Friends of Varinia

Nobody and I mean nobody in the history of film criticism has mentioned what I’m about to bring up. It’s about a hidden aspect of Spartacus, which I just saw again a couple of nights ago. It’s a question for Howard Fast, who wrote the original 1951 “Spartacus” novel, but he’s gone so let’s just face it. It’s about sex and territoriality and rage that would have been unstoppable.

The issue would have been about the animal anger and resentment that Kirk Douglas‘s Spartacus would have felt over the fact that Jean Simmons‘ Varinia, the love of his life, had been forced to have relations with several of his fellow gladiators, as was the custom during captivity in Lentulus Batiatus‘s gladiator school in Capua. The result would have been heavily strained friendships between Spartacus and his slave-revolt comrades after they’d broken out and become free men.

If Spartacus was anything like Detective James McLeod, whom Douglas portrayed in Detective Story, he would have been an intensely jealous guy and no day at the beach. No matter how he intellectually rationalized what had happened — all slave women at Capua were ordered to have weekly sex with gladiators at the direction of Charles McGraw‘s Marcellus, the sadistic gladiator boss — he still wouldn’t be able to handle it in his gut. Any ex-gladiator who had “known” her would be on Spartacus’ shit list, and he would have given them dirty looks and subliminal attitude and maybe even put them into forward skirmishes with Romans in the hope that they’d get killed.

Matrimonial relations between Spartacus and Varinia wouldn’t have been very pleasant either. Every time Spartacus looked at her he would see Heironymous Bosch fantasies that would torture him. He would see John Ireland‘s Crixus or Nick Dennis‘s Dionysus or Harold J. Stone‘s David thrusting themselves inside her, sweating and groaning like lions. Remember when Warren Beatty‘s Ben Siegel said to Annette Bening‘s Virginia Hill, “I was just wondering if there was somebody you haven’t fucked?” That’s how it would be almost all the time between Spartacus and Varinia.

Don’t give me the movie version with Spartacus and Varinia consumed by perfect love and rolling around the grass — that was put in for the box-office. Everybody knows how guys get when they’re jealous. They just can’t get the sight of their wives or girlfriends orally pleasuring other men.

Notice that Spartacus’s best friend was Tony Curtis‘s Antoninus, the one guy in his inner circle who hadn’t been at Capua and therefore had never, ever “had” Varinia.

  • Ponderer

    I’m intrigued by this line of thought, but would it have REALLY bothered him? He was a barely literate slave all his life. If he ever HAD sex, it was probably with some other prostitute. Arguably he may never have even met a woman who hadn’t done lots of favors with men. Treated and bred like an animal, he may not have even understood a concept of purity. (And yeah, best friends with Tony Curtis who hadn’t “done” Varinia, but you know, it probably wouldn’t have loved to think about Antoninus possibly having lollipopped his hated Roman slavers.)

    Interesting point you make. I honestly hadn’t considered that at all. But I’m not convinced that beat-down slaves were anything but completely grateful for the company that would have them.

  • fitz-hume

    “Everybody knows how guys get when they’re jealous. They can’t get the sight of their wives or girlfriends orally pleasuring other men.”

    This is true for both sexes, if there’s any feelings involved, or pride to be lost.

  • hiviper

    she told Spartacus he was the best lay in the whole school, and was just faking it with the other 70-78 guys…I don’t see a problem here

  • DiscoNap

    He would have been advised by the scribe Wellsius that if he manned up and stuck it out with her he’d have a get out of jail free card.

  • bill weber

    Man is not naturally monogamous, as Dr Zaius will tell you.

  • Mr. F.

    It’s also true that if Spartacus was anything like Hannibal Lecter, he would have cut Varinia open and eaten her entrails. (And that’s BEFORE he found out she had been with other men.)

    Look: we’re talking about fictional characters in a story set thousands of years ago. You can’t look at it from your enlightened, 21st century perspective. What did Spartacus know? Honor. Strength. To do what it takes to survive. There’s no way he’d need to talk about his feelings with a Roman shrink, or fight with Varinia. Different times, Wells.

  • Ghost of Kazan

    Jesus. Does poor macho baby wanna wowwy pop?

  • Glenn Kenny

    Best thread ever. Comment one, then comments three through eight, comedy gold. Well played, fellows.

  • Caliban_Man

    This post makes me think maybe Jeff is taking topic tips from his old boss, Kevin Smith…


  • JLC

    So….I guess we should just disregard all this “get over it, it happens; the heart wants what it wants” stuff we’ve been hearing lately about fidelity, and just gut the next clown who checks out our woman?

  • Pomerania

    yeah, hilarious AND weird. I mean nobody, but nobody on this thread has pointed out the glaringly obvious fact that there’s a difference between consensual sex and rape. do I need to spell out why the whole argument is thus null and void?

  • Captain EO

    Perhaps he got it all out of his system when he drowned the chap responsible for her despoiling in the hot stew…that seemed like a pretty cathartic moment to me.

  • Raising_Kaned

    (I had a feeling my comment was going to get wiped with all the spam — you really need to find a better solution to that specific problem, Wells…ANYWAY, I saved it, so here we go again):

    Love it when Kirk rocks the “D-Wade” gladiatorial sleeve.

    “But I’m not convinced that beat-down slaves were anything but completely grateful for the company that would have them.”

    I think that’s probably about right. Jealousy seems, by and large, a luxury of having way too much fucking free time on your hands (i.e. princes and kings back in the day, and basically everyone living in a first-world country today). All of which is NOT to say that it’s not a primal emotion (because I think it is).

    But if you have to fight to survive on a daily basis, I don’t think mapping out an elaborate sexual tree of every single one of some Thracian floozy’s partners is going to rank too highly up on your mental “to-do” list. I would think that — if you’d actually manage to get a free moment or two from the bonds of slavery and/or battle — highest up on your “to-do” list would be the experience of, errrm….doing it again?

    “So….I guess we should just disregard all this “get over it, it happens; the heart wants what it wants” stuff we’ve been hearing lately about fidelity, and just gut the next clown who checks out our woman?”

    You know, I’m usually the first one to call out Wells on his hypocrisy — but in this case, I see it as less hypocritical and more…illustrative of the contradictory sexual nature inherent to being human (and, perhaps more specifically, being a man).

    In other words, I don’t necessarily believe these two (seemingly conflicting) feelings should be viewed as mutually exclusive.

    This is usually where Wells retreats to that Whitman quote he loves so much — but in this specific case, I don’t think he’d be wrong in doing so.

  • QualityGibberish

    I also don’t believe that Mr. Magoo, with eyesight that bad, could drive a car could drive a car without killing himself and others.

  • blulubyl

    Saw this many times, many years ago in the theatre, when they still played the overture behind closed curtains. Perhaps it was her eyes that brought me back 10 times. Beautifully photographed. Perhaps jealous, but no friend or gladiator or woman to blame. All were slaves.

  • darsmitjug

    Oh trust me, I am a huge David Chase fan. Unfortunately, his first shot at a feature length film is a train wreck. There are few things I wanted more than for him and the rest of the talent involved to knock this out of the park, but it just fell flat. It’s really uninvolving and plays out in a very cliched manner. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before.

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  • saksuk

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    I had a put up a couple of very droll comments but they were “accidentally” erased by Jeff. I’m sure that my saying that if the grain monks ever got together with the 1.85 fascists they could make Jeff feel sufficiently oppressed to write his own “Darkness At Noon.”