Questions for analysis of the film
Spartacus: Look for these kinds of issues and back up your
conclusions with detailed evidence from the film:
Gender: The ancient narratives about
Spartacus's rebellion deal almost exclusively with men; women and
sexuality are notably absent. Later chronicles of the story, however, use
fictional characters to introduce these elements. For example, the 1874 Italian
novel Spartaco, by Raffaello Giovagnoli has Spartacus falling in love
with a Roman matron of the patrician order, Valeria. The Romans tempt him to
betray his followers in exchange for marriage with Valeria, but he refuses; he
is also repeatedly confronted by a vengeful Greek courtesan, Eutibide, whose
lustful advances he has rejected. The novel concludes with Valeria and her
daughter by Spartacus weeping over the body of the fallen hero. The 1913
Italian film based on this novel, Spartaco, directed by Giovanni Enrico
Vidali, changes the gender dynamics, having Spartacus fall in love with Narona,
the fictional daughter of Crassus, with whom he is triumphantly united at the
end of the film, after Crassus frees him and makes him the commander-in-chief
of the Roman army! In the 1952 Italian film Spartaco, directed by
Riccardo Freda, Spartacus is seduced by Crassus' evil daughter Sabina and
almost betrays his followers, though at the end he dies on the battlefield in
the arms of Amitis, his lover and ex-slave from Thrace, who is herself a
revolutionary. (Information derived from Spartacus: Testing the Strength
of the Body Politic, Mary Wyke, Projecting the Past: Ancient Rome,
Cinema and History [Routledge, 1997] 34-72)
- How does the 1960 US film introduce gender into the story of Spartacus?
- What is the role of the fictional Varinia? How does her presence motivate
both Spartacus and Crassus?
- What is the effect of the suggestion of bisexuality in Crassus?
- Does the film reflect the Marxist ideology of the novelist Howard Fast and
the screenwriter Dalton Trumbo? If so, how?
- How do the opposing politics of Crassus and Gracchus relate to left- and
right-wing American politics of the time when the film was made?
- How are the Romans and the slaves contrasted? What
is the effect of differences in music or in the accents of the actors who play
Group I: Historical Background:
- Is Spartacus' background correct as described in the film?
- Did the characters in the film play the same roles as their historical
counterparts did at that time?
- Were their personalities depicted in a way that is consonant with what we
know of their actual behavior?
- Is the course of events of the actual revolt portrayed accurately in the
film; if some details are changed, is the overall picture of events
substantially on target?
- Is the ending of the film accurate?
Group II: Roman Government, Politics, and Social
- Are the social classes of Crassus and Caesar correctly portrayed in the
- Does the film give a good overall picture of the hierarchical nature of
Roman society even if some details may be inaccurate?
- Are the Roman political factions that were current at this time correctly
portrayed (note particularly the struggle between Crassus and Gracchus)?
- Does the film give a good overall picture of the way Roman politics
operated even if some details may be inaccurate?
- Are the legislative bodies, magistrates, and operation of Roman Republican
government correctly portrayed?
Group III: Roman Army; Roman Slavery:
- Is the appearance of the armyfrom legionary soldiers to officers and
standardscorrectly portrayed in the film?
- Are the situation, actions, and fate of Glabrus and his soldiers accurate?
- Once Crassus takes command, is the army correctly portrayed, including the
big battle scene?
- Is the overall picture of the army conveyed by the film on target, even if
some details may be inaccurate?
- Does the film give an accurate and complete picture of the situation of
Barbara F. McManus