Holy Days

Posted by Barry Strauss under on April 6, 2009

Christians and Jews will both celebrate major holidays this week, with the coming of Passover on Wednesday and Easter on Sunday (Orthodox Easter falls a week later). Spartacus may seem odd in this context: a man who followed the sword and was later idealized by an anti-religious movement, communism. But think again.

As mentioned in earlier posts, Spartacus claimed divine support: the backing of no less a deity than Dionysus, god of wine and liberation. His wife (or mistress), a Thracian woman who worshipped Dionysus, proclaimed miraculous signs of Spartacus’s greatness and power. Since Dionysus was a symbol of hope to slaves throughout southern Italy, which was the center of the revolt, she might have helped draw followers to Spartacus’s side.

More important, Biblical analogies crop up today. For example, Spartacus offered leadership to slaves and shepherds against an oppressor. He wanted to take them out of the land of bondage and back to their homes. He even brought his followers to the edge of a body of water, an enemy army at their back. No miracle saved them but, with due allowance for the differences, the tale sounds distant echoes of the Exodus.

Spartacus may remind readers of another mission that stood up to the power of Rome. Like that story, Spartacus’s history ends with a cross or, rather, with six thousand crosses. And, like the events of the New Testament, and again, with due allowance for the differences, the story would live on across the millennia.

Happy Holidays.

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