15 June 2019

Reading for Structure Quiz (for GCSE English Language)

This quiz was designed to help students doing their GCSE English Language exam (in the UK except Scotland) a qualification in a specific subject typically taken by school and college students aged 16 upwards. However, feel free to do the quiz, wherever you are!

Please read the short story below and then answer the questions.  You may need to sign in with a google account.

 I had lost.  I was lost.

I lay on the ground: prostrate, humiliated, defeated.  Around me the cries of the mob filled the amphitheatre like a thunderous admonishment from the gods.  The merciless jeers of those who once jubilantly sang my praises cut as deeply in to my spirit as the wound in my side.  I gasped for breath and my hands clutched the hot sun-baked sand of the arena floor.  I felt blood trickle from the wound on to my fingers, congealing in the blistering heat of the Roman summer.

Above me, gladius* poised in mid-air, the upstart, undefeated Thracian looked towards the Emperor.  The muscles on his arm quivered as he held his frozen position, looking to this god on earth, this lunatic child, to indicate with a thumb up or down whether I would live or die.

As the Emperor rose from his chair the throng fell gradually silent, quiet falling on the scene with an almost heedless languor, like a sunset wave on a deserted beach. Like people with all the time in the world.

            My mind began to wander, to dislocate from the immediacy of death to a place of greater safety.  The face of my wife appeared before my eyes. Impossible, I thought. I had left her behind on the farm but her words were not new; they were those she had admonished me with just days before.         
Aeliana had cried when the summons came.  “You can’t go, Astivus.  You haven’t held a dagger, let alone a trident in your hand for seven years!” she said.  “Are you going to club your opponent to death with a spade, for Jupiter’s sake?”

I smiled wanly at her and shrugged, unconsciously tousling the hair of our youngest son until he slapped my hand to stop.

“When the Emperor commands, we are obliged,” I responded with a flatness in my voice that concealed my anger - my fury - that my life had been stopped in its tracks by a madman.  Like so many others I had been pressed back in to service at a whim. It was hopeless to disobey the command.

            “But you won your freedom!  You have the rudis!” She stalked over to the kitchen fireplace and pulled down the wooden training sword I had been given by my old master as a symbol of my manumission.  She shook the sword under my nose and before I could speak she cried “I will go to the Emperor myself. I’ll tell him what he can do with his hundred days of games!”

Aeliana could wither a man to a skeleton with a glance and that was before she even uttered a word. I raised a hand, fingers closed and palm outward, my usual signal – plea – for her to stop. Her weapons would not work against the will of Caligula.  The eye and the mouth are not equal to a pitiless, psychotic bronze fist.

            And it had been a fist, too, that had finally brought me to my knees in the arena. A savage blow to my helmet knocked me senseless, split my nose and lips so that blood cascaded through the air-holes like wine from a drunkard’s cup. I thought I could recover, with only my pride injured.  Yet the flush of shame gave way to a peculiar feeling in my side. A gladius so sharp I hardly felt it pierce my skin had been thrust downwards in to my side and withdrawn with a flourish that made the crowd roar with atavistic pleasure.

            I felt my arms lift upwards – an involuntary symbol of supplication as if I had stopped to say a speedy prayer to the goddess Nemesis. My opponent carried through with a brutally efficient kick of his heel to the base of my back, As I stumbled forward I managed, somehow, to twist my body around: I was not going to die with my face in the sand. I painfully reached for my scutum** - one final effort to redress my position - but the Thracian had stepped on it, pinning it to the ground and splintering the wood and leather in to uselessness.

I had lost.  I was lost.

My thoughts returned, momentarily, to the farm. In a single moment I had harvested the crops, stored them safely for the winter and had gathered the family around the fireplace to tell them stories long in to the evening.  Aeliana rolled her eyes at my tall tales while the children rolled laughing across the floor, full of mirth and mischief.  I was where I belonged.

I heard the expectant murmur of the crowd as the Emperor raised his arm then teased them by delaying any further movement.  Thumb up or thumb down?

I closed my eyes.

I held my breath.

I waited.

(800 words)

Robert-John Evans teaches English in Lewisham, South-East London

*Gladius – a short straight sword, broad towards the handle, after which the gladiator was named.
**Scutium – a shield