Spartacus (Fast novel)
||This article lends undue weight to certain ideas, incidents, or controversies. (November 2013)|
Cover of the first US hardcover edition
|Publisher||Howard Fast / Blue Heron Press|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
Spartacus is a 1951 historical novel written by Howard Fast. It is about the historic slave revolt led by Spartacus around 71 BCE The book inspired the 1960 film directed by Stanley Kubrick and the 2004 TV adaptation by Robert Dornhelm.
The novel changes between third-person omniscient past and present tenses. The novel's narrative structure is that several Roman aristocrats (Crassus, Gracchus, Caius, and Cicero) meet, in the past tense, to relate tales of the events in Spartacus's life and uprising. The tales are told in the present tense directly by the narrator, with details going far beyond the Romans' possible knowledge. The novel deviates from and extends known historical facts.
The novel's central theme is that man's most basic universal values are freedom, love, hope, and finally life. Oppression and slavery strip these away until the oppressed have nothing to lose by uprising. Oppressive systems are held together by political systems. Spartacus stands as an eternal symbol of how man must fight against political systems that oppress man's values:
A time would come when Rome would be torn down--not by the slaves alone, but by slaves and serfs and peasants and by free barbarians who joined with them. And so long as men labored, and other men took and used the fruit of those who labored, the name of Spartacus would be remembered, whispered sometimes and shouted loud and clear at other times.
Howard Fast self-published the novel in the United States during the McCarthy era in 1951. He began writing it as a reaction to his imprisonment for charges stemming from his earlier involvement in the Communist Party USA. He had refused to disclose to Congress the names of contributors to a fund for a home for orphans of American veterans of the Spanish Civil War. He was imprisoned for three months in 1950 for contempt of Congress.
The final page of the first edition describes some of his difficulties in publishing:
"Readers who may wonder at the absence of a publisher's imprint are informed that this book was published by the author. This was made necessary when he learned that no commercial publisher, due to the political temper of the times, would undertake the publication or distribution of the book. Its publication was made possible by hundreds of people who believed in the book and bought it in advance of publication, so that the money would be forthcoming to pay for its printing. The author wishes to thank these people with all his heart. He is also most grateful to the many people who helped with the preparation of the manuscript, with the editing of it, and with the design and manufacture of the book. He hopes that for some future edition, at a time when it would not subject them to danger and reprisal, to be able to name these people and extend personal thanks to each in turn."
In the 1991 paperback version (ibooks, distributed by Simon & Schuster; ISBN 0-7434-1282-6), the author has a short introduction, "Spartacus and the Blacklist," which expands on the conditions surrounding the writing and publishing of the work.
Differences between the film and Howard Fast's novel
While both Howard Fast's novel and Stanley Kubrick's film depicted Spartacus as a Thracian who is born a slave and forced to work in the gold mines of Libya and Egypt, the real Spartacus from the historical records was actually born a free man and was once a Thracian auxiliary soldier in the Roman army. The historical sources stated that after Spartacus had deserted the Roman army, he was captured and sold as a gladiator.
Though the film and novel said that Spartacus had red hair, the film depicted the characters Varinia and Crixus differently. Varinia was depicted as a black-haired Celtic woman from the northern island of Britannia, whereas the Varinia in Howard Fast's book is described as a young German girl with milky-white skin and golden hair. The Gaul Crixus is shown in the film to have black hair, but in the novel, he has red hair and a red beard.
Five of the gladiator commanders in Spartacus' army, the Thracian Gannicus, the Roman outcast Castus, the Africans Nordo and Phraxus, and the Jew David are not featured in the film. While the Greek slave Antoninus is based on the Jew David, he is never mentioned in Howard Fast's novel.
The death of the Nubian gladiator Draba is depicted differently in the film. During the duel against Spartacus, Draba hurls his spear at the Romans in the seating box and climbs up to the top, only to perforated by a javelin thrown by one of the Roman guards and then stabbed in the back of the neck by Crassus. In the novel, Draba kills a Roman guard that pounds him on the back with a club to get him to kill Spartacus, and then begins climbing up the wall and is killed by four javelins before he even reaches the top.
