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de Howard Fast

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The best-selling novel about a slave revolt in ancient Rome and the basis for the popular motion picture.
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    The Von Hoffmann Bros.' Big Damn Book of Sheer Manliness de Todd Von Hoffmann (fugitive)
    fugitive: The Von Hoffman's considered Spartacus the manliest movie ever. The movie was based on Fast's novel.
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Howard Fast published Spartacus himself in 1951. He had served a short prison sentence the previous year for the crime of committing un-American activities in the McCarthy era and he could not find a publisher for the novel that he had conceived in prison. Fast says in the foreword to the 1996 edition that he owes something of its coming into being as a result of his time in prison:

war and prison are difficult for a writer to approach without seeing something of it himself.

This may account for his damming indictment of the Roman civilisation which was based on slavery. The Tokens of Punishment: the 6000 slaves crucified along the length of the Appian way from Rome to Capua in 71BC forms the grisly backdrop to the opening scenes of the novel and they are never far away as the story of the slave revolt led by Spartacus unrolls.

Stanley Kubrick's film has become more famous than the book on which it is based and as good as the film is, it is conceived as an entertainment: albeit with a moral message. The message from the film is the fight against injustice and the right to be free. Fast's book covers these themes too but also attacks the whole moral fibre of the Roman Empire. The story of the slave revolt is told largely from the viewpoint of those people who knew Spartacus or the history of the uprising. Caius the son of a wealthy patrician and his two sister decide to travel to Capua down the Appian way that has just been reopened with the decaying bodies of the crucified slaves lining the route. After a days travelling they stay at the Villa of their wealthy uncle just off the road where they meet Crassus the Roman general who crushed the revolt, Grachus an elderly politician and the younger Cicero a representative of the younger power brokers who had pushed forward the idea of the Tokens of Punishment. Caius and the sisters have no interest in the the 'servile war' they are hedonistic young people who are only interested in their own comfort and entertainment, but find themselves surrounded by a group of people who cannot get the revolt free from their minds. Crassus is pressed to tell how he defeated the army of Spartacus which seemed invincible at one stage and he tells how he set about knowing his enemy by searching out his history, by interviewing his slave master. There follows a story of the young Caius who witnessed Spartacus fight as a gladiator and others chip in with their knowledge of the war and what they have heard about Spartacus.

Crassus offers to escort the young people on the final leg of the journey to Capua and when they arrive they witness the crucifixion of the last of the beaten gladiators. This turns out to be David: Spartacus right hand man and through the agony of his crucifixion he tells his story. Finally Crassus and Grachus become obsessed with tracking down Varinia; Spartacus wife who it was rumoured survived the final battle. It would seem they are hoping in their own way for perhaps some sort of redemption. Fast therefore tells the story of Spartacus from the viewpoints of those that got closest to him. He skilfully fills in a short history of the wars while examining the relationships of the three generations of Romans that are shaken by the recent events. The patricians and the most wealthy citizens still believe in the power of the Roman state and are proud of the civilisation that has given them such a good life style. The telling of the story of Spartacus however reveals the rot at the core of Roman power. The Tokens of punishment present throughout the novel, the crucifixion of David, and the story of Spartacus is juxtaposed with the superabundances of the lifestyles of the wealthy Romans. The rich are getting richer at the expense of the poor, but the impoverished Roman citizens can still look down on the vast slave population, but the slaves have become a threat.

The story of the slave revolt is told by witnesses to the events, which may be unreliable, for example David and Varinia who paint a picture of Spartacus as the most gentle of human beings, a father figure to all those who served him and a shinning example of a civilised man. The fight for freedom is altruistic in their eyes and Fasts prose can become a little sentimental even a little naive, especially when contrasted with the young Cicero's view of the world which is Machiavellian:

"There is an elite—a group of superior men. Whether the gods made them that way or circumstances made them that way is not something to argue. But they are men fit to rule, and because they are fit to rule, they do rule.
We rationalize the irrational. We convince the people that the greatest fulfillment in
life is to die for the rich. We convince the rich that they must part with some of their riches to keep the rest. We are magicians. We cast an illusion, and the illusion is foolproof. We say to the people—you are the power. Your vote is the source of Rome’s strength and glory. You are the only free people in the world. There is nothing more precious than your freedom nothing more admirable than your civilization. And you control it; you are the power. And then they vote for our candidates. They weep at our defeats. They laugh with joy at our victories. And they feel proud and superior because they are not slaves."

