Four Times In Life
wiki: Spartacus (Fast novel)
context: At the end of Spartacus by Howard Fast, as David, the Galillean is hanging on the crucifix waiting for him time to run out, he reflects on his life…
Actually, he had cried out, “Spartacus, Spartacus, why did we fail?”
If in some miraculous manner, the minds and brains of the six thousand men who were taken prisoner when the cause of Spartacus went down into the dust of history could have been opened and laid bare and mapped out, so that one could trace back from the crucifix the tangled web and skein which had brought them there – if six thousand maps of human lives could have been drawn, it might have been seen that the pasts of many were not too different.
In that way, perhaps their suffering at the end was not too different; it was a common suffering and it blended, and if there were gods or a God in the heavens and the tears of such were rain, then surely it would have rained for days and days. But instead, the sun dried out the misery and the birds tore at the bleeding flesh, and the men died.
This was the last one to die; he was a summation of the others. His mind was filled with the sum of a human life, but in such pain a man does not think, and the memories are like nightmares. His memories could not be set down as they came to him, for they would have no meaning apart from the reflection of pain. But a tale could be sorted out of his memories, and the memories could be reshuffled to make a pattern – and in that case, the pattern would not be too different from the patterns of the others.
There were four times in his life. The first was a time of not knowing. The second was a time of knowing, and it was filled with hatred, and he became a creature of hatred. The third was a time of hope, and his hatred passed away and he knew a great love and comradeship for his fellow men. The fourth time was a time of despair.
In the time of not knowing, he was a little boy, and in that time there was happiness and the radiance of pervading sunlight all about him. When his tortured mind on the cross sought for coolness and flight from pain, he found that blessed coolness in remembering his childhood. The green mountains of his childhood were cool and beautiful. The mountain streams tumbled and sparkled, and the black goats grazed on the hillside. The hills were terraced and cared for with loving hands, and the barley grew like pearls and the grapes grew like rubies and amethysts. He played on the hillsides; he waded in the brooks, and he swam in the great, beautiful lake of Galilee. He ran like an animal, free and wild and healthy, and his brothers and sisters and his friends provided a society in which he was free and assured and happy.
Even in that time, he had known about God, and he had a clear and certain and delineated picture of God on his childhood vision. He came of a mountain folk, so they had placed God on a peak where no man could live. On the highest mountain of all, where no one had even climbed, God lived. God sat there all alone. There was one God and no other. God was an old man who never grew older, and his beard swept down across his breast and his white robes billowed out like the white clouds which suddenly fill the sky. He was a just God and occasionally a merciful God, but always a vengeful God; and the little boy knew this. Night and day, the little boy was never free from the eyes of God. Whatever he did, God saw. Whatever he thought, God knew.
He came of a pious people, an exceedingly pious people, and God was woven in and out of their lives just as a thread is woven in and out of a cloak. When they tended their flocks, they wore long striped cloaks, and every tassel of those cloaks signified some part of the awe they had for their God. Morning and night, they prayed to God; when they sat down to their bread, they prayed; when they took a glass of wine, they gave thanks to God; and even when misfortune came upon them, they blessed God, so he might not think they resented their misfortune and thereby surrendered to arrogance.
Therefore, it was not surprising that the boy, the child, who was now a man and who hung from a cross now, was full of the knowledge and presence of God. The child feared God, and his God was a God to be feared. But the fear was a minor note in the pervading sunlight, and in the coolness of the mountains and the mountain streams. The child ran and laughed and sang songs and tended goats and sheep, and watched as the older boys threw the razor-edged Galilean knife, the chabo that they wore so proudly at their sides. He had one of his own he had carved out of wood, and often with this he engaged in mock knife duels with his brothers and friends.
And if he did particularly well, the older boys would nod grudgingly and say, “Like a Thracian, little one, monkey, pimple!” The Thracian was all things evil and all things in fighting as well. A long, long time before, mercenaries had come into the land, and there had been many years of fighting before they were killed and driven out. Thracians, these mercenaries were called, but the little boy had never seen one.
He looked forward to the day when he would wear a knife by his side, and then they would see whether he wasn’t as fierce as a Thracian. Yet he wasn’t very fierce; he was a gentle little boy, and to a great degree a happy one…
That was the time of not knowing.
In the second time of his life, in the time of knowing, he stopped being a child and the pervading sunshine gave way to a chill wind. In time, he drew a cloak of hatred around him to shelter and shield himself. That was the time that stabbed through his mind in sharp flashes of red agony as he hung from the cross. His thoughts of that time were wild and twisted and terrible. The recollections were as scrambled as the pieces of a jig-saw puzzle. He saw that second time of his life in the undulating masses of people who watched him, in their faces, in the sounds which came from them. Again and again as his passion endured, he was shunted back through his memory to that second time of his life, the time of knowing.
In that time, he became aware of things, and in this awareness his childhood perished. He became aware of his father, a brown-faced, work-hardened man who toiled from morning to night – yet the toil was never enough. He became aware of sorrow. His mother died and they wept for her. He became aware of taxes, for no matter how much his father toiled, there was never enough to fill their bellies, yet the land was as fruitful as any land could be. And he became aware of the great gulf that separates the rich from the poor.
The sounds were the same as before; the difference was that he heard the sounds and understood them, whereas before he had heard them without understanding. Now when the men talked, they permitted him to stand at a little distance and listen; before, they had urged him out of the house to his play.
Also, he was given a knife, but the knife brought no gladness with it. He went one day with his father across the hills a full five miles to where there was a man who worked with iron, and there they stayed for three long hours by the forge while the smith hammered out a knife for him. And all the time his father and the smith talked about the sorrows that had fallen upon the land and how the small man was squeezed. It was as if his father and the iron worker were in competition, each to demonstrate to the other how he was squeezed more than the other.
“Take this knife,” said the smith. “My price to you is four denarii. From that, one fourth will be taken by the Temple collector when he comes for his dues. One fourth will be taken by the tax collector. That leaves me two denarii. If I am to make another knife, I must pay two denarii for the metal. Where is the price of my labor? Where is the price of the horn I must buy for the hilt? Where is the price of food to feed my family? But if I should charge five denarii, then everything else goes up accordingly, and who will buy when they can get a knife elsewhere for less? God is kinder to you. At least you take your food from the ground and you can always fill your belly.”
The boy’s father, however, had another argument. “At least you have a little hard money in your hands sometimes. My own case is like this. I reap my barley and I thresh it. I fill the baskets, and the barley gleams like pearls. We give thanks to the Lord God of Hosts, because our barley is so beautiful and so full of sustenance. Who can have troubles when his storehouse is so filled with baskets of pearly barley? But then the Temple collector comes, and one quarter of the barley he takes for the Temple. Then the tax collector comes, and he takes one quarter for taxes. I plead with him. I point out to him that there is only enough barley to feed my animals through the winter. Then eat your animals, he tells me. And this is the awful thing we must do. So when the time comes that there is neither meat nor grain and the children whimper for food, we string our bows and think of the hares and the few deer left on the mountainside. But this is unclean meat for a Jew unless it is blessed. Unless there is a dispensation. So last winter, we sent our rabbi to Jerusalem, to plead at the Temple. Our rabbi is a good man. His hunger is our hunger. But five days he lingered in the Temple court before the priests would see him, and then they listened with contempt to his pleading, nor did they give him even a crust of bread to ease his awful hunger. When shall we hear the end of this Galilean whining? they said to him. Your peasants are lazy. They want to lie in the sun and eat manna. Let them work harder and plant more barley. Such is their advice, but where does a peasant find more land for more barley, and if we found more and planted more, do you know what would happen?”
