18 JULY 1874, Page 15


[To TER EDTTOR OF THE "EPECTATOR.1 Sra,—In your leading article on the Hanley brutality, you give currency to the popular idea that the turning the thumb down- ward was the fatal signal of the people in the gjadiatorial combats. Curiously enough, I have seldom met with a scholar who did not hold this view, and it seems to be upheld by a popular print in all the shop-windows, wherein the thumbs of the women in the 'boxes,' at a right of gladiators, are violently thrust downward, while their expressions forbid any idea that their feelings to the fallen man are merciful.

But though Horace's " retroque police landabit "and Juvenal's "verso police vulgi qnemlibet occidunt " are doubtful in mean- ing, the following passage from Pliny's "Natural History" (book 28, chap. 5,) seems to prove conclusively that the turning of the thumb downward was the signal for mercy, upward for death. Pliny says, "Polices, quum faveamus, premere etiam proverbio jubemur." I should be glad if any reader could give me a clue to the proverb alluded to.—I am, Sir, &c.,