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On the Spartacus Road: A Spectacular Journey through Ancient Italy Hardcover – 21 Jan 2010
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‘A journey to be relished…For this is the story of a pursuit, and of a pilgrimage…Stothard brings to bear a lifetime of classical study, a scholar’s nose for the keenest truffles amongst the footnotes and implications of the bagful of well-thumbed texts he has packed for the road, as well as an instinct for salient gossip and an easy manner with strangers.…He is relaxed, amused, observant, and refreshingly unstuffy.…weaving his tale through the dreamy underworld of ancient poems and letters, portraying a land as vicious and prejudiced and redemptive, as strange and familiar as our own.’ Tom Adair, Scotsman
Praise for ‘30 Days: A Month at the Heart of Blair’s War’:
‘An observant, thought-provoking book, written with admirable lightness of touch.’ Evening Standard
‘Stothard expertly shapes a narrative in which Blair manages to stick by his principles…’ Publishers Weekly
‘Peter Stothard’s terrific book…’ New York Times
‘A remarkable encapsulation of history’ Kirkus
About the Author
Peter Stothard was editor of The Times from 1992 to 2002, the period of its greatest commercial success for a century, and is currently editor of the Times Literary Supplement. He was knighted for his services to newspapers in 2003. He has written extensively on politics and literature.
Top customer reviews
Peter Stothard had cancer. He called his cancer Nero. At one time he studied the classics in a passing sort of fashion. This is more a new category of writing, an historical reflecta-musatravelogue. It starts with the death of 29 saxon slaves due to fight in the arena, they took their own lives without the aid of weapons. Weapons were only given to gladiators just before they entered the arena. This reflection on the nature of death and our approach to it is conveyed partially by the limited amount that is known about Spartacus; his followers and rivals; their victories and defeats; their ultimate demise and the impact they left behind. There is no Kirk Douglas, Olivier or Curtis in this true epic. It is an encounter with a number of familiar Roman/Greek writers who wrote on the impact of the revolt, its descriptions, bloodthirsty passage and practical consequences. Plutarch, Pliny the younger, Cicero and those less familiar, Florus, Frontinus, Statius, Symmachus. Poets and writers with their own personal or political agenda who wrote, castigated or sympathised with the revolt.
Stothard travels through Rome down the Appian Way, via Capua and through some of the present day backwaters and former centres of Romano/Italian influence and culture. Places despite their obscurity you feel that you would want to visit. Along the way he meets street artists. priests, historians who add something to his journey, and as the journey weaves in and out of the story of Spartacus; makes us reflect on the way we would might approach our own end. Do we take the approach of Epicurus or Lucretius and abjure fear of death as a pointless waste, or like Cicero accept death as the great unknown and a call to action in the way we live.
I discovered a Spartacus I did not know, but also a violent, culture full of life and risk that would nowadays be associated with tyranny, corruption and crime that we could barely contemplate. Saying this I have always had a striking admiration for Sulla.
The writing has a lyrical at times almost poetic quality. It is despite its claims to historical intent, deeply personal. It is also, in his encounter with a Korean tourist intent on discovering the exact location of every element of Spartacus life, a comment on the often fruitless search for intellectual exactitude.
I loved it, and it will stay with me. Beautifully written.
My only complaint is that, in the paperback version, the reproduced maps are so small that I was unable to read most of them, even with a powerful magnifying glass. I hope this can be rectified in future editions.
Like no other, granted. Scholarly, yes! Clever, undoubtedly. BUT if you wanted to know what Italy is like today with the blend of what we know about the Spartacus War, it doesn't hit the mark in the way, a travel literature book should.
Barry Strauss' fine book The Spartacus War is the benchmark on subject matter, make no mistake. Factor Brent Shaw's exceptional Spartacus & The Slave Wars and you have two 'bob-on' efforts. This is beautifully produced but I wanted a close-up on southern Italy, right in there travel anecdotes and observations, and commentary on what the author believed the slaves and Spartacus likely endured.
Perhaps a second edition will edit out extra ancient literature and add in the authors actual travel experiences...?
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