“I know what would happen,” the smith said. “In the end you would have no more. That way, it always happens. The poor get poorer and the rich get richer.”
This happened when the boy went to get his knife, but at home it was no different. At home, in the evening, the neighbors came to his father’s little house, the house where they all lived crowded into one single room, and there they sat and everlastingly talked of how difficult it was for a man to live and how they were squeezed and squeezed and squeezed – and how far could it go, and could you squeeze blood from a stone?
Thus thought the man on the cross, and these were stabbing fragments of memory which connected with his suffering. But even as he suffered, even as the pain rose in waves beyond endurance and then subsided into waves only endurable, he desired to live. Dead already, given to the cross, still he desired to live. What a power life is! What a drive life is! What things people will do when it becomes necessary to the simple fact of existence!
But why that was so, he did not know. In his suffering, he did not call upon God, because in God there was no answer and no explanation. He did not believe any more in one God or in many gods. In that second time of his life, his relationship with God changed. God answered only the prayers of the rich.
So he did not call on God. Rich men do not hang on crosses, and his whole life had been spent on a cross, an eternity with spikes through his hands. Or had that been another? Or had that been his father? His mind worked poorly now; the beautiful and precise and orderly impulses of his brain were being disarranged, and when he remembered how his father had been crucified, he confused his father with himself. He searched his poor, tortured brain to recall how that had come about, and he remembered the time when the tax collectors came and were turned away with empty hands. He remembered the time when the priests came from the Temple, and they too were sent packing with their hands empty.
There was a brief moment of glory after that. There was a shining memory of their great hero, Judas the Maccabee, and when the first army was sent by the priests against them, the hill farmers took up their bows and knives and destroyed the army. He had been in that battle. Only a stripling of fourteen years, yet he had used his knife and he had fought alongside of his father and he had tasted victory.
But the taste of victory did not last long. Great columns of armored mercenaries came marching against the Galilean rebels, and there was a bottomless well of gold in the Temple treasury to buy more and more soldiers. The farmers with their knives and their naked bodies could not fight a great army. The farmers were smashed, and two thousand were taken prisoner.
From among the prisoners, nine hundred men were selected for the cross. This was the civilized way, the western way, and when the crosses were strung like beads over the hillsides, the priests from the Temple came to watch and with them came their Roman advisers. And the boy, David, stood and saw his father nailed to a, cross and left there to hang by his hands until the birds ate his flesh.
And now he was on the cross himself. As it began, so it had ended, and how tired he was, and how full of pain and grief! As time passed on the cross – time which had no connection with time as known to mankind, for a man on a cross is no longer a man – he asked himself endlessly what was the meaning of a life which came from nowhere and moved into nowhere? He began to lose that incredible grip on life which had sustained him for so long. For the first time, he wanted to die.
(What had Spartacus said to him? Gladiator, love life. There is the answer to all questions. But Spartacus was dead, and he lived.)
He was tired now. Weariness contested with pain, and so his ragged memories were of weariness. After the revolt failed, he and seven hundred other boys were chained neck to neck and marched north. How long they marched! Across plain and desert and mountain, until the green hills of Galilee were a dream of paradise. Their masters changed, but the whip was always the same. And at last they came to a land where the mountains towered higher than any mountains in Galilee, where the tops of the mountains wore a mantle of snow in summer and in winter.
And there he was sent into the earth to dig copper. For two years he labored in the copper mines. His two brothers, who were with him, died, but he lived.
He had a body of steel and whipcord. Others sickened; their teeth fell out, or they became sick and vomited away their lives. But he lived, and for two years he labored in the mines.
And then he escaped. He escaped into the wild mountains with the slave collar still on his neck, and there the simple, primitive mountain tribesmen took him in and sheltered him and removed the collar from his neck and let him live with them. All through the winter he lived with them. They were a kind-hearted, poor folk, who lived by hunting and trapping, growing almost nothing at all. He learned their language, and they wanted him to remain with them and marry one of their women. But his heart longed for Galilee, and when spring came, he set out southward. But he was captured by a band of Persian traders, and they in turn sold him to a slave caravan moving westward, and he was put on the auction block in the city of Tyre, almost within sight of his homeland. How he ate his heart out then! What bitter tears he wept, to be so near home and relatives and people who would love and cherish him – and yet to be so far from freedom! A Phoenician merchant purchased him, and he was chained to an oar in a ship which traded with Sicilian ports, and for a whole year he sat in the wet darkness and wet filth, dragging his oar through the water.
Then the ship was taken by Greek pirates, and blinking like a dirty owl, he was dragged up on deck and examined and questioned by the fierce Greek sailors. Short shrift was made of the Phoenician merchant and crew; they were flung overboard like so many bundles of straw. But him and the other slaves, they examined, and each was asked in turn, in the Aramaic dialect of the Mediterranean, “Can you fight? Or can you only row?”
He feared the bench and the darkness and the bilge water as he might have feared the devil himself, and he answered, “I can fight. Only give me a chance.” He would have fought an army then, only not to be sent down below decks to bend his back over an oar. So they gave him a chance on deck and taught him – not without many a blow and curse – the craft of the sea, how to furl a sail and run up the rigging and steer with the thirty-foot steering oar, how to splice a rope and hold a course on the stars at night. In their first fight with a fat Roman cog, he showed a quickness of motion and a skill with the long knife that won him a secure place in their wild and lawless band; but there was no happiness in his heart, and he came to hate these men who knew only slaughter, cruelty, and death. They were as different from the simple peasants among whom he had lived his childhood as night was from day. They believed in no God, not even in Poseiden, the lord of the sea, and though his own faith had been shaken, the good years of his life were among those who believed. When they stormed onto shore, it was to kill and burn and rape.
It was in this time that he built around him a hard wall in which he encased himself. Within that wall, he lived, and the signs of youth disappeared from his face with its cold green eyes and its hawklike nose. He was a little less than eighteen years old when he joined them, but his appearance became an ageless one, and already there was a sprinkling of white hair in the black mop that covered his head. He kept to himself, and sometimes for a whole week he would speak no word at all; they left him alone. They knew how he could fight, and they feared him.
He lived on a dream, and the dream was wine and sustenance to him. The dream was that one day or another, sooner or later, they would raise the coast of Palestine, and then he would slip over the side, swim ashore, and make his way on foot to the beloved Galilean hills. But three years went by, and that day never came. They raided first on the African coast, and then across the sea along the Italian coastline. They fought on the coast of Spain and burned Roman villas and took the riches and the women they found there. Then they crossed the sea again and spent a whole winter in a walled and lawless city near the Pillars of Hercules. Then they sailed through the Strait of Gibraltar and came to Britain, where they beached their galley and cleaned and repaired it. Then they sailed to Ireland, where they exchanged bits of cloth and cheap jewelry for the golden ornaments of the Irish tribesmen. Then to Gaul, and up and down the French coast. And then back to Africa. Thus three years went by – and never did they raise the coast of his native land. But the dream and the hope remained with him – the while he became harder than a man has a right to be.
But he learned much in that time. He learned that the sea was a road upon which life flowed, even as blood flows through the body of a man. He learned that the world was great and boundless, and he learned that everywhere one went, there were poor and simple folk, people like his own people, people who scratched away at the soil for a living for themselves and their children – only to give over most of what they took out of the soil to chief or king or pirate. And he learned that there was a chief, king and pirate above everything else – and that was called Rome.
