Spartacus Antithesis

Towards the end of the film, Director Stanley Kubrick establishes a sense of antithesis between Spartacus and the Consul General of the Roman Army Cassus. In a series of side-by-side scenes, the respective leaders give speeches to their armies. Spartacus orating to his collection of slave followers while Cassus commands the gathered audience of the Roman army, public and senators.


Time: 00:00:00-03:05:00

While in similar situations, Kubrick establishes the antithesis through the words each man use, the message they send and the audiences to which they speak.

When we view the exact words Spartacus uses,

Rome will not allow us to escape from ltaly. 
We have no choice but to march against Rome 
herself and end this war the only way it could 
have ended: by freeing every slave in ltaly. 
I'd rather be here, a free man among brothers 
facing a long march and a hard fight than to be 
the richest citizen of Rome fat with food he didn't 
work for and surrounded by slaves. Now, instead of 
taking ships for our homes across the sea we must 
fight again. Maybe there's no peace in this world for 
us or for anyone else. I don't know.

From this we see the ideas of individual and collective freedom permeating Spartacus’ thoughts and words. He speaks of a reluctance to fight but resignation that it is inevitable. His goal is freedom of his fellow slaves, not necessarily to destroy the Roman civilization that enslaved them. The message sent by this speech is that the slave “army” simply wishes to leave the Italian peninsula and return to their homes, but the Romans refuse to allow them free passage. The Romans sought out a battle between the forces and the slaves will fight the Legion for their freedom.

This is contrasted with Cassus’ speech given to the gathered crowd of the public, the army and the senate.

I promise the destruction ofthe slave army 
and the restoration of order throughout all 
our territories. I promise the living body of 
Spartacus for whatever punishment you may deem fit 
that or his head. This I vow by the spirits of all 
my forefathers. This I have sworn in the temple that
guards their bones.

In this very different speech, Cassus uses violent terms to describe his coming actions and the resolve that he has to complete them. His goal is not only the destruction of the revolting slave army, but the capture and execution of Spartacus himself. The message contained within the speech is one of revenge, both generally for Rome against the slaves and for the Senate against Spartacus. The Romans will seek to destroy the slaves on the field of battle, sending a message to any slaves who would think to attempt a similar coup.

Stanley Kubrick uses the differences between these speeches and the men who make them as commentary on the entire Roman-slave situation. Where as the slaves appear peaceful with simple goals of freedom and control of their own lives; the Romans, especially those of the upper class, appear blood thirsty and arrogant, viewing the slaves as beneath them and unworthy of personal freedom. This antithesis between groups establishes the slaves as heroes, fighting against a unjust system that denies people the freedoms widely accepted in 1960, when the film was produced.

This theme of personal and general freedom persists throughout the film and serves as the driving factor in Spartacus’ fight. The antithesis between Spartacus’ and Cassus’ speeches is the most prominent example of the fight for this freedom.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Spartacus Antithesis

  1. michellegoto

    Not only do the words of the monologues create the antithesis you describe between Spartacus and Crassus, but the visual details also add to and emphasize the effect of contrast. The different audiences of the two leaders appear very different. While Spartacus speaks to a huge mass of modestly dressed slaves, Crassus addresses the seemingly smaller fleet of soldiers and a few Roman council members. The Romans are dressed lavishly with red tunics and gold armor reflecting their grander lifestyle and contributing to their appearance of arrogance and elitist that you mention. To add to the contrast, Kubrick employs the technique of parallel editing to cut back and forth between the two scenes, so the audience can pick out the differences between the two scenes even easier. All in all, this sequence in Spartacus uses multiple practices, ranging from the actual dialogue to details of the frame to film editing, to portray the distinctions between the two leaders and societies.

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