Spartacus Before Marx: Liberty and Servitude

Spartacus: Blood and SandSpartacus Before Marx: Liberty and Servitude

Brent D. Shaw

Princeton/Stanford Working Papers in Classics: November (2005)


There are still a fair number who are old enough to remember seeing the first theatrical showing of the Hollywood film epic Spartacus directed by the then young Stanley Kubrick. A greater stretch of memory is required, now beyond the reach of most, to recollect the heyday of ‘tail-gunner’ Joe McCarthy, whose anti-Communist jihad of the early 1950s provided the backdrop for the publication of Howard Fast’s novel Spartacus—the work of fiction which was, in turn, the basis for the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo’s screenplay for the film. Thereby hang many tales, amongst them the letters written by J. Edgar Hoover to major New York publishing houses making quite clear his displeasure should they ever agree to publish Fast’s manuscript. They did not.

In those days, Hoover was not a man to be crossed. And there is the tale of how Fast nevertheless managed to print and publish the novel, virtually out of the basement of his home. This same story also entails the fact that prospective producers of a film on Spartacus, including Yul Brynner, had been bargaining to obtain the rights to the novel The Gladiators by Arthur Koestler, also on the slave war, that the Hungarian expatriate writer had published in 1939, just before the outbreak of the Second World War.3 It was only their lack of success in acquiring rights from Koestler that forced them to pursue Fast’s Spartacus as an alternative.

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