And in the end, they went down to a Roman warship, and he and fourteen others of the crew who survived were taken to Ostia to be hanged. So the sands of his small cup of life seemed to have run out, but at the very last, an agent of Lentulus Batiatus bought him for the school at Capua
Such was the pattern of the second part of the gladiator’s life, the time of knowing and hating. That part was completed at Capua. There he learned the ultimate refinement of civilization, the training of men to kill each other for the amusement of Roman idlers and for the enrichment of a fat, dirty and wicked man who was called a lanista. He became a gladiator. His hair was clipped close to his skull. He went into the arena with a knife in his hand, and he killed not those he hated but those who, like himself, were slaves or doomed men.
Here was where the knowing was combined with hating. He became a receptacle for hatred, and day by day the receptacle filled. He lived alone in the hideous bareness and hopelessness of his cell; he turned inward upon himself. He no longer believed in God, and when he thought of the God of his fathers, it was only with hatred and contempt. He said to himself once, “I would like to go into the arena with that damned old man of the mountain. I’d pay him back for all the tears and broken promises he brings on men. Give him his thunder and lightning. All I want is a knife in my hand. I would make a sacrifice for him, all right. I’d teach him something about wrath and anger.”
He had a dream once, and in the dream he stood at the throne of God. But he wasn’t afraid. “What will you do to me?” he cried mockingly. “I have lived twenty-one years, and what more can you do to me than the world has done? I saw my father crucified. I labored like a mole in the mines. For two years I worked in the mines, and for a year I lived in the filth and the bilge water, with the rats running across my feet. For three years I was a thief who dreamed of his homeland, and now I kill men for hire. Damn you to hell, what will you do to me?”
That was what he became in the second time of his life, and during that time, a Thracian slave was brought into the school at Capua, a strange man with a gentle voice and a broken nose and deep dark eyes. That was how this gladiator came to know Spartacus.
Once, long after this time, a Roman slave was placed upon the cross, and after he had hung there for twenty-four hours, he was pardoned by the emperor himself, and somehow he lived. He wrote an account of what he had felt on the cross, and the most striking thing about his account was what he had to say on the question of time. “On the cross,” he said, “there are only two things, pain and eternity. They tell me that I was on the cross only twenty-four hours, but I was on the cross longer than the world has existed. If there is no time, then every moment is forever.”
In that peculiar, pain-ridden forever, the mind of the gladiator fell apart, and the power of organized reason gradually ceased. Recollection turned into hallucination. He lived again through much of his life. He spoke to Spartacus again for the first time. He was playing over what he most desired to rescue from the meaningless min that was his life, the unimportant life of a nameless slave in the sweeping current of time.
(He looks at Spartacus. He watches him. He is like a cat, this man, and his green eyes increase his resemblance to a cat. You know the way a cat walks, with an everlasting tension. That is the way this gladiator walks, and you have the feeling that if you were to throw him up into the air, he would land easily on his two feet. He hardly ever looks at a man directly, though; instead, he watches from the corners of his eyes. That way, he watches Spartacus, day after day. He could not even explain to himself what quality in Spartacus commands his attention to this extent; but it is no great mystery. He is all tension, and Spartacus is all looseness. He talks to no one, but Spartacus talks to all, and they all come to Spartacus and bring him their troubles. Spartacus is injecting something into this school of gladiators. Spartacus is destroying it.
(All except this Jew come to Spartacus. Spartacus wonders about that.
Then, one day, in the period of rest between drills, he goes to the Jew and talks to him.
(“Do you talk Greek, man?” he asks him.
(The green eyes stare at him unmovingly. Suddenly, Spartacus realizes that this is a very young man, hardly more than a lad. This is hidden behind a mask. He is not looking at the man himself, but at the mask.
(The Jew says to himself, “Greek – do I talk Greek? I think I talk all languages. Hebrew and Aramaic and Greek and Latin and many other languages in many parts of the world. But why should I talk in any language? Why?”
(Very gently, Spartacus urges him, “A word from me and then a word from you. We are people. We are not alone. The great trouble is when you are alone. It is an awful thing, indeed, to be alone, but here we are not alone. Why should we be ashamed of what we are? Did we do terrible things to bring ourselves here? I don’t think we did such terrible things. More terrible things are done by those who put knives in our hands and tell us to kill for the pleasure of the Romans. So we shouldn’t be ashamed and hate each other. A man has a little strength, a little hope, a little love. Those things are like seeds that are planted in all men. But if he keeps them to himself, they will wither away and die very quickly, and then God help that poor man because he will have nothing and life will not be worth living. On the other hand, if he gives his strength and hope and love to others, he will find an endless store of such stock. He will never run dry of those things. Then life will be worth living. And believe me, gladiator, life is the best thing in the world. We know that. We are slaves. All we have is life. So we know what it is worth. The Romans have so many other things that life doesn’t mean very much to them. They play with it. But we take life seriously, and that is why we must not let ourselves be alone. You are too much alone, gladiator. Talk to me a little.”
(But the Jew says nothing, and his face and his eyes do not change at all. Yet he listens. He listens silently and intently, and then he turns around and walks away. But after he has walked a few steps, he stops, half turns his head, and watches Spartacus from the corners of his eyes. And it seems to Spartacus that something is there which was not there before, a spark, a plea, a gleam of hope. Perhaps.)
This was the beginning of the third period of the four times into which the life of the gladiator might be divided. This could be called the time of hope, and it was in this time that the hatred went away, and the gladiator knew a great love and comradeship for others of his kind. It did not happen all at once and it did not happen quickly. Bit by bit, he learned to trust a man, and through that man, he learned to love life. That was the thing in Spartacus which had captured him from the very beginning, the Thracian’s enormous love of life. Spartacus was like a guardian of life. It was not merely that he relished it and cherished it; it absorbed him. It was something he never questioned and never criticized. To some extent, it seemed that there was a secret pact between Spartacus and all the forces of life.
From watching Spartacus, the gladiator David took to following him. He did not do this ostentatiously; he did it almost secretively. Whenever the occasion arose and it was not too directly noticeable, he placed himself near Spartacus. His hearing was as keen as the hearing of a fox. He would listen to the words of Spartacus; he would take those words with him and repeat them to himself. He would try to learn what lay within those words. And all this time, something was happening inside of him. He was changing; he was growing. In something of the same way, a little of change and a little of growth was happening inside of every gladiator in the school. But for David it was singular. He came of a people whose life was full of God. When he lost God, there was a hole in his life. Now he was filling this hole with man. He was learning to love man. He was learning the greatness of man. He did not think of it in this way, but this was what happened to him – and to some extent to the other gladiators.
This was not anything which could be encompassed by the understanding of either Batiatus or the senators at Rome. To them, the revolt sprang full blown and unpremeditated. To their knowledge, there was no preparation and no prelude, and so they had to record it. There was no other way for them to record it.
But the prelude was there, subtle and strange and growing. David never forgot the first time he heard Spartacus recite verses from the Odyssey. Here was a new and enchanting music, the story of a brave man who endured a lot but was never defeated. Many of the verses were wholly understandable to him.
He had known the frustrating agony of being held away from a homeland he loved. He had known the tricks capricious fate plays. He had loved a girl in the hills of Galilee whose lips were as red as poppies and whose cheeks were as soft as down, and his heart had ached for her because she was lost to him. But what music this was, and how splendid that a slave, a slave who was the son of a slave and never a freeman even once, could recite endless verses of this fine story all by heart! Was there ever such a man as Spartacus! Was there ever a man so gentle, so patient, so slow to anger!
