SPARTACUS: What A Rebel Gladiator Says About Mythology in Entertainment

The entertainment industry is very much about superheroes right now. But that doesn’t stop mythological figures and stories from sneaking in alongside modern and sci-fi elements. And we’re loving the mix of ideas almost as much as a full-fledged epic movie or TV show. Classic features are still very popular across all sectors of entertainment, including comics. So it’s worth exploring what exactly makes ancient Greek, Roman, Norse, and Chinese myths so attractive. After touching upon various examples of how they influence modern audiences, we’ll focus on a particular hero that has inspired generations: Spartacus.

Mythology in Movies, TV and Comics

Readers of comic books know very well how much creators enjoy throwing ancient legends into their stories, whether obvious or obscure. A good example of the past few years is Avengers: No Road Home having Hercules take center stage on the team’s quest to reverse the darkness that has taken over the galaxy. The hero’s involvement follows the destruction of Olympus and its Immortals, at which point he joins forces with the likes of Voyager, Rocket, Hulk, and Scarlet Witch.

And then you have TV and streaming technologies starting to outshine the movie industry. Amid megastars like Antony Hopkins and Reese Witherspoon joining shows, there are also lots of great productions popping up to enhance mythology promoted by blockbusters. Netflix’s Ragnarok is a refreshing Norwegian retake on Thor, Loki, and the giants. One of several unique programs to change everything we think we know about our favorite legends.

But the silver screen isn’t done yet. The next live-action adaptation of Disney’s beloved animations is Mulan, set for release in July 2020. What some people may not know is that the story is based on the Chinese legend of a warrior woman called Hua Mulan. Whether real or fictional, Syfy Wire explains how the tale was retold many times before and after Disney’s contribution. Have you heard of Deadpool Killustrated? In Vol 1 #2, she’s one of the characters trying to stop Deadpool from slaughtering literary figures.

You’ll find mythological influences in the strangest of places. Take, for example, the link between Attack on Titan and Francisco Goya’s paintings, including Saturn Devouring His Son. Protagonists and ideas of the past seem to serve modern creators quite well, somehow inspiring brand new concepts. That’s why classic heroes like Spartacus stay – or are kept – in the spotlight. Their stories continue to make an impression on viewers and readers.

Who Was Spartacus?

Long before Pacific Rim 2’s Steven DeKnight directed the Spartacus TV series, the Roman slave turned-gladiator and rebel leader was a real person. Born in Thrace, the former soldier ended up starting the Third Servile War. He’s remembered as a symbol of revolution against tyranny, one that’s carried a powerful message over the ages.

Encyclopedia Britannica states that Spartacus’s forces grew to over 90,000 strong. They fought their way across Italy in pursuit of freedom, and were only defeated when commander Marcus Licinius Crassus caught them between eight legions of trained soldiers. Spartacus apparently died fighting, which only added to his fame as a strong and honourable leader. And today his legend lives on in screens and comics.

Spartacus Themed Entertainment

The first production to flesh out the gladiator’s story was Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus (1960), starring Kirk Douglas. While Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000) could be seen as an adaptation or homage, no other Spartacus-related movie has tried to rival the original’s critical acclaim. But then 2010 saw the introduction of the TV show that enjoyed an equally warm welcome and continued to captivate viewers to its end in 2013. The actual title of the series, however, suggests a connection to another medium of entertainment.

The Spartacus: Blood and Sand comic books by Devil’s Due Publications were a smooth prelude to the show, focusing on minor characters that would later appear on people’s screens. This project also inspired a four-part motion comic available on retailers like Microsoft and Amazon. But the hero has kept gamers busy too.

Spartacus Legends, developed by Kung Fu Factory and published by Ubisoft in 2013, was a short-lived free-to-play video game based on the Starz TV series. Then there are also other titles in the further entertainment industry featuring the famous rebel. For instance, Betway has SG Gaming’s new Spartacus slot with a classic Roman design and gladiator-themed symbols. When you’ve had your fill of reels and bonuses, why not try a round of Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery? The board game comes with an expansion that allows four players to battle and scheme their way to victory.

This is only a sample of the range of merchandise you’ll find out there making use of Spartacus’s inspirational status. Depending on your tastes – cinema, books, video games – you can find out for yourself just how extensive classic mythology’s effect on entertainment really is.

Don Draper
Don Draper
Donald Francis "Don" Draper is a founding partner and the Creative Director at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Advertising Agency in Manhattan, NY. Prior to that position, he was the Director of the Creative Department at the Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency. He is regarded among his colleagues as the best to ever pitch copy.