Marcus Glabrus, one of the Roman commanders that had been sent out against Spartacus, is based on Howard Fast's character Varinius Glabrus, an arrogant and inexperienced senator who leads six of Rome's garrison cohorts against the gladiator army.
Spartacus' attack on Glabrus' camp are described differently in both the film and the book:
1. In the film, when they learn that Glabrus and his men have neglected to fortify their camp, Spartacus and his army march down a narrow pathway of the mountain path and launch a surprise assault on the Roman camp. When the gladiators attack the defenseless Roman camp and raze it to the ground, only Marcus Glabrus and fourteen out of three thousand men from the cohorts survived. Spartacus then breaks the Roman baton and gives it to Glabrus, telling him to return to Rome and tell the Senate that the garrison of Rome is destroyed.
2. In the novel, Spartacus and Crixus order their men to weave ropes and ladders out of the wild vines they find and descend down the cliffs, landing just behind the Roman camp. In the night raid that followed, Varinius Glabrus and all of his men except for one are killed in their sleep by the slaves. The one soldier is brought before Spartacus, given the Roman baton, is elected the new legate of Rome's garrison, and is told to inform the Senate that Spartacus and his men want nothing from Rome except for a free passageway home.
In Howard Fast's novel, an impatient Crixus deserts Spartacus' army and heads eastward with an army of Gauls and Germans, only to be ambushed and killed by a Roman legion dispatched to stop the gladiators. In the film, Crixus is more patient and remains with Spartacus throughout the entire revolt. The film depicts him as fighting alongside Spartacus against the legions of Marcus Licinius Crassus in the final battle, only to be killed by one of the legionaries.
After he suffered a defeat at the hands of Spartacus' gladiator army, Crassus teaches his soldiers the meaning of obedience through the penalty of decimation, in which one out of every ten men are beaten to death. In the film, Crassus does not punish his troops and also does not yet encounter Spartacus until the final battle.
Before meeting Crassus and his legions in battle, Spartacus orders his horse to be brought to him, to which he draws his sword and kills it. He tells his men that if he should win the battle, he would have thousands of horses to choose from, but if he should lose the battle, he would not need one. In the film, Spartacus does not kill his horse but rides it in the final battle.
The final battle between Spartacus' gladiator army and Crassus' legions is depicted differently in the film and novel:
1. At the beginning of the film's battle, Spartacus' men send flaming logs rolling down the hillside to smash into the front ranks of the Roman legionaries, to which Crixus and Antoninus then lead the infantry against the first wave of Roman troops. As the legions of Pompey and Marcellus closed in on the two armies, Spartacus led a cavalry attack on Crassus' troops, hoping to quickly drive back Crassus' troops and then regroup with his men to launch a fresh attack on the Roman reinforcements. The plan never succeeds, as the legions of Pompey, Marcellus, and Crassus close in on the gladiators on three sides and annihilate the majority of the rebel army.
2. In the novel, Spartacus joins his men on foot and leads his entire army against Crassus' legions. There are no battle tactics in the final battle between Crassus and Spartacus; the two armies collide in two great masses and inflict heavy losses on both sides. Towards the end of the battle, Spartacus tries to reach Crassus, but is surrounded by Crassus' soldiers and cut down. Six thousand of the surviving gladiators, including the Jew David are captured and crucified on Crassus' orders, while another 5,000 gladiators are killed by the legions of Pompey.
In the film, Spartacus survives the final battle, along with Antoninus and 6,000 gladiators and is captured by Crassus' troops. After the six thousand men are crucified along the Appian way to Rome, Antoninus and Spartacus are forced to fight to the death, to which Spartacus kills the Greek slave and is crucified on Crassus' orders. In the novel, Spartacus is killed in the final battle and his body is never recovered by the Romans.
The revolt of Spartacus takes place in 73 B.C., which is the exact date that Spartacus' revolt takes place historically, and lasts about three years, not nine months as in the film or four years as in the novel (the novel gives the date of Spartacus' revolt in 71 B.C.).
- Spartacus, 1931 novel by Scottish writer, Lewis Grassic Gibbon
- The Gladiators, Arthur Koestler's 1939 novel on Spartacus.