In his mind, he identified Spartacus with Odysseus, the patient and wise Odysseus; and forever after the two were one so far as he was concerned. Boy that he was then, underneath all, he found his hero and pattern for life and for living in Spartacus. At first, he was mistrustful of this tendency in himself. Trust no man and no man will disappoint you, he had said to himself often enough, so he waited and watched and looked for Spartacus to be less than Spartacus. And gradually, the realization grew upon him that Spartacus would never be less than Spartacus – and the realization was more than that, for there came to him an understanding that no man is less than himself, not the whole understanding, but a glimmering of knowledge of the wealth of wonder and splendor that lies in each separate and singular human being.
So when he was chosen as one of four gladiators to satisfy the caprice of the two perfumed homosexuals from Rome, to fight in two pairs to the death, he was torn by such a struggle and unholy contradiction as he had never experienced before. It was a new struggle, and when he conquered in that struggle, he made the first real penetration of the protective covering with which he had encased himself. That moment too, he lived through now on the cross. He was back again, and fighting with himself, and from his parched lips on the cross came the agony of words he had spoken to himself four years before.
(I am the most cursed man in all the world – he says to himself – for see how I am chosen to kill the man I love better than any man who lives. What a cruel fate this is! But it is just what one would expect from a God or gods or whatever they are who have no other purpose but to torture man. That is their whole mission. But I will not satisfy them. I will not perform for them. They are like those perfumed Roman swine who sit at the arena and wait for a man’s guts to roll out on the sand! Well, I won’t satisfy them this time. They will miss the pleasure of watching pairs fight, those miserable and corrupt people who can find pleasure in nothing else. They will see me killed, but it will be no satisfaction to them to see a man killed. That they can see at any time at all. But I will not fight Spartacus. I would kill my own brother first. I will never do that.
(But what then? First there was only insanity in my whole life, and then the life here compounded insanity. What has Spartacus given me? I must ask myself that question and I must answer that. I must answer it because he has given me something of great importance. He has given me the secret of life. Life itself is the secret of life. Everyone takes sides. You are on the side of life, or you are on the side of death. Spartacus is on the side of life, and therefore he will fight me if he must. He will not just die. He will not allow them to put him to death, never saying a word and never striking a blow back at them. Then that is what I must do. I must fight Spartacus, and life will decide between us. Oh what a terrible decision to make! Was ever a man so cursed? But that is the way it must be. That is the only way it can be.)
He lived the thoughts and the decision over again, and he no longer knew that he was dying on a cross, that fate had been kind to him, that it was not his lot to fight against Spartacus. Piece by piece, his pain-wracked mind picked up the past and lived it out again. Once again, the gladiators killed their trainers in the mess hall. Once again, they fought the troops with knives and bare hands. Once again, they marched across the countryside, and from the plantations, the slaves poured out to join them. And once again, they fell upon the City Cohorts at night and destroyed them utterly, and took their weapons and their armor. All this he lived through once again, not rationally or chronologically or easily, but like a ball of hot flame flung back through time.
(“Spartacus,” he says, “Spartacus?” Their second great battle is behind them now. The slaves are an army. They look like an army. They have the weapons and the armor of ten thousand Romans. They are drawn up by their hundreds and their five hundreds. Their nightly camp is a wooden- walled, moated fortress, such as the legions build when they march. They practice for hours at throwing the Roman spear. The fame and the dread fear of what they have done is known all over the world. In every slave hut, in every slave barracks, there is a whisper of someone called Spartacus who has set the world on fire. Yes, he has done it. He has a mighty army. Soon he will march against Rome itself, and he will tear down the walls of Rome in his anger. Wherever he goes, he sets slaves free, and all the spoils he takes goes into a common treasury – as it was in the olden days when the tribe held all and no man had wealth. His soldiers have only their weapons and the clothes on their backs and the shoes on their feet. That is Spartacus now.
(He says, “Spartacus?”
(Little by little, speech has returned to this Jew, David. He speaks slowly and haltingly, but he speaks. Now he speaks to the leader of the slaves.
(“Spartacus, I am a good fighter, am I not?”
(“Good, very good. The very best. You fight well.”
(And I am no coward, you know that?”
(“I knew that a long time ago,” says Spartacus. “Where is a gladiator who is a coward?”
(“And I have never turned my back on a fight.”
(“And when my ear was sliced off my head, I clenched my teeth and never cried out in pain.”
(“It’s no disgrace to cry out in pain,” says Spartacus. “I have known strong men to cry out in pain. I’ve known strong men to weep when they are full of bitterness. That is no disgrace.”
(“But you and I donít weep, and some day I will be like you, Spartacus.”
(“You will be a better man than I am. You are a better fighter than I am.”
(“No, I will never be one half of what you are, but I think I fight well. I am very quick. Like a cat. A cat can see a blow coming. A cat sees through his skin. I feel like that sometimes. Almost always, I see the blow coming. That is why I want to ask you something. I want to ask you this. I want you to place me by your side. Whenever we fight, I want to be at your side. I will keep you safe. If we lose you, we lose the whole thing. We are not fighting for ourselves. We are fighting for the whole world. That is why I want you to keep me at your side always when we fight.”
(“There are more important things for you to do than to stand by my side. I need men to lead an army.”
(“The men need you. Am I asking so much?”
(“You ask very little, David. You ask it for me, not for you.”
(“Then tell me it is what you want.”
(“And you will come to no harm, ever. I will watch over you. Day and night, I will watch over you.”)
So he became the right arm of the slave leader. He, who all of his young life had known only bloodshed and toil and violence, now saw shining and golden horizons. What would be as a result of their rebellion became clearer and clearer in his mind. Since most of the world were slaves, they would soon be a force that nothing could stand up to. Then nations and cities would disappear, and it would be the golden age again. Once upon a time, in the stories and legends of every people, it was the golden age, when men were without sin and without gall, and when they lived together in peace and in love. So when Spartacus and his slaves had conquered the whole world, then it would be so again. It would be ushered in with a great clashing of cymbals, a sounding of trumpets, and a chorus of all the voices of the people, giving praise.
In his fevered mind, he now heard that chorus. He heard the swelling timbre of the voice of mankind, a chorus that rocked back from the mountainsides
(He is alone with Varinia. When he looks at Varinia, the real world dissolves, and there remains only this woman who is the wife of Spartacus. To David, she is the most beautiful woman in the world and the most desirable, and his love for her is like a worm in his belly. How many times, he has said to himself,
(What a contemptible creature you are, to love the wife of Spartacus! Everything you have in the world, you owe to Spartacus, and how do you repay him? You repay him by loving his wife. What a sinful thing! What an awful thing! Even if you don’t speak of it, even if you don’t show it, nevertheless it is an awful thing! And furthermore, it is a useless thing. Look at yourself. Hold a mirror up before your face. Was there ever such a face, sharp and wild, like a hawk’s face, one ear missing, cut and scarred!
(Now Varinia says to him, “What a strange lad you are, David! Where did you come from? Are all your people like you? You are just a boy, but you never smile and you never laugh. What a way to be!”
(“Don’t call me a boy, Varinia. I’ve proven that I’m sometimes more than a boy.”
(“Have you indeed? Well, you don’t fool me. You’re just a boy. You should have a girl. You should put your arm around her waist and walk with her when the evening is early and lovely. You should kiss her. You should laugh with her. Aren’t there enough girls?”
(“I have my work to do. I have no time for that.”
