Classical Studies
CLA 9-111-2012

Big Screen Rome

Questions for Viewing Films

Spartacus (1960)

What is the most significant scene(s) in the movie? Why?

How does Spartacus illustrate the conditions of ancient slavery?

On what ancient source do you think Howard Fast/Dalton Trumbo primarily based the character of Spartacus? the plot of Spartacus?

How would the addition of a montage showing Spartacus' army defeating nine Roman armies have changed the way that we understand Spartacus' achievement?

What statement does the ending of Spartacus make about slavery? politics? family? freedom?

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966)

Do you root for (identify with) Tranio in Mostellaria or Pseudolus in A Funny Thing? Why or why not?

How do slave-slave relations or master-slave relations in Mostellaria and/or A Funny Thing cast light on the readings in ARD about slavery?

How does Mostellaria contain the potentially dangerous servus callidus Tranio and make the play suitable for a slave-owning audience? How does A Funny Thing deal with the same servus callidus? Why is there a difference?

How do Mostellaria and A Funny Thing break the fourth wall between the characters and the audience? Who specifically breaks the fourth wall? Does it make a difference that one is on stage and the other on film?

Does the humor in Mostellaria and A Funny Thing emerge from the plot or the characters?

Cleopatra (1963)

Compare one scene in Cleopatra with its corresponding scene in Plutarch. How closely does this scene follow Plutarch's Life of Caesar or Life of Antony in terms of plot? or characterization?

How does viewing one scene in Cleopatra help bring to life ancient Alexandria or Rome?

To what extent does Cleopatra balance her role as pharoah with her role as Isis in the film? in Plutarch? Or perhaps another way to phrase the question, how does Cleopatra construct her sexuality?

Aristotle defines tragedy as "an imitation of an action that serious, complete, and possessing magnitude; in embellished language; effecting through pity and fear the catharsis of such emotions." Additional elements include a reversal in the characters' state of affairs and a recognition (of oneself or the state of affairs) that leads to knowledge. Who is to blame for Antony's and/or Cleopatra's downfall? Are there elements of tragedy in their downfall?

Plutarch incorporates much of Octavian's (and Vergil's, Horace's and Propertius') anti-Cleopatra and anti-Antony rhetoric in his narrative, often casting an exotic oriental spin on their relationship. To what extent does the film emphasize Cleopatra as Other (or not)?

How did/does Cleopatra speak to an American audience? What issues of the late 1950's and early 1960's are evident in the film?

Ben-Hur (1959)

How does the film represent the conflict between Roman attitudes toward the gods and Jewish ones toward God? Why does the film show so few examples of religious practices by either faith?

How does the film depict the political conflict in 1st century Judaea? What characters voice this conflict? To what extent do their attitudes reflect the multiple attitudes present in antiquity?

How does the film depict slavery, esp. Esther's and Judah's? How does it compare with what we learned about slavery the first week? Chapter 9 of ARD has more on manumission.

How does the film represent the Roman empire, especially in the figures of Messala and Arrius? Does Judah have any of these Roman qualities?

How does the image of water help unify the film?

What is the significance of leprosy in the film?

Why would a Jewish director, William Wyler, make an epic subtitled "A Tale of the Christ"? Are there particular Jewish symbols/elements that add deeper layer of meaning to the film? If so, what do they contribute to the overall meaning of the film?

Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979)

What sort of image of Rome do the Pythons create in Life of Brian? How does it compare with other films we have seen in the course?

To what extent does Life of Brian accurately represent the society and politics of 1st century Palestine?

In what ways does Brian's life parallel Jesus'? In what ways does it differ? Are the Pythons mocking Jesus? being blasphemous?

Satire is a tricky business. Identify one topic/issue that the film satirizes and then explore a specific scene and describe in detail how the satire works.

How does the crucifixion scene (or any one scene) sum up the crucial issues of the entire movie?

Compare Life of Brian with Ben-Hur. Is there cumulative evidence that Hollywood epics, and particularly Ben-Hur, is the butt of the Pythons' humor?

Gladiator (2000)

To what extent do Stoic attitudes toward death permeate the film Gladiator?

How does Gladiator depict Commodus in comparison to the Life of Commodus in the Historia Augusta? Does he command any of our respect or sympathy in the film? How does director Ridley Scott combine elements of Commodus' life to create a composite picture of Commodus?

How does Ridley Scott portray gladiatorial combat in the arena? What elements are true to Roman culture and what aren't?

Is violence glorified in Gladiator? Does it draw you in or repulse you or both? Does the violence in the film contribute to the overall message of the film?

How is gender constructed in the film for both men and women? What are feminine norms and expectations? masculine norms and expectations?

What are the politics of Gladiator? How does the film speak to an American audience in the year 2000?

How does the film Gladiator incorporate elements/themes/characters/scenes of earlier films that we have seen this term? Why does Scott use these elements in a film made forty years after many of them first premiered?

Maintained by: classical_studies@cornellcollege.edu Last Update: October 21, 2014 5:59 pm

Professor John Gruber-Miller
CLA 1-364-2006
Masterpieces of Greek and Roman Theater

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