By André Bastos Gurgel, OAB
The tale of Spartacus, the gladiator who led the Third Servile War against Rome, has been adapted many times for movies, ballet, and TV. Some of these adaptations are quite good, like the 1960 movie “Spartacus”, with Kirk Douglas in the title role, and the Prokofiev ballet of the same name. There are adaptions that have not been so good, though, and the 2011 TV series “Spartacus” is one of them. In order to explain why I gave this series only 3 stars, I will weigh the good and bad points.
Good Points: a Nice Plot
For information on the real Spartacus, we rely on Appian, Plutarch, Suetonius and a few other historians, but they knew nothing about Spartacus’ life before he was captured and became a gladiator. The screenwriters of this series took advantage of this mysterious period and made up their own story about his early life. They give him a wife who is captured by the Romans and sold as a slave, forcing Spartacus to strike a bargain with Batiatus, his lanista (gladiator manager) — he hands over his winnings as a champion gladiator to Batiatus so that he will search for his wife.
It’s also interesting how the creators of the series emphasize the relationships between the gladiators and their ideas of brotherhood and friendship, which don’t appear much in the 1960 adaptation with Kirk Douglas. They portray this brotherhood as the real force behind Spartacus’ revolt, giving him the strength of will to oppose the Roman Republic.
Bad Points: Another Video Game!
Unfortunately, the series’ bad points often overshadow its good ones. At times, the series felt as though it had been made for teenagers. If Stanley Kubrick – the director of the 1960 Kirk Douglas classic of the same name – were alive today, he wouldn’t know whether to laugh or weep. Ever since the movie “300” was released (another cinematic failure!), directors and screenwriters have moved toward exaggerated special effects, and the makers of this series are no different. Their “Spartacus” looks more like Mortal Kombat (a popular video game from the 1990s) than a film retelling an important story from ancient history. Some death scenes are so bizarre and unreal that they made a doctor friend of mone laugh out loud when I described them to him!
Perhaps the screenwriters’ greatest mistake, though, at least those with some knowledge of Roman society, was their trotting out the old, tired stereotypes of Romans as decadent hedonists. Of course, there were libertines in ancient Rome, but this series makes it seem as if Roman society were about nothing but the pursuit of unbridled sensual pleasure. I felt like asking the producers, “Do you think this society gave us Cicero and Seneca?”
It’s also worth mentioning that the series explores the long-debunked idea that Spartacus wanted to end slavery and reform Roman society, but I’m sure you see by now that its creators weren’t terribly interested in historical accuracy. If you would like to learn about the real Spartacus, or at least as much as we know about him from primary sources, please check out my article “Spartacus: The Man and the Myth”.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
André Bastos Gurgel, OAB (Order of Attorneys of Brazil), Academic Advisor for the Carmenta Online Latin School, is a life-long student of both modern and ancient languages. Mr. Gurgel is fluent in English, Portuguese, Mandarin, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Latin (the last of which he learned with Carmenta) and has a working knowledge of Danish, Hebrew, Ancient Greek, and Sanskrit. Mr. Gurgel is currently studying Old English through Carmenta as well.
Click here to read Mr. Gurgel’s full profile.