(“No time for love? Oh, David, David, what a thing to say! What a strange thing to say!”
(“And if no one put his mind to anything,” he answers fiercely, “where would we be? Do you think it’s just child’s play to lead an army, to find food for so many thousands of people every day, to train men! We have the most important thing in the world to do, and you want me to make eyes at girls!”
(“Not to make eyes at them, David. I want you to make love to them.
(“I have no time for that.”
(“No time. Well, how would I feel if Spartacus said he had no time for me? I would want to die, I think. There is nothing more important than being a man, just a plain, ordinary, human man. I know you think Spartacus is something more than a man. He isn’t. If he were, then he wouldn’t be any good at all. There is no great mystery about Spartacus. I know that. When a woman loves a man, she knows a lot about him.”
(He takes all his courage in his arms and says, “You do love him, don’t you?”
(“What are you saying, boy? I love him more than I love life. I would die for him, if he wanted me to.”
(“I would die for him,” David says.
(“That is different. I watch you sometimes, when you look at him. That’s different. I love him because he’s a man. He’s a simple man. There’s nothing complicated about him. He’s simple and gentle, and never did he raise his voice against me or lift a hand against me. There are some men who are filled with sorrow for themselves. But Spartacus has no sorrow for himself and no pity for himself. He only has pity and sorrow for others. How can you ask if I love him? Doesn’t everyone here know how much I love him?”)
Thus, at times in his suffering, this last gladiator remembered with great clarity and precision; but at other times, the recollection was wild and horrible, and a battle became a nightmare of terrible noise, of blood and agony, of wild masses of men in wild and uncontrolled motion. At one point or another, in the first two years of their revolt, the realization had come upon them that the masses of slaves who peopled the Roman world would not or could not rise up and join them. They had then reached their maximum strength, but the power of Rome seemed to have no end. He remembered, out of that time, a battle they had fought, an awful battle, so great in its size, so vast in the numbers of men engaged, that for most of a day and a whole night, Spartacus and the men around him could only guess at the course the battle was taking. During the time of this recollection, the people of Capua who were watching the crucified gladiator saw how his body writhed and twisted and how white spittle flecked his lips and how his separate limbs jerked in convulsive agony. They heard the sounds come out of his mouth, and many among them said, “He’s not for long now. He’s pretty well done in.”
(They have taken position on a hilltop, a long hill, a long rolling ridge on either side, and their heavy infantry is spread out on the crest of the hill for half a mile in either direction. There is a pretty valley, with a shallow little river running through the center of it, a meandering little river that curves back and forth, with green grass on the valley bottom and cows heavy of udder munching the grass, and on the other side of the valley, there is a ridge of ground where the Roman legions have taken their position. In the center of his army, Spartacus has established his command post, a white pavilion on a hummock that overlooks the whole area. Here have been put into operation what are by now routine necessities of a battle command post. A secretary sits with his writing materials and paper. Fifty runners stand ready to dash at once to any part of the battlefield. A mast has been erected for the signal man, and he stands by his mast with his variety of brightly-colored flags. And on a long table in the center of the great tent, a large map of the battle area is being prepared.
(These are methods which belong to the slaves, and which they have worked out in the course of two years of bitter campaigning. Just as they have worked out their tactics of battle. Now, the leaders of the army stand around the table, looking at the map, and sifting information as to the size and quality of the force which opposes them. There are eight men around the table. At one end, Spartacus stands, David next to him. Looking at him for the first time, a stranger would say that this man, Spartacus, is at least forty years old. His curly hair is streaked with gray. He is leaner than before, and there are dark circles under his eyes from want of sleep.
(Time is catching up with him, an observer would say. Time is sitting astraddle of his shoulders and riding him . . . That would be a keen observation, for once in a while, once in a bag of years, of centuries, a man calls upon the whole world; and then as centuries pass and as the world turns, this man is never forgotten. So short a while ago, this one was just a slave; now who is there who doesn’t know the name of Spartacus? But he has not had time to pause and fully reflect upon what has happened to him. Least of all has he had time to reflect upon what happened, in two years, inside of him, changing him from the man he was to the man he now is. Now he commands an army of almost fifty thousand men, and in certain ways it is the best army the world has ever seen.
(It is an army which fights for freedom in the most simple and unvarnished terms. In the past there have been armies without end, armies which have fought for nations or cities or wealth or spoils or power or control of this area or that area; but here is an army which fights for human freedom and dignity, an army which calls no land or city its own because the people within it come from all lands and cities and tribes, an army where every soldier shares a common heritage of servitude and a common hatred of men who make other men slaves. This is an army which is committed to victory, for there are no bridges over which it can retreat, no land which will give it shelter or rest. It is a moment of changed motion in history, a beginning, a stirring, a wordless whisper, a portent, a flash of light which signifies earth-shaking thunder and blinding lightning. It is an army which suddenly has the knowledge that the victory to which it is committed must change the world, and therefore it must change the world or have no victory.
(Perhaps as Spartacus stands brooding over the map, the question arises in his mind as to how this army came into being. He thinks of the handful of gladiators who beat their way out of the school of the fat lanista. He thinks of them as a spear thrown that sets a sea of life into motion, so that suddenly the enduring calm and stability of the slave world explodes. He thinks of the endless struggle to turn these slaves into soldiers, to make them work together and think together, and then he tries to understand why the motion stopped.
(But there is no time for much of such reflection now. Now they are going to fight. His heart is heavy with fear; it always is before a battle. When the battle starts, much of that fear will pass away, but now he is afraid. He looks around the table at his comrades. Why are their faces so calm? Don’t they share his fear? He sees Crixus, the red haired Gaul, his little blue eyes sunk so deep and calm in his red, freckled face, his long yellow mustache curving down below his chin. And there is Gannicus, his friend, his brother out of bondage and tribal brotherhood. There is Castus and Phraxus and Nordo, the heavy shouldered black African, Mosar, the slight, delicate, keen-witted Egyptian, and the Jew, David – and none of them seems to be afraid. Why, then, is he afraid?
(He says to them now, sharply, “Well, my friends – what are we going to do, stand here all day, playing guessing games about that army across the valley?”
(“It’s a very big army,” Gannicus says. “It’s a bigger army than anything we’ve ever seen or fought. You can’t count them, but I can tell you that we’ve identified the standards of ten legions. They’ve brought down the Seventh and Eighth from Gaul. They’ve brought over three legions from Africa and two from Spain. I’ve never seen an army like that, not in all my born days. There must be seventy thousand men across the valley.”
(Always it is Crixus who looks for fear or wavering. If it were up to Crixus, they would have conquered the whole world already. He has only one slogan, to march on Rome. Stop killing the rats and burn down their nest. Now he says, “You make me tired, Gannicus, because it’s always the biggest army, always the worst time for a battle. I’ll tell you what. I don’t give two damns for their army. If it was my decision, I would attack them. I would attack them now and not an hour or a day or a week from now.”
(Gannicus wants to hold it off. Maybe the Romans will split their forces.
They have before, so maybe they will again.
(“They won’t,” Spartacus says. “Take my word for it. Why should they? They have us all here. They know we are all here. Why should they?”
(Then Mosar, the Egyptian, says, “For once I am going to agree with Crixus. That is a very unusual occurrence, but this time he’s right. That is a big army over there across the valley and we will have to fight them sooner or later, and it might just as well be sooner. They can outsit us, because they will eat, and after a while we’ll have nothing to eat. And if we move, they will have the opportunity they want.”
