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The Gladiators (Vintage Classics) - Arthur Koestler I've been on an ancient Roman kick lately, and I liked [b:Darkness at Noon|30672|Darkness at Noon|Arthur Koestler|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1290053535s/30672.jpg|881601], so how could I resist reading Arthur Koestler's The Gladiators? Especially when I found a used copy of it with this incredible cover. There are scantily clad dancing girls in the background and half (mostly?) naked men going at each other with swords and tridents. Plus an oddly Old Western font for the title.


Unfortunately, the book does not live up to the promising cover art. Koestler's tale covers the slave rebellions of 73-71 BC, led by Spartacus, a gladiator. The historical events were sensational enough in their own right. The army of slaves, eventually growing to more than 100,000, survived events such as a siege inside Mount Vesuvius to defeat Roman legions and capture several towns. Rome did not take the uprising seriously at first, but eventually was forced to send out armies led by Crassus and Pompey to crush it. If it hadn’t been for some double-crossing pirates, Spartacus may have escaped, but he was eventually killed in battle. Thousands of survivors of the slave army were crucified for 200 miles along the Appian Way.


Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus, better clothed than Koestler's

It’s a compelling story, and certainly fits with Koestler’s theme of failed revolution. He uses this theme to tie together a trilogy that includes [b:The Gladiators|2425371|The Gladiators|Arthur Koestler|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1330389604s/2425371.jpg|2178804] (published in 1939), [b:Darkness at Noon|30672|Darkness at Noon|Arthur Koestler|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1290053535s/30672.jpg|881601] (1940), and [b:Arrival and Departure|1714864|Arrival and Departure|Arthur Koestler|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1187303064s/1714864.jpg|611584] (1943), three books on different topics, but all about aspects of revolutions gone wrong.

It’s in the philosophizing, though, where Koestler goes awry. He frequently interrupts the action for the characters to engage in long conversations about economics, unemployment, and government. These conversations seem more appropriate to a 1930s Parisian coffee house than a tent on the eve of a famous battle of antiquity, especially when sprinkled with terms like “proletariat.” There are oblique references to Christian themes like resurrection that are not really explored. These allusions end up seeming anachronistic. The characters’ motivations remain obscure, and it’s hard to sympathize with the oppressive Romans or the raping and plundering slave army. The Gladiators is part history, part fiction, and part allegory, but doesn’t really succeed at any of these.