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Jacques Perdue

Slave and master : the story of Spartacus
Macauley, 1960


The plot line of this nastily written and historically inaccurate account of the Spartacus revolt is simple enough and not impossible in outline: Spartacus, a slave in the house in Capua of Crispus, a lecher, is seduced and betrayed by Clodia, Crispus's beautiful wife, who cries rape to cover herself when caught. Spartacus is sold into Batuatus' gladiatorial school, from which he escapes after displaying his ability in the arena. He comes to Crispus' house and exacts vicious and humiliating vengeance on his former master and mistress. Clodia, branded by him as a slave, offers her services to Crassus as a spy so she can get back at Spartacus, even though it means further sexual degradation from Spartacus' men. Clodia brings Crassus the information he needs to trick Spartacus and then she kills Spartacus in front of his army just before the climactic battle. Crassus wins, but Clodia is tortured to death by slave survivors. Battle scenes, of which there are a few, are described graphically, as are the voyeuristic rape and murder of women scenes, of which there are many. In fact, this novel seems to specialize in violence (sexual and otherwise) against women, from the Egyptian slave girl and nude Spanish dancers at the opening of the novel through Clodia's degradation and the deaths of the three virgin daughters of the fleeing senator and the deaths by combat and tigers of the 11 "patrician" women of Antium when Spartacus takes over that town. The author seems to try to elevate this by having Spartacus ponder about the nature of freedom (is anyone actually free?), but that's not where his heart seems to be or where his characters are. His Spartacus is clearly not that of Howard Fast, who, in dedicating his novel to his daughter and son, spoke about Spartacus as one of the heroes who "cherished freedom and human dignity", an example for our own struggles against oppression and wrong. One need not make Spartacus noble, but eveyone in Perdue's book is rather mean. Historical problems recur frequently, especially the notion that anyone who is rich or aristocratic is "patrician" and the strange view that Caesar is not available to help quell the slave revolt because he is Consul out in Gaul (13 years before he went there as pro-consul). Perhaps the author is not responsible for the reference to the period 73-71 BC as "the beginning of the Christian era", and maybe it is a typo that the Egyptian slave was bought recently at "the Deli Slave Market" (with pickle?). Some things are just strange: e.g., having the 3 virgin daughters of a senator shoot with bow and arrows out the windows of their carriage and kill a few of their Spartacan pursuers or describing Spartacus in the arena with a scimitar and then speaking of his weapon as a "short dagger". And, when he is describing the food in a kitchen, Perdue may be correct about beer (though it would be unusual) but not about sugar as a food and certainly not about potatoes. The sex and violence make the book inappropriate for lower grades and, probably, distasteful to mature readers. The historical inaccuracies do nothing to commend the book. --------------------------------------------------- QUESTIONS: * Would a bath have had a bronze basin big enough to swim in heated by hypocaust? * In the later Games, were various animals actually trained to copulate with women in the arena (beyond the satiric evidence of Lucian/Apuleius)? * Are there any Thracian Alps for Spartacus to come from? (They don't seem to go beyond Yugoslavia.) [Mench; unpub]

- Fred Mench, 12/19/2005

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