(“How many men do you think they are?” Spartacus asks him.
(“A lot – at least seventy thousand.”
(Spartacus shakes his head somberly. “Oh, that’s a lot – that’s a devil of a lot. But I think you’re right. We’ll have to fight them here.” He tries to sound light, but his heart is not light at all.
(They decide that in three hours they will attack the Roman flank, but the battle is joined before then. Hardly have the various commanders returned to their regiments when the Romans launch their attack at the center of the slave army. There are no complicated tactics, no skillful evolutions; a legion spearheads the attack on the slave center, like a spear thrown at the command post, and the whole mighty Roman army rolls to the attack behind the legion. David remains with Spartacus, but for less than an hour are they able to direct a coordinated defense from the command post. Then the fighting is on them, and the nightmare begins. The pavilion is smashed. The battle bears them along like a sea, and around Spartacus a cyclone rages.
(This is fighting. Now David will know that he has been in a fight. Next to this, everything else is a skirmish. Now Spartacus is not the commander of a great army, but only a man with a sword and the square shield of a soldier, and he fights like hell itself. That is the way the Jew fights. The two of them are a rock, and the battle churns around them. Once they are alone, and they are fighting for their lives. Then a hundred men come to their help. David looks at Spartacus, and behind the blood and sweat, the Thracian is grinning.
(“What a fight!” he cried. “What a fight this is, David! Will we ever live to see the sun rise in a fight like this? Who knows?”
(He loves it, David thinks. What a strange man this is! Look how he loves battle! Look how he fights! He fights like a berserk! He fights like one of them out of that song he sings!
(He doesn’t know that he too is fighting the same way. He must be killed before a spear can touch Spartacus. He is like a cat that never tires, a great cat, a jungle cat, and his sword is a claw. He is never separated from Spartacus. One would think that he is joined to Spartacus, the way he manages to remain always by his side. He sees very little of the battle. He sees only what is directly ahead of Spartacus and himself, but that is enough. The Romans know that Spartacus is here, and they forget the formal dance of the maniples that their soldiers train for years to perfect. They crowd in, driven by their officers, fighting and clawing to reach Spartacus, to drag him down, to kill him, to cut off the head of the monster. They are so close that David can hear all the vile filth pouring out of their mouths. It makes a sound above the clashing roar of the battle. But the slaves too know that Spartacus is here, and from the other side they pour into this center of struggle. They raise the name of Spartacus like a banner. It waves out over the whole battlefield like a banner. Spartacus! You can hear it miles away. At a walled city, five miles away, they hear the sound of the battle.
(But David hears without listening; he knows nothing but what he fights and what is in front of him. As his strength goes, as his lips become parched, the battle becomes more and more terrible. He doesn’t know that it is spread over two miles of ground. He doesn’t know that Crixus has smashed two legions and pursues them. He knows only his arm and his sword and Spartacus beside him. He is not even aware that they have fought their way down the hillside into the valley bottom until he begins to sink ankle-deep into the soft, grassy ground. Then they are in the river, and the fight goes on while they stand knee-deep in water that is running red as blood. The sun sets and the whole sky is red, a bitter salute to the thousands of men who fill the valley with their hatred and struggle. In the darkness, the battle lessens but it never pauses, and under the cold light of the moon, the slaves dip their heads into the bloody river water, drinking and drinking, for unless they drink they will die.
(With the dawning, the Roman attack breaks. Who has fought men like these slaves! No matter how many you kill, others come screaming and yelling to take their places. They fight like animals, not like men, for even after you have buried your sword in their guts and they go down on the ground, they will fasten their teeth in your foot, and you have to cut through the neck to make them let go. Other men crawl out of the battle when they are wounded, but these slaves go on fighting until they die. Other men break off a battle when the sun sets, but these slaves fight like cats in the dark and they never rest.
(With this kind of thing, fear creeps into the Romans. It grows in them out of an old seed long since planted. Fear of the slaves. You live with slaves, but you never trust them. They are inside, but they are also outside. They smile at you each day, but behind the smile is hatred. They think only of killing you. They grow strong on hatred. They wait and wait and wait. They have a patience and a memory that never ends. This is the seed which was planted in the Romans since first they were able to think, and now the seed bears fruit.
(They are tired. They hardly have the strength to carry their shields and lift their swords. But the slaves are not tired. Reason goes. Ten break here, a hundred there. The hundred becomes a thousand, the thousand ten thousand, and suddenly the whole army is swept with panic and the Romans begin to throw down their arms and run. Their officers try to stop them, but they kill their officers, and screaming in panic, they run from the slaves. And the slaves come behind them, evening old scores, so that the ground for miles around is carpeted with Romans who lie on their faces with the wounds in their backs.
(When Crixus and the others find Spartacus, he is still next to the Jew. Spartacus is stretched on the ground, sleeping among the dead, and the Jew stands over him, sword in hand. “Let him sleep,” the Jew says. “This is a great victory. Let him sleep.”
(But ten thousand slaves have died in that great victory. And there will be other Roman armies – larger armies.)
When it became known that the gladiator was dying, interest in him slackened. By the tenth hour, mid-afternoon, only a handful of the most confirmed advocates of crucifixion remained to watch – they and a few such ragamuffin beggars and scabby loafers as would be unwelcome among the numerous fruitful pleasures which even a city like Capua provided in the afternoon. It was true that there were no races in Capua at that time, but there was sure to be something doing at one of the two fine arenas. Because it was so popular a city for tourists, it was a point of pride among the wealthier citizens of Capua to provide fighting pairs for a minimum of three hundred days of the year. There was an excellent theatre in Capua and a number of large public houses of prostitution, operating in a more open manner than would have been countenanced in Rome. In these places there were women of every race and nation, specially trained to enhance the reputation of the city. There were also the fine shops, the perfume bazaar, the baths, and the many water sports on the beautiful bay.
Therefore, it is not surprising that one dying, crucified gladiator should be only a passing attraction. If he had not been the hero of the munera, not a second glance would have been given him, and even this way, he was no longer an object of great interest. In a letter addressed “to the full citizens of Rome who dwell at Capua,” the three wealthy merchants who headed the small Jewish community disowned all knowledge of or responsibility for him. They pointed out that in their homeland, all elements of rebellion and discontent had been rooted out, and they also pointed out that circumcision was not proof of Jewish origin. Among the Egyptians, the Phoenicians, and even among the Persians, circumcision was quite common. It was also not in the nature of Jews to strike against that power which had brought a state of peace and plentitude and benign order over most of the world. Thus abandoned on every side, the gladiator was reaching his death in lonely indignity and pain. He provided no amusement for the soldiers and precious little for the onlookers. There was one wretched old woman who sat with her hands folded around her knees, staring at the man on the cross. The soldiers, out of sheer boredom, began to tease her.
“Now, beautiful,” one of them said, “what are you dreaming about with that man up there?”
“Shall we cut him down and give him to you?” another asked. “How long is it since you had a fine young fellow like that in bed with you?”
“A long time,” she muttered.
“Well, he’d be a bull in bed with you, all right. He’d be one to ride you. My God, he’d ride you the way a stallion rides a mare. How about it, old lady?”
“What a way to talk,” she said. “What people you are! What a way to talk to me!”
“Oh, my ladyship, I apologize.” One after another, the soldiers made sweeping bows to her. The few onlookers caught up with the game and crowded around.
“I don’t give two damns for your apologies,” the old woman said. “Filth! I’m dirty. You’re filth. I could wash off my dirt in the baths. You couldn’t.”
