hur, there is no evidence that ancient navies ever made use of condemned criminals or slaves as oarsmen, with the possible exception of Ptolemaic Egypt. (Wikipedia, Galley)

(2) Hortator is the latin word to name the person who gives the time for rowers

Featured Image: Ben-Hur

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