Howard Fast's prose does justice to the story that unfolds, the battle scenes are realistically described and Spartacus experiences as a gladiator and a slave in the mines are moving and disturbing, the agony of David on the cross whose troubled mind is shot through with pain is as close to realism as I want to get. The back story of the profligate life styles and sexual mores of the wealthy Romans and their illicit encounters are also well documented. This is a novel of Historical Fiction and while Fast is keen not to stray too far from what is known about Spartacus he is also aware he is writing a novel that needs to appeal to a majority of readers and so he makes it an engrossing read, fleshing out his characters to fit the historical facts. He ended up with a best selling novel and as he has one of his character say:

“No, indeed. Two things all men are convinced they have talent for, with neither preparation nor study involved. Writing a book and leading an army. And with good reason, since such an amazing number of idiots get to do both.

Howard Fast is not one of the idiots and not only did he write a most entertaining novel but he also made some political points as well. I was surprised at how well he made his story undermine the idea of glorious classical antiquity. This was a society that was based on slavery with a rigid class system and Fast does not let his readers escape without acknowledging these facts. A thoroughly enjoyable read and a well thought out novel 4.5 stars. ( )
1 vota baswood | Jul 12, 2020 |
This is the second consecutive novel I have read based on the life of the famous slave who rebelled against the Roman Empire in the 70s BC, holding his own and defeating several armies sent against him for a period of two years, before finally succumbing to defeat and death at the hands of the Roman statesman and general Crassus. This is the better known of the two, novels and formed the basis for the famous 1960 film starring Kirk Douglas. While not as of quite a high literary quality as Lewis Grassic Gibbon's novel, this is well written, and most of the characters are fleshed out more than they were in Gibbon's. Spartacus in both novels is, though, not really a character, but more a force of nature, a focus of hope, freedom and happiness for the slaves, and a destructive and anarchistic object of hate and fear for the Romans. This novel packs a powerful message of the human desire for freedom, and contains a number of scenes where leading Romans including Crassus try to understand their defeated enemy by quizzing his widow, the slave Varinia - but there is little or no common understanding between the slave and Roman world view and assumptions. A powerful novel, the author was blacklisted in the McCarthy era (as was the author of the film's screenplay, Dalton Trumbo) and some of the language can be seen also as a commentary on the McCarthy era (though, as ever, it is important not to overdo such comparisons). ( )
  john257hopper | Mar 19, 2017 |
El joven pastor Espartaco se convierte en un militar del poderoso ejército romano, pero el contacto con la locura de las batallas y con la injusticia le llevan a desertar. Sin embargo, es apresado como esclavo y convertido en un célebre gladiador, para acabar convirtiéndose en el líder de la rebelión de los gladiadores del año 73 a.C.
  kika66 | Nov 25, 2010 |
Spartacus était l'un de ces esclaves romains entraînés à s'entretuer pour le vain plaisir de leurs maîtres. C'est lui qui déclencha la révolte contre leurs lois cruelles et dégénérées. Spartacus fut ce gladiateur qui, arrachant à leur servitude ou à leur malheur des hommes, des femmes et des enfants, désespérés, dirigea la plus puissante rébellion que Rome ait connue. Il faut avoir lu ce roman épique et magnifique, témoignage frémissant dédié au courage inépuisable de l'homme et à sa passion pour la liberté.
Spartacus revit dans un chef-d'oeuvre au cinéma. Une des plus grandes troupes d'acteurs qu'on ait jamais réunie incarne les héros de cette histoire inoubliable. ( )
  vdb | Aug 14, 2010 |
A very good read about the common man fighting back. Well written and very descriptive of another time and place. He speaks of a system designed for the few at the expense of the many and he didn't pull any punches. No wonder the system did not want it published. ( )
2 vota JBreedlove | Nov 22, 2007 |
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Dit boek is voor mijn dochter, Rachel, en voor mijn zoon, Jonathan. Het is een geschiedenis van moedige mannen en vrouwen, die lang geleden leefden en wier namen nooit vergeten werden. De helden van deze geschiedenis
beminden de vrijheid en de menselijke waardigheid en leefden edel en goed. Ik schreef dit boek zo, dat degenen die het lezen, mijn kinderen en anderen, er kracht kunnen uit putten voor onze eigen onrustige toekomst en dat zij zullen kunnen strijden tegen onderdrukking en onrecht - zó, dat de droom van Spartacus werkelijkheid moge worden in onze eigen tijd.
This book is for my daughter, Rachel, and for my son, Jonathan. It is a story of brave men and women who lived long ago, and whose names have never been forgotten. The heroes of this story cherished freedom and human dignity, and lived nobly and well. I wrote it so that those who read it, my children and others, may take strength for our own troubled future and that they may struggle against oppression and wrong -- so that the dreams of Spartacus may come to be in our own time.
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It is recorded that as early as the middle of the month of March, the highroad from the Eternal City, Rome, to the somewhat smaller but hardly less lovely town of Capua, was opened to public travel once again; but this is not to say that traffic upon the road immediately reverted to normal.
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