They didn’t like the game two ways, and their authority reasserted itself. They became hard, and their eyes glittered. “Take it easy, old lady,” one of them said. “Keep a bolt on your tongue.”
“I say what I please.”
“Then go take a bath and come back. You’re a sight, sitting here right at the city gates the way you look.”
“Sure I’m a sight,” she grinned at them. “I’m a dreadful sight, huh? What people you Romans are! The cleanest people in the world. Isn’t a Roman who doesn’t bathe every day, even if he’s a loafer, as most of you are, and spends his mornings gambling and his afternoons in the arena. He’s so damned clean”
“That’s enough, old lady. Just shut your mouth.”
“It’s not enough at all. I can’t bathe. I’m a slave. Slaves don’t go to the baths. I’m old and used up, and there isn’t anything you can do to me. Not one blessed thing. I sit in the sun and bother no one, but you don’t like that, do you? Twice a day I go to my master’s house, and he gives me a handful of bread. The good bread. The bread of Rome that the slaves plant and the slaves reap and the slaves grind and the slaves bake. I walk through the streets, and what do I look at that hasn’t been made by the hands of slaves? Do you think you frighten me? I spit at you!”
While this was going on, Crassus returned to the Appian Gate. He had slept poorly, as people often do when they try to make up in daylight the rest they should have had the night before. If someone had asked him why he was returning to the scene of the crucifixion, he might have shrugged his shoulders. But actually he knew well enough. A whole great era of the life of Crassus was finishing with the death of this last of the gladiators. Crassus would be remembered, not only as a very rich man, but as the man who had put down the revolt of the slaves.
This is an easy thing to say, but it was not an easy thing to do. As long as he lived, Crassus would never separate himself from his memories of the Servile War. He would live with those memories, rise with them, and go to bed with them. He would never say farewell to Spartacus until he, Crassus, died. Then the struggle between Spartacus and Crassus would be over, but only then. So now Crassus returned to the gate to look again at all that was left and living of his adversary.
A new captain was in command of this shift, but he knew the general – as most people in Capua did – and he outdid himself in being personable and helpful. He even apologized for the fact that so few people had remained to see the death of the gladiator.
“He is dying very quickly,” he said. “That’s surprising. He seemed to be the tough, lasting type. He might have lived on there three days. But he’ll be dead before morning.”
“How do you know?” asked Crassus.
“You can tell. I’ve seen a great many crucifixions, and they all follow the same pattern. Unless the nails cut through a major artery, and then they bleed to death pretty quickly. This one isn’t bleeding very much though. He just doesn’t want to live any more, and when that happens, they die quickly. You wouldn’t think it would be that way, would you?”
“Nothing surprises me,” said Crassus.
“I guess not. I guess after all you’ve seen – ”
At that moment, the soldiers laid hands on the old woman, and her shrill cries as she fought them attracted the attention of the general and the gate captain. Crassus strode over, took in the scene at a glance, and told the soldiers scathingly, “What a fine lot of heroes you are! Leave the old lady alone!”
The quality of his voice caused them to obey. They let go of the woman. One of them recognized Crassus and whispered to the others, and then the captain came up and wanted to know what this was all about and whether they didn’t have anything better to do with their time?
“She was insolent and filthy in her language.”
A man standing by guffawed.
“Get out of here, the lot of you,” the captain told the idlers. They retreated a few steps, but not too far, and the old crone peered shrewdly at Crassus.
“So the great general is my protector,” she said.
“Who are you, old witch?” Crassus demanded.
“Great man, should I kneel in front of you or should I spit in your face?”
“Do you see? Did I tell you?” the soldier cried.
“Yes – all right. Now what do you want, old woman?” Crassus asked.
“I only want to be left alone. I came out here to see a good man die. He should not die all alone. I sit and watch him while he dies. I give him an offering of love. I tell him that he will never die. Spartacus never died. Spartacus lives.”
“What on earth are you talking about, old woman?”
“Don’t you know what I’m talking about, Marcus Licinius Crassus? I’m talking about Spartacus. Yes, I know why you came out here. No one else does. They don’t know. But you and I know, don’t we?”
The captain told the soldiers to take hold of her and drag her away, because she was just a filthy old bag, but Crassus motioned them off angrily.
“Leave her alone, I told you. Stop showing me how brave you are! If you’re so damned brave, maybe you’d all like to be in a legion instead of a summer resort. I can just take care of myself. I can just defend myself from one old lady.”
“You’re afraid,” the old woman smiled.
“What am I afraid of?”
“Afraid of us, aren’t you? Such a fear you all have! That’s why you came out here. To see him die. To make sure that the last one is dead. My God, what some slaves did to you! And you’re still afraid. And even when he dies, will it be the end? Will it ever be the end, Marcus Licinius Crassus?”
“Who are you, old woman?”
“I am a slave,” she answered, and now she seemed to become simple and childish and senile. “I came out here to be with one of my people and to give him a little comfort. I came to weep for him. All the others are afraid to come. Capua is full of my people but they are afraid. Spartacus said to us, rise up and be free! But we were afraid. We are so strong, and yet we cower and whimper and run away.” Now the tears poured out of her rheumy old eyes. “What are you going to do to me?” she pleaded.
“Nothing, old woman. Sit there and weep if you want to.” He threw a coin at her and walked thoughtfully away. He walked over to the cross, looking up at the dying gladiator and turning over the old woman’s words in his mind.
In the life of the gladiator, there were four times. Childhood was a happy time of not knowing, and the time of his youth was full of knowledge and sorrow and hatred. The time of hope was the time when he fought with Spartacus, and the time of despair was the time when it became known to him that their cause was lost. This was the end of the time of despair. Now he was dying.
Struggle had been his bread and meat, but now he no longer struggled. Life in him had been a fury of anger and resistance, a loud cry for a logic in the relationship of one man to another man. Some are made to accept and some are unable to accept. There was nothing he could accept until he found Spartacus. Then he accepted the knowledge that a human life was a worthy thing. The life of Spartacus was a worthy thing; it was a noble thing, and the men with him lived nobly – but now on the cross and dying, he still asked why they had failed. The question sought its answer in the confusion of reason that remained to him, but the question found no answer.
(He is with Spartacus when news comes that Crixus is dead. The death of Crixus was the logic of the life of Crixus. Crixus clung to a dream. Spartacus knew when the dream was finished and impossible. The dream of Crixus and the drive of Crixus was to destroy Rome. But a moment came when Spartacus realized that they could never destroy Rome, that Rome could only destroy them. That was the beginning, and the end was that twenty thousand slaves marched off under Crixus. And now Crixus is dead and his army is destroyed.
Crixus is dead and his men are dead. The big, violent, red headed Gaul will laugh no more and shout no more. He is dead.
(David is with Spartacus when this news comes. A messenger, a survivor, brings the news. Such messengers have death all over them. Spartacus listens. Then he turns to David.
(“Did you hear it?” he asks him.
(“Did you hear that Crixus is dead and all his army is dead?”
(“Is there so much death in the world? Is there?”
(“The world is full of death. Before I knew you, there was only death in the world.”
(“Now there is only death in the world,” Spartacus says. He is changed. He is different. He will never be as he was before. He will never have the precious relationship to life which he has had until now, which he had even in the gold mines of Nubia, which he had even in the arena when he stood naked with a knife in his hand. For him now, death has won over life. He stands with nothing in his face and with his eyes full of nothing, and then from the nothing the tears come and roll down over his broad brown cheeks. What a terrible, heart-breaking thing it is for David to have to stand there and watch him weep!
