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‘How Cassius Took Rome’: Mohamad Ali’s Enigmatic Autobiographical Poem

Mohammad Ali (1942-2016), the American boxer was born in Louisville, USA in 1942 and expired in 2016 at Scottsdale, USA. He won Olympic Gold Medal in 1960, and became World heavy Weight Championship in 1964 defeating Sonny Liston. His earlier name was Cassius Marcellus Clay. He adopted the Muslim name Muhammad Ali. He wrote a poem “How Cassius Took Rome” when a restaurant in his home town refused to serve him food. The poem is of 16 lines.

To make America the greatest is my goal,

So I beat the Russian, and I beat the Pole

And for USA won the Medal of Gold.


He felt ‘shamed, shocked and lonesome’

He threw the gold medal in a river.


The poem started  with a high  tone  of first person ‘ I’ that his only goal for participation in the World Olympics, Rome in 1960 was to make the American the greatest country  by winning gold medal in the boxing.  His name was coincidentally like a popular Roman name. Cassius Clay defeated the Russian and the Poland boxers to win Gold Medal for USA. The Italians were so impressed with his Roman name of Cassius Marcellus Clay and his performance in the game that they treated Clay as greater than Cassius of 44 BC, who conspired to murder Julius Caesar and also deceived Marcus Brutus with his talk   of patriotism. The people of Rome said to him that they liked his name and his game. The people of Rome would naturally like a heroic game like boxing and also a name familiar to them, and as such they desired Clay to play for Italy living in Rome. The boxer appreciated their hospitality, but he promptly refused to make Rome his home as he would like to play for his country, and believed that the people of his hometown would be waiting for a glorious welcome.

Clay’s tone of writing lines was found low in transition from first person to third person when he knew the kind of welcome he received in America. In the second portion of the poem, the boxer as a third person narrator lamented that he visited a restaurant in his home town of Louisville as a proud citizen with his grand achievement in the World Olympic at Rome. But, on contrary to his utmost expectation of a great fanfare welcome he was refused even to get food “Because he was a Negro”. He was so deeply hurt in his young mind that he expressed the situation in three appropriate words ‘shamed, shocked and lonesome’. It would mean that though he was a national hero he was shocked and thought himself shameful and found himself loneliness in his own home town. The sentiment of the young international player who happened to belong to a black community was so much dejected that the Olympic Gold Medal was worthless for him and so he had nothing to do with it except to throw it which he wore around the Olympic village and even in his sleep, into a river.

It is irony that he received appreciation and hospitality in Rome, a foreign country where Olympic Games was held whereas he was even refused to get served food in a hotel in his own hometown. The poem conveyed Clay’s disillusionment with America’s cultural reality. The second portion of the poem clearly revealed contradiction prevailing within American social fabrics. The discrimination was against a black hero of the country, and then what about the local black community’s hopes and their images in his hometown might be a grave concern to the boxer. The symbolism behind the expression of the poem was that even an Olympic Gold medallist was not  get served food in his own hometown on the basis colour discrimination. The story of the such  kind of  protest of an outstanding sportsperson against colour discrimination  in the country in which he was living  as one of a few heroes of the time by throwing the Olympic Gold Medal into a river has become a legend.

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