This is Spartacus weeping. The thought goes through the Jew’s mind, thus: shall I tell you about Spartacus?
(Because you will see nothing by looking at him. You will know nothing by looking at him. You will see only his broken, flattened nose, his broad mouth, his brown skin, and his wide-set eyes. How can you know about him? He is a new man. They say he is like the heroes of the olden times; but what do the heroes of the olden times have in common with Spartacus? Does a hero come from a father who is sired by a slave? And where did this man come from? How can he live without hate and without envy? You shall know a man by his bitterness and his gall, but here is a man without bitterness and gall. Here is a noble man. Here is a man who in all his life did no wrong. He is different from you – but also different from us. What we are beginning to be, he is; but none of us are what he is. He walked beyond us. And now he weeps.
(“Why do you weep?” David demands. “It will be so hard for us now – why do you weep? They will give us no peace now until we are all dead.”
(“Do you never weep?” Spartacus asks.
(“When they nailed my father on the cross, I wept. I never wept since then.”
(“You didn’t weep for your father,” Spartacus says, “and I don’t weep for Crixus. I weep for us. Why did it happen? Where were we wrong? In the beginning I never felt a doubt. My whole life was for the moment when the slaves would have strength and weapons in their hands. And then I never had a doubt. The time of the whiplash was over. The bells were ringing all over the world. Then why did we fail? Why did we fail? Why did you die, Crixus, my comrade? Why were you headstrong and terrible? Now you are dead and all your beautiful men are dead!”
(The Jew says, “The dead are gone. Stop weeping!”
(But Spartacus goes down on the ground, all in a huddled heap, with his face in the dirt, and with his face in the dirt, he cries, “Send Varinia to me. Send her to me. Tell her I’m afraid, and death is all over me.”)
There was a moment of complete clarity before the gladiator died. He opened his eyes; the focus cleared; and for just a little while he was not conscious of any pain at all. He saw the scene around him plainly and clearly. There was the Appian Way, the great Roman road, the glory and bloodstream of Rome, stretching away northward all the distance to the mighty urbs itself. There, on the other side of him, was the city wall and the Appian Gate. There were a dozen bored city soldiers. There was the captain of the gate, flirting with a pretty girl. There, perched up on the edge of the road, were a handful of morbid idlers. Along the road itself there was a desultory flow of traffic, for the hour was already late and most of the city’s free population were at the baths. Beyond the road, as the gaze of the gladiator lifted, he imagined he saw a gleam of the sea in that most beautiful of all bays. A cool wind blew from the sea, and its touch on his face was like the touch of the cool hands of a woman a man loves. He saw the green shrubs that landscaped the edge of the road, the dark cypress trees beyond that, and northward, the rolling hills and the spine of the lonely mountains where the runaway slaves hide. He saw the blue afternoon sky, blue and beautiful as an ache for an unfulfilled longing, and dropping his eyes, he saw a single old woman who crouched only a few dozen yards from the cross and looked at him steadily and wept as she watched him.
“Why, she weeps for me,” the gladiator said to himself. “Who are you, old woman, that you sit there and weep for me?”
He knew that he was dying. His mind was clear; he knew that he was dying and he was grateful that soon there would be no memory and no pain, but only the sleep that all men look forward to with absolute certainty. He no longer had any desire to struggle or resist death. He felt that when he closed his eyes, the life would go out of him, easily and quickly.
And he saw Crassus. He saw him and he recognized him. Their eyes met. The Roman general stood as straight and still as a statue. His white toga covered him from head to foot in its draped folds. His fine, handsome, sunburned head was like a symbol of Rome’s might and power and glory.
“So you are here to see me die, Crassus!” the gladiator thought. “You came to watch the last of the slaves die on the cross. So a slave dies, and the last thing he sees is the richest man in the world.”
Then the gladiator remembered the other time he had seen Crassus. He remembered Spartacus then. He remembered how Spartacus was. They knew it was over; they knew it was done; they knew it was the last battle. Spartacus had said goodby to Varinia. For all her pleading, for all her wild pleading to remain with him, he said goodby to her and forced her to go. She was heavy with child then, and Spartacus had hoped that he would see the child born before the Romans brought them to bay. But the child was still unborn when he parted from Varinia, and he told David then, “I will never see the child, friend and old comrade. That’s the one thing I regret. I regret nothing else, nothing else.”
They were drawn up for the battle when they brought Spartacus the white horse. What a horse that was! A beautiful Persian steed, white as snow and proud and mettlesome. It was a fit horse for Spartacus. He had shed his worries, had Spartacus. It was not a mask he assumed. He was actually happy and youthful and full of life and vitality and fire. His hair had turned gray these past six months, but you never saw the gray hair now, only the vibrant youth of the face. That ugly face was beautiful. Everyone saw how beautiful it was. Men looked at him and were unable to speak. Then they brought him the fine white horse.
“First, I thank you for this splendid gift, dear friends, dear comrades.” That was what he said. “First, I thank you. I thank you with all my heart.” Then he drew his sword, and with a motion almost too quick to follow, he plunged it up to the hilt in the horse’s breast, hung on to it while the animal reared and screamed, then tore it loose as the horse went down on its knees, rolled over and died. He faced them, the dripping sword in his hand, and they looked at him with horror and amazement. But nothing had changed about him.
“A horse is dead,” he said. “Do you want to weep because a horse is dead? We fight for the life of man, not for the life of beasts. The Romans cherish horses, but for man they have nothing but contempt. Now we will see who walks off this battlefield, the Romans or ourselves. I thanked you for your gift.
It was a fine gift. It showed how you love me, but I didn’t need such a gift to know. I know what’s in my heart. My heart is full of love for you. There are no words in the whole world to say what love I have for you, my dear comrades. Our lives were together. Even if we fail today, we did a thing that men will remember forever. Four years we have fought Rome – four long years. We never turned our backs on a Roman army. We never ran. We will not run from the battlefield today. Did you want me to fight on a horse? Let the Romans have the horses. I fight on foot, alongside of my brothers. If we win this battle today, we will have horses in plenty, and we will harness them to ploughs, not to chariots. And if we lose – well, we won’t need horses if we lose.”
Then he embraced them. Each one of his old comrades who remained, he embraced and kissed on the lips. And when he came to David, he said, “Ah, my friend, great gladiator. Will you stay beside me today?” “Always.”
And as he hung on the cross, looking at Crassus, the gladiator thought, “How much can a man do?” He had no regrets now. He had fought at the side of Spartacus. He had fought there while this man who now faced him, this great general, reared his horse and attempted to smash through the ranks of the slaves. He had cried out, with Spartacus, “Come to us, Crassus! Come and taste our greeting!”
He had fought until a stone from a sling laid him low. He had fought well.
He was glad that he did not have to see Spartacus die. He was glad that he and not Spartacus had to bear this final shame and indignity of the cross. He had no regrets now, no cares, and for the moment, no pain. He understood that last youthful joy of Spartacus. There was no defeat. He was now like Spartacus, because he shared the deep secret of life which Spartacus knew. He wanted to tell Crassus. He tried desperately to speak. He moved his lips, and Crassus came up to the cross. Crassus stood there, looking at the dying man above him, but no sound came from the gladiator. Then the gladiator’s head rolled forward; the last strength went out of his limbs and he was dead.
Crassus stood there until the old woman joined him. “He is dead now,” the old woman said.
“I know,” Crassus answered.
Then he walked back to the gate and